Universal Design

What is Universal Design?

Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment (any building, product, digital, service or learning environment) so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. All environments should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use them.

By considering diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design proactively creates products, services and environments that meet individuals' and groups’ needs. This is not a special requirement for the benefit of only a minority of the population.

If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. Simply put, universal design is good design.

Seven Principles of Universal Design

The Centre for Universal Design established seven principles for the universal design of products and environments (the Center for Universal Design, 1997). These principles of UD are listed below. Each is followed by an example of its application (University of Washington’s Universal Design in Education: Principles and Applications website).

  1. Equitable use. The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. Career services example: Job posting formats are accessible to people with a broad range of abilities, disabilities, ages, racial, and ethnic backgrounds.
  2. Flexibility in use. The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
    Campus museum example: A design that allows a visitor to choose to read or listen to the description of the contents of display cases.
  3. Simple and intuitive use. Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Assessment example: Testing in a predictable, straightforward manner.
  4. Perceptible information. The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities. Residence example: An emergency alarm system with visual, aural, and kinesthetic characteristics.
  5. Tolerance for error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. Instructional software example: A program that provides guidance when the student makes an inappropriate selection.
  6. Low physical effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue. Curriculum example: Software with on-screen control buttons that are large enough for students with limited fine motor skills to select easily.
  7. Size and space for approach and use. Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user's body size, posture, or mobility. Science lab example: An adjustable table and work area that is usable by students who are right- or left-handed, very tall or very petite and have a wide range of physical characteristics and abilities.