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What is Universal Design and inclusion?

Universal Design is the process of designing and composing an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.

An environment, building, product, or service should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it or are intended to use it. This is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment building, product, or service, is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates an environment, building, product, or service that meet peoples' needs.

Universal design generally results in an environment, building, product, or service that benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities making a more inclusive society for all. 

The 7 Principles of Universal Design are tools to guide the design of environment, building, product, or service.

The application of a Universal Design approach creates inclusion, takes account of the diversity of the human population and values access and equity. It considers differences in ability, as with other diversity characteristics, to be part of the normal human experience to be taken into account during the design phase. (

CEN-CENELEC Guide 6  ( ISO/Guide 71) provides guidance for addressing accessibility in standards and can be used by any organisation to better understand human abilities and characteristics when designing an environment, building, product, or service.

The role of standards

The standards that are developed in the context of Universal Design ensure equity and equality are considered in the development of products, services, ICT/technology and the built environment. Standards are developed across all these 4 areas in support of legislation, social policy and business.

Standards help to implement the sustainable use of resources and energy while protecting consumers, workers and the environment. This objective can be best reached by closing resource loops and maintaining the value and quality of materials all along the cycle.

Standardisation is a major component of international and European trade and opens up markets both locally and around the world for organisations . For consumers and users as well as the economy, science and state, standards ensure safety and consumer confidence,  and pave the way for innovative technologies.

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Organisations from both the private or public sector use standards as part of their core business strategy. Most of them realize that standards bring benefits to their organization, although the level of awareness and the perception of such benefits vary considerably.

Benefits of Developing Standards in this area

CEN/CENELEC European Standardisation Body provides information on the standards work taking place at European level on the topic of “accessibility”. In this work the term  “Universal Design” is interchangeable with other terms such as “accessibility”, “ design for all”.

Standards benefit organisations , and increased the market for manufacturers of products and services. Common European accessibility standards help remove barriers for people with disabilities and older persons . When applied across Member States, these standards also improve the functioning of the internal market, by removing barriers to free movement of goods and services. Standards support policy and legislation and encourage innovation and change.

They enable organisations to meet their legal obligations through the application of standards. Standards provide requirements and criteria for manufacturers against which to design products, services, ICT/technology and the built environment for the widest range of users. This includes older persons and persons with disabilities.

Products, services, ICT/technology and the built environment which take into account the human population results in improved quality of life, social inclusion and equity as well as equality and independent living. Products that are safe, reliable and are developed with enhanced compatibility and interoperability result in higher consumer satisfaction, greater market share for organisations and sustainability. 

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The role of NSAI

NSAI have been engaging in the development of standards in this domain since 2004, aligned with their policy objectives, commitment to support industry, especially SME’s, society and the diversity of stakeholders that benefit from the development of standards.

 NSAI facilitates through the participation and engagement of the diversity of stakeholders in the development of standards at national , regional (European- CEN /CENELEC)  and international (ISO/IEC) technical Standards committee work .

Examples of standards that have been developed through the work of the National technical Committee “ NSAI/TC023 - Universal Design Standards Consultative Committee” are:

·        IS 374:2019  Customer Communications for Utilities — A Universal Design Approach

·        IS 373:2013 Universal Design For Customer Engagement In Tourism Services

·        Swift 9 :2012, Universal Design for Energy Suppliers.


NSAI/TC023 facilitates participation by stakeholders in a broad range of work across the built environment, ICT/technology and products and services.

NSAI TC023 goal is to represent the diversity of the human population and to ensure the widest range of users are represented in the work at both national , regional and internationally. NSAI/TC23 encourages stakeholders to get involved in standardisation work .

The long term goal is to have standards for mainstream product/services and the built environment that take account of the diversity of the users, applying the Universal Design principles /Design for All approach.

Members of NSAI/TC23 have participated in the development of the ISO/IEC Guide 71:2014 which provides guidance to standards developers on addressing accessibility requirements and recommendations in standards that focus, whether directly or indirectly, on systems (i.e. products, services and built environments) used by people.

Members of NSAI/TC23 participate in the work of SAGA  the “Strategic Advisory Group on Accessibility” at CEN/CENELEC level.

NSAI /TC023 continue to be involved at European level in Commission initiatives such as standards that were developed in support of the standardisation requests (previously referred to as standardisation mandates )

M/376: European accessibility requirements for public procurement of products and services in the ICT domain.

M/420: European accessibility requirements for public procurement in the built environment.

M/473: To apply Design for All in relevant standardization initiatives.

Further information can be found here on these and other Standardisation requests (to CEN / CENELEC)

A new standardisation request in support of the Accessibility Act ( EAA)  is expected in 2022.

NSAI /TC023/SC1 “Accessibility of the built environment” facilitates members to participate in the development of standards at CEN and ISO level . The main committees of interest are CEN/CLC/JTC11”Accessibility in the built environment” and ISO/TC59/SC16 “Accessibility and usability of the built environment .

CEN/CLC/JTC11 published three standards in 2021. These new standards are the firs

+t standards at European level to address accessibility of the built environment The national committee actively participated in the development of these new standards.

The Irish adoption of this new standard is I.S. EN 17210:2021 (Accessibility and usability of the built environment - Functional requirements) can enable a transition from minimum legal obligations to good practice, by supporting the delivery of buildings and places with social, economic and sustainable value. An environment (or any building, product, or service inside it) should be designed to suit the needs and preferences of everyone who wants to use it.  I.S. EN 17210:2021 is supported by S.R. CEN/TR 17621 ,“Accessibility and usability of the built environment - Technical performance criteria and specifications   and  S.R. CEN/TR 17622  Accessibility and usability of the built environment - - Conformity assessment.

ISO/TC59 published ISO 21542:2021 Building construction — Accessibility and usability of the built environment  (revision of 2011 version).

The NSAI Webinar on “ Emerging opportunities in design standards for our built environment” which was held in 2022 gives an insight into these new standards.

NSAI/TC 23/SC 3 focuses on the development of standards in the area of ICT/technology. The main focus on the work is on the development of the harmonised standard EN 301549  “ Accessibility requirements for ICT products and services”  in support of the Directive 2016/2102/EU.

EN 301549 is complemented by 3 Technical Reports (TR) (CEN/CLC/ETSI TR 101550:2014, CEN/CLC/ETSI TR 101551:2014, and CEN/CLC/ETSI/TR 101552:2014).

This work is being managed by the CEN-CENELEC/ETSI Joint Working Group (JWG) ‘eAccessibility’ .

The work of this committee is the development of standards at both CEN and ISO level in the areas of assistive products and wheelchairs under ISO TC173 / CEN TC293 committees. Both these committees develop standards in the field of assistive products, walking aids , wheelchairs and related services including interoperability/interface between assistive and mainstream products to achieve accessibility.

NSAI/TC 23/SC 5 facilitates members to participate in the development of standards at both national and CEN level. This includes standards developed in the area of general products and services such as “ EN 17161:2019 – Design for All- Accessibility following a Design for All approach in products , goods and services – Extending the Range of users”. This standard was developed in support of M/473 by CEN/CLC/JTC 12 “Design for All”.

In the areas of utilities 2 standards have been developed at national level including I.S. 374:2019 and Swift 9 :2012. In the area of tourism , the standard I.S .373:2013 was developed.

Recently the National committee were very actively involved in the development of the international standard on ISO 21902 “Tourism and related services — Accessible tourism for all — Requirements and recommendations” which was published in 2021.

In the context of the European Accessibility Act (EAA)  , the standard EN 17161:2019 will  be revised and will be published as a harmonised standard in support of the EAA.

A very useful took to assist organisations in developing products and services that are inclusive , is the “Design for All protocol ”  which was developed under M/473.

NSAI/TC 23/SC 6 facilitates members to participate in the development of standards at ISO level in the technical committee ISO/TC314 “Ageing Societies”. This ISO Committee developed standards for the workplace, carer inclusive organisations , wellbeing in the communities and dementia inclusive communities. Further information on these standards are available under published standards.

The draft international standard,  "Framework for dementia inclusive communities" was released in January 2021 and the national committee organised a number of workshops to ensure that all stakeholders' voices were heard - especially those of people living with dementia and their caregivers. Due to the great interest in this work and the wealth of expertise and experience demonstrated by the stakeholders, a follow-on Webinar on “Dementia-inclusive communities in Ireland” was held to further explore the importance and possibilities of dementia-inclusive communities in Ireland .

NSAI facilitates stakeholders to participate in the development of standards from; industry, academic, research centres, , designers, Department of Housing, Department of Health , hospitals, occupational therapists , speech & language therapists, dieticians ,architects, engineers, persons with lived experience, a number of organisations representing persons who are blind or partially sighted or have  physical disabilities.