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"Discrimination by Design" Background Document on Design for All


On 3rd December 2001, the European Commission, together with the European Disability Forum, took "Discrimination By Design" as the theme of the Conference to celebrate the European Day of Disabled People. This background document was prepared to explain the concept of Design for All and its importance as an approach for making the world accessible to people with disabilities.

Note that some of the References from 2001 may no longer be up-to-date.

The document is available in 11 languages. Author: Ivor Ambrose.

Download from the right-hand panel (PDF format, about 19 pages). 

Extract from the Background Document

The concept of design for all

"Design for All means designing, developing and marketing mainstream products, services, systems and environments to be accessible and usable by as broad a range of users as possible.

This can be achieved in three ways:

  • by designing products, services and applications that are readily usable by most potential users without any modifications
  • by designing products that are easily adaptable to different users (e.g. by adapting their user interfaces)
  • by standardising interfaces of products to be compatible with specialised equipment (e.g. technological aids for disabled persons).

Through supporting the application of design for all to all areas of life – home, education, work, leisure, transport, etc. – it is possible to make significant progress towards avoiding access barriers which currently prevent citizens with disabilities from participating fully and on equal terms with non-disabled people.

Essentially this approach incorporates the accessibility requirements of people with the widest possible range of abilities, so that the greatest number of people can use mainstream products and services without the need for adaptations or special interfaces. Design for all also means that mainstream products and services use interface standards which match those of technical aids, so allowing disabled people to access and use mainstream equipment.

Design for all has been developed in the latter part of the 20th century as an approach to design which is essentially inclusive of wider human requirements rather than following the maxim of “designing for the average user”.

The approach has been elaborated and promoted in Europe through research and development in the fields of architecture and the built environment (e.g. adaptable housing), industrial design of everyday products for older people, and more recently in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for disabled and elderly people".

Download the poster "Discrimination by Design" Programme, 3rd December 2001 from the right-hand panel in PDF format (2 pages).