Universally Designed Norway by 2025

The Government's Action plan for Universal Design and improved accessibility, 2009-2013, is an important document. I have read through this document and concentrated particularly on ICT.

Story by: Morten Tollefsen - 15.05.2009

The Action Plan is cross-sectoral and so includes both cross-sectoral and sectoral measures.
The Government has four priority areas for Universal Design and accessibility: outdoor areas / planning, buildings, transport and ICT. Government.no states the following:

The Government's vision is that Norway should be Universally Designed by 2025. This will prevent discrimination of persons with disabilities and provide a better environment for the entire population. The Government proposes a gradual implementation of the most comprehensive commitment to Universal Design ever.

This is an ambitious and probably impossible task. Nevertheless, it is important and positive that the Government is fronting Universal Design so strongly. It is also positive that the Action Plan sets a time limit for specific measures and places responsibility for their implementation.

The Discrimination and Accessibility Act came into force 1. January 2009. In some areas, such as ICT, there are statutory requirements for when Universal Design should be completed. In "Norway Universally Designed 2025" the Anti-discrimination Act is used as strategy and tool for ICT. I think this is sensible. I have nevertheless chosen to do some research on a number of measures in the Action Plan. The advantage of the Web is that people like me can get a little insight, but whether anyone cares about my opinion is rather doubtful!

The file formats for documents you can download are Microsoft Word and PDF which is surprising to me. The public standards are HTML, PDF and ODF, and I had expected HTML to be used if the original appearance of the document was not important. PDF is used when the appearance should be preserved. The original appearance is obviously not critical here since it is published in Word.

2.1 Overall goal of the plan

The Action Plan will support the implementation of the new Discrimination and Accessibility Act, new planning and building codes and other legislation that deals with Universal Design. The Action Plan will also help to meet Norway's obligations through ratification of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

The use of legal instruments is an important part of the overall strategy to promote Universal Design. It will be interesting to see how these instruments are used in practice for ICT.

3.4 ICT

Chapter 3.4 states the following main objectives for ICT:

The Government's main objective for ICT politics in general is an Information Society for all, ref. White Paper No. 17 (2006-2007). Norway is among the leading countries in the world regarding access to and use of ICT. When much of society is geared towards digital solutions, the consequences of being outside these solutions are great, particularly for the elderly and disabled.
An Information Society for all is a good goal for Norwegian ICT policies. But the Anti-Discrimination Act in itself is not sufficient to achieve this, and the real impact of the Act must be expanded if Norway is to become Universally Designed. The Anti-discrimination Act covers "the public", but full freedom of participation, eg. in small niche groups is an important democratic and social right. For example, if I am interested in band music and also good at playing and am offered a job in a publicly supported orchestra, does a Universally Designed Norway require that I get notes in an accessible format (in my case in an electronic format)? This is not covered by the Act. I will spare readers more examples, but there is a certain danger that an Anti-discrimination Act and "An information society for all" are far from ensuring a Universally Designed Norway.

The following time-limits are set:

  • All new ICT aimed at the general public should be Universally Designed from 2011.
  • All existing ICT aimed at the general public should be Universally Designed by 2021.

The strategy to achieve Universal Design of ICT is to use the Anti-discrimination Act for all it is worth:

Since the requirements must be ready a year before they come into force, the standards / guidelines for central ICT solutions should be established before 1. July 2010. This means that regulations and the basis for the regulations must be submitted within the same deadline. This applies first and foremost to new ICT solutions that underpin a business's general functions, and which are also the main solutions aimed at or made available to the public. Work on indicators will also be initiated.
The Ministry of Government Administration and Reform have granted support to certified training in Universal Design for ICT in 2008 and hopefully in 2009. This has resulted in a course with a practical approach which will hopefully become a more permanent resource for improving competence in Universal Design and ICT.

Another strategic action is directed at the quality of public Web sites:

DIFI (Agency for Public Management and eGovernment) is working with quality control of public Web sites (state and municipal) in terms of accessibility. Approximately 700 public sites will be reviewed annually by 36 criteria for accessibility, usability, and quality of content. The assessments will focus on issues and areas that public administrative Web sites have a particular responsibility to follow up. The results of the assessments are presented on Norge.no and the Web sites are awarded stars according to the total score achieved. The results from 2008 show good progress compared with the previous year.

The Norwegian Research Council has an interdisciplinary program that is part of the Government's strategy:

IT Funk is a crosswise commitment relating to persons with disabilities, Universal design and new technology. This initiative is in collaboration with the Norwegian Research Council and also funded with 5.6 million Kr annually from the Ministry of Children and Equality. The goal of the initiative is improved accessibility to information and communication for persons with disabilities, using ICT - based products and services that are on the general market and used by everyone. For several years, the initiative has developed a unique working model based on close cooperation between industry, R & D environments, user organizations and public bodies. In 2007 IT Funk was extended for six more years.
The idea of IT Funk is good, especially that it is an interdisciplinary program. In this way the quality of R & D ICT projects aimed at people with disabilities is ensured because there is competition between them to get support. Awareness of Universal Design will also be increased in other Research Council programs.
I could also have wished that IT Funk had received enough funds to finance larger projects: there are many challenges connected to Universal Design and ICT. The Norwegian Research Council does not have Universal Design as a main focus in some programs. When the Resource Network for Universal Design proposed that Universal Design should be a criterion in all project applications, on equal terms with for example the environment, there was a negative response.

Strategies are good, but for us non-politicians, concrete measures are also important.

Measure IK1 Main project to clarify the Universal Design of ICT.

This initiative includes surveying what should be acquired, who is responsible, organization of the audit, preparation of the regulation, information, etc.. The initiative is linked to the Discrimination and Accessibility Act. Five and a half million kroner are allocated to the implementation of this measure.
Implementation: From 2009
Responsible: Ministry of Government Administration and Reform
This seems to be a major project (i.e. receives as much support as IT Funk). For me it is difficult to see what concrete results will come from this initiative. Several of the key points in the measure are, however, important, and probably quite necessary to be able to use the means the Government is proposing for Universal Design.

Measure IKT2 Universal Design on the Internet.

The newly established Directorate, DIFI, will be a driving force for improved quality and accessibility of information and services on the Internet.
Implementation: From 2009
Responsible: Ministry of Government Administration and Reform
It seems to me more like a continuation of the quality control of public Web sites, rather than a measure that will directly affect Universal Design. The text describes the overall responsibilities DIFI have, but no concrete measures for Universal Design.

The assessment of public Web pages has had a positive effect. I am often contacted by administrators for public Web sites about improving accessibility after an evaluation.

Measure IKT3 Evaluation of digital learning platforms

Ensure that digital learning platforms in schools address the needs of users with disabilities.
Completion: 2009
Responsible: Ministry of Education
Digital learning platforms are important, but it is surprising that this is found as a separate action in the Action Plan. Since the title contains "evaluate" I understand that there will be accessibility and usability checks of existing platforms. Ring me, and I will say a little about the most common platforms (and even better, also carry out an evaluation) - so maybe we can together "Ensure that digital learning platforms in schools address the needs of users with disabilities". It is actually just a matter of competence, i.e. proper evaluation of usability and accessibility. That said, I am very happy that learning platforms are listed in the Action Plan. It is just a shame that funds are being used to evaluate rather than act.

For over 10 years I have had contact with one of the big firms in this business. However, their system is bad, and strictly speaking, they have just used me when they need any form of PR assistance. They have received a lot of negative feedback, so I shall just say that I am not impressed by either the user interface, or the degree of Universal Design. This is unfortunate for disabled students, parents, employees at the schools and everyone else who has to use this learning platform.

Measure IKT4 Improved adaptation for deaf and hearing impaired in TV and cinema.

There will be a review to find out if there is a need for a set of general requirements for subtitling and sign language interpretation on TV etc. Testing of Norwegian films in the cinema for the hearing impaired is to be taken over by Film & Kino from 2009. Over the next few years the digitalization of cinema will mean that subtitling is much cheaper and the distribution of texted movies easier. In the digital future there will be a review of whether copies of Norwegian films receiving production subsidies must include the possibility to display text. The transition to digital cinema will take place in the period 2009 - 2014. The requirements for subtitling will be reviewed for all Norwegian films with production subsidies.
Implementation: 2009-2014
Responsible: Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs
It is good that cinema is to be adapted for the hearing impaired, but this is not the only group with special needs. Visually impaired persons are equally entitled to go to the cinema, and audio description is not resource-intensive! It is disappointing, yes actually quite unfair, that audio description is not mentioned with a single word in the Action Plan! I have heard that Film & Kino also have responsibility for audio description of DVD. Until the contrary is proved I shall believe that this is a miss from the Government and that audio description should have been mentioned along with subtitling.

Measure IKT5 Development of technology for speech recognition

The possibility for development of technology for speech recognition in Norway will be investigated.
Implementation: 2009-2013
Responsible: Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs
The Government cannot have been following the current situation here? MediaLT is in full swing with development, so the Government does not need to research whether it is possible. It is possible to develop Norwegian voice technology. A tender for speech recognition in connection with subtitling of TV broadcasts was also recently announced. So here the funds should go to development not study! This development is of course costly, but for many disabled people, speech recognition would be fantastic! See:

3.5 Trans sectoral measures

ICT is trans sectoral in many cases. The Action Plan states amongst other things:

There are Standards for accessible Web pages, ...
It is natural to assume that this is directed towards WCAG (also ARIA, ATAG and UAAG all from WAI):
However, these standards are for accessibility - not Universal Design. Universal Design will be essential, especially for government services, and principles like "ease of use" and "understandable" must be implemented in practice. Here there are actually no standards! Currently there is not a single standard for digital user competence which includes mastery of computer assistive devices etc. I think that a definition of digital user competence (which is not easy) would  lead to greater success for the Measure IS2 Standards for Universal Design described below.

Measure IS1 Establishing an indicator system for the measurement of Universal Design

An indicator system is being established for Universal Design in the areas of ICT, transport, buildings and facilities and outdoor areas. A plan is to be presented for when the indicators will be operational in 2009.
Implementation: From 2009
Responsible: Ministry of Children and Equality etc.
I am eager to see which standards are coming in ICT!

Measure IS2 Development of standards for Universal Design

Standards for Universal Design are being developed. Key areas are buildings, outdoor areas, transport and ICT.
Implementation: From 2009
Responsible: Ministry of Children and Equality, etc.
I am eager to see which standards are coming in ICT! These standards will be important, and to help manufacturers of hardware and software, it is of course necessary to get these standards in place, since the Anti-discrimination legislation is soon to be enforced!

Measure IS3 Incorporate systematic Universal Design in standardization work from the consumer side.

A project is to be initiated which is aimed at mapping specifications for accessibility and Universal Design of services in different areas. The survey will be followed up by specific standardization work in the products and services sector.
Implementation: From 2009
Responsible: Ministry of Children and Equality
It would have been useful if the Action Plan was more specific, i.e. with examples of the kind of standardization work to be followed up. Standardization is often time-consuming, so I assume that there has been some consideration of what standards should be followed up. Otherwise, it seems to me that there several measures that overlap each other, at least in part. This survey could have been a prerequisite for "Measures IS2".

3.5.3 Communication policy

Measure KOM1 Government Communication policy with greater emphasis on ensuring that all citizens are included.

The Rules and norms of Universal Design will form the basis for Government  communication. Different needs and requirements when receiving Government information will be taken into account for example, language, culture, disability, lack of competence ,or lack of access to digital media. The budget for this measure in the period 2008-2010 is 4.2 million kroner.
Implementation: from 2008
Responsible: Ministry of Government Administration and Reform
This sounds good! I have become engaged personally (as some people are aware) regarding the selection of file formats etc.. It appears that the Government will go even further, ie also look at the use of these formats. Great!

Measure KOM2 "Comprehensible Language"

This project will make it easier to read public information. The initiative will help to achieve good language in public forms, letters, Web sites etc.. The project has several sub-projects, including a Comprehensible language prize, the Web site klarspråk.no and also supports local initiatives.
Implementation: from 2009
Responsible: Ministry of Government Administration and Reform
Those who have read public Web pages, reports, studies, laws, policies, etc. understand that this measure is necessary and I say no more! And, by the way, the language in this Action Plan is quite good!

3.5.4 Children and young people

That children and young people are particularly mentioned in the Action Plan for Universal Design is good . Unfortunately I do not think that  ICT is emphasized enough here. ICT is an essential part of life for many children and young people, both at school and in leisure activities.

Measures FOU1 Innovation Program "Innovation for all."

Further commitment and follow-up of the program "Design for all" by the Norwegian Design Council in the form of a new plan with broader and longer perspectives. Universal Design of products and services, and international contacts will be emphasized.
I am rather sceptical. How many disabled people have profited from this work to date? Design Awards etc. certainly help to increase awareness, and maybe I have no reason to be wary! It's just that all of us with disabilities have seen many awards and heard many fine words, but practical results are worth so much more (then you can boast more about what you have done afterwards). I do not really understand why this is part of the chapter for children and young people.

Measures FOU2 Socio-economic benefits of Universal Design.

Several Ministries and Government agencies have conducted cost calculations and analysis of the socio-economic benefit of Universal Design. There is a need for improving the methodology for analyzing the benefit of Universal Design and for more precise figures for the cost of implementation.
Implementation: From 2009
Responsible: Ministry of Children and Equality , Local Government and Regional Development
I believe that this can be very exciting! For those of us who work with Universal Design, it's easy to say that everyone can benefit, that it is profitable etc. But it would be better to get some numbers! And not only for children and young people.

Measure FOU3 Universal Design in the University and College sector

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology will contribute to the implementation, follow-up and revision of the Action Plan for Universal Design at universities and colleges. They will also follow up the plan for improving competence in Universal Design in Education. This means, among other things, that Universal Design will be included in curricula and that the skills and competence of academic staff will be improved.
Implementation: From 2009
Responsible; Ministry of Education
Digital learning platforms are also relevant here.

Measure FOU4 Research and competence regarding children with disabilities in kindergarten

A program for practice-oriented research, training and development in the nursery sector.
Implementation: From 2009
Responsible: Ministry of Education
I do not know if this includes ICT? If the answer is yes: remember that it should be fun! Too much of ICT for the Disabled has focused on education! Entertainment is important for everyone and some believe it is a primary need. For children, it is even more important: play and learn!

Measures FOU5 Schools and Universal Design

An  investigation of  what factors are important in schools to meet the challenges of the diversity of students found in school today. The survey will help clarify what questions should be asked, and what measures should be taken in the planning and development of a school to enable equal education and participation and accessibility for all students.
Implementation: From 2009
Responsible: Delta Center
Digital learning platforms are also important here. ICT is important in school, and from the many phone calls I have received through the years I think there is much work to be done in ICT in school! For example, School Linux cannot be used by people who need a screen reader (synthetic voice).


I received a call earlier today from someone who had read the Action Plan. This person gave several examples of "the disabled" being mentioned in the Action Plan ... "The requirements for the new train seats  have been prepared in cooperation  with the Disability User organizations...
It  seems reasonable to conclude that "the disabled" have not been involved in creating the Action Plan.

I do not notice this sort of thing, but erasing the word "the" before disabled would avoid this little subtle difference! Just a hint to "the" bureaucrats who write these type of documents.

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