Both, not either

Accessible beaches are of no use, when you don’t have the time to visit them. This is why it’s important to raise the issue of universally designed digital services offered by the government.

The local election season is in full swing, and in some districts universal design has been a talking point. What´s interesting, and slightly alarming, is that it´s only in regard to the physical environment. The thing is that an accessible beach or culture centre is of no use, when you dedicate untold hours to badly designed digital interfaces and simply don´t have the time to visit the beach or attend a concert.

Digital time sink or digital time saver?

Digital interfaces have the capacity to make daily life easier and more efficient for the people using them. A great example of this, is the application for daycare services in the municipality of Oslo. Just three or four years ago, you could easily spend at least half an hour finding the correct schedule online, just to spend another half hour filling it in and submitting it.

Compare that to now, when it´s easier to find the schedule and faster to fill in. Where I before had to input the name, address and social security number of all involved parties, there is now a direct connection to the population registry. This makes it so that I just have to check the box next to the correct daughter of mine´s name. The rest is already filled in.

Estimated, this saves parents about five years in working hours just in Oslo. This time can now be better spent with the children, to get more sleep at night, or helping out in their communities. On top of this, the data quality has vastly improved. Where before, the data was littered with spelling errors and the like, it is now immediately correct. Probably, this has also saved countless work hours for the municipal employees.

Required tasks always come first

Everyone has tasks they have to do. Some of them you like, others you just tolerate. For the ones people just tolerate, most would probably want them done in the least amount of time possible. This frees up their time to do the things they actually enjoy.

To ensure that that improvements help as many as possible, it is important to focus on volume. When Great Britain were establishing the central public website gov.uk, it was discovered that someone had prioritized the digitalization of the service "Funeral at sea", something that only happened only a few times a year. That won´t do.

It´s better to prioritize services that are used often, in order to help as much of the populace as possible. You want to improve services for as large a segment of the population as possible, which makes universal design an essential part of the digitalization of public services. The digital platform will never be the people´s first choice if they aren´t able to use your solution.

A universally designed Norway

The previous government had the goal of a universally designed Norway in 2025. This is a goal that the current government also support. But in order to achieve this goal, it´s time to hurry a little. In order to succeed, we need to put in an effort across all fronts.

Being able to get in through the door at the concert hall is no help, when you haven´t been able to buy a ticket. A ramp to the daycare centre is useless, if you haven´t been able to apply for a place there. Being able to open the jar of jam is moot, if you can´t enter the store in order to buy it in the first place.
My point is: look at things from a wider perspective! Universal design is important in all cases and if we don´t see the entirety of digital and physical environments together, we´ll never get anywhere.

Torbjørn Helland Solhaug