Embedding Universal Design at the core of a Computing Degree programme: key challenges faced and lessons learned

Mr. Enda Finn M.Sc.,

Lecturer in Computing, DkIT.


Over the past three years, DkIT has embarked on a program to embed Universal Design as a core learning outcome within its Level 8 Computing Degrees. The key instrument in this initiative is the development of a new Universal Design Project module, which all students must do in third year (Semester 5). Furthermore, Universal Design principles have been thematically embedded into existing User Experience (UX) and interaction design modules as well as within the final year Team Project modules [Finn at al. 2015].

This paper considers both the background to and rationale for this important initiative. Although graduate software developers appreciate the importance of user (or customer) centred design, Universal Design takes this even further. In particular, two key challenges in the design of ICT products and services are addressed: firstly, being more usable “accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible” [UD 2015] and secondly deployment across the widest range of users “by any persons of any age or size or having any particular physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual ability or disability” [UD 2015]. Enhancing usability in this wider context has helped to drive design innovation. Dealing with greater user diversity, particularly by addressing the needs of “non-standard” users, can also provide novel capabilities and additional benefits to all potential users.

This paper also considers how a structured approach to Universal Design (in particular the four key stages: Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver) can be mapped effectively onto modern software development best practice, in particular iterative prototyping using agile development, whilst also providing a unifying theme and an effective means of balancing technological capability, “we developed it because we now can”, against more realistic user benefits, “we developed it because somebody really needs it”.

Finally this paper considers some of the lessons learned and challenges faced working with non-standard user groups, especially where the goal of their well-being enhancement is set and also, how the impact of the ICT product or service developed might be assessed or measured [Finn et al. 2014].


Craddock G., Gilligan J., Finn E., Kinsella M., (2015) “Creating Champions of Inclusion - Mainstreaming Universal Design into the Curriculum”, Higher Education in Transformation Symposium, Dublin Castle 30th March to 1st April 2015, available online at http://www.highereducationintransformation.com/contentfiles/2015-HEIT_Workshop_Book_of_Abstracts.pdf#page=19, [Last Accessed 27th July 2015].

[UD 2015] What is Universal Design, http://universaldesign.ie/What-is-Universal-Design/Definition-and-Overview/, [Last Accessed 27th July 2015].

Finn E., Sirkka A., Merilampi S., Leino M., Koivisto A., (2014) “Exploring interactive gameplay for well-being enhancement” Journal of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences, No 3 (2014), available online at http://www.uasjournal.fi/index.php/uasj/article/view/1599/1523, [Last Accessed 27th July 2015]