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7 Oct 2020   Last updated 12 April 2021

Internet universality: definition and why it matters to accessibility

Digital accessibility

The power of the Web is in its universality.
Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web

Internet universality, accessibility, and web or digital accessibility are all interconnected but divided by levels of responsibility and the scope of their applications.

Internet universality is a term created by the UNESCO in 2013 to summarize their vision on internet policy.

In brief, universality measures the equality of access to the internet (using indicators such as physical resources, privacy, and government filtering and blocking).

It takes into consideration users with or without a disability that could face any barriers to access digital content such as old devices, and poor connection.


Accessibility, as a pillar of universality, encompasses all digital divides including literacy, language, gender, or disability.

The terms digital and web accessibility focus on users with some form of disability (visual, auditory, cognitive, etc). Their scope starts from the point where users already have access to digital content and deal with how adapted the information available online is to their needs.

Digital accessibility relates to any form of digital content, including electronic documents, audio, video while web accessibility centers on websites and associated content.

Internet Universality – principles and indicators

The UNESCO created indicators for governments and other stakeholders to measure their internet environment. The framework was published in April 2019 and contains 303 indicators (109 core ones).

The organization has identified the pillars of internet universality as the ROAM principles.

R – that the internet is based on human Rights
O – that is Open
A – that it should be Accessible to all
M – that is nurtured by Multi stakeholder participation

Each one of these pillars has 3 to 5 themes that break down into indicators that public and private institutions can use to evaluate their adherence. UNESCO Internet Universality Indicators.

Why is this important? The digital environment is unequal between and within countries. The UNESCO hopes that these indicators can serve as a reference for stakeholders to take the necessary actions to promote Inclusive Knowledgeable Societies.


How can you promote universality in your company or organization?

Of course, adapting to all these use cases is not always an option but some sectors such as the public sector should be well aware of who their users are and how they will gain access to the information to ensure the message is successfully received.

Incorporating digital accessibility

While other pillars of the ROAM principles depend on external and complex factors, you can help to promote accessibility in your company or organization by applying the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to your digital content (website, digital documents, etc.).

In some regions such as Europe, that is a requirement for public institutions and regulations are moving towards making it mandatory for everyone.

Even if you are not required to comply with the regulations on Digital accessibility, promoting inclusion offers additional advantages.


The definition of universality is the quality of being shared by all things and people. In the context of the internet, universality relates to the equality of access to the digital environment.

Digital accessibility in its turn promotes inclusion by adapting the digital content to those with permanent or temporary disabilities.

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