Accessibility and universal design

Accessibility of the constructed environment, outdoor areas, information and communication is a complex issue, as different types of disabilities have different accessibility needs. However, it should be considered in the early stage of every new initiative, how different users (including children, the elderly and people with temporary mobility issues) can cope in the established environment or information space.

Estonia has committed to consistently improving the situation of persons with disabilities by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012, Article 9 of which states that to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas.

In order to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities, technical aids are needed to compensate for individual limitations in activities and functions, as well as the adaptation of the environment, provision of services, means of communication, and social opportunities.

Accessibility is inherently closely linked to universal design which allows the creation of products that can be used by all people according to their needs. Universal design is based on the principle that the environment must be user-friendly for everyone – without the implementation of special solutions. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines universal design as the design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design.

In Estonia, the issue of accessibility has been dealt with for a long time; however, we have not yet reached a situation where it is easy for all people to cope in the constructed environment. Other parts of the world are also paying attention to the development of an accessible environment, e.g. every year the European Commission awards the accessible city title.

In Estonia, the regulation Requirements for Buildings Arising From the Special Needs of People With Disabilities regulates the constructed environment and accessibility of public buildings and facilities.

Illustratsioon: vasakul olev mees sirvib infot tahvelarvutist ning paremal olev ratastoolikasutaja näitab käega infotahvlil olevale ringile.