Universal Design

Universal Design is the process of creating or redesigning processes, products, information, environments and physical spaces so that they are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities. Universal Design isn't just for individuals with disabilities - it improves usage for ALL people. For example, sidewalk curb cuts, initially designed to make sidewalks and streets easier to maneuver for those using wheelchairs, are also useful for parents with baby strollers, delivery staff with rolling carts, the elderly, and bicycle riders.

The following is taken from: What is Universal Design?

At the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, a group of architects, product designers, engineers, and environmental design researchers established the following set of principles of universal design to provide guidance in the design of environments, communications, and products (Connell et al., 1997). They can be applied to academic environments, communications, and products.

  1. Equitable Use. The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. For example, a website that is designed so that it is accessible to everyone, including people who are blind, employs this principle.
  2. Flexibility in Use. The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. An example is a museum that allows a visitor to choose to read or listen to the description of the contents of a display case.
  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. Science lab equipment with control buttons that are clear and intuitive is a good example of an application of this principle.
  4. Perceptible Information. The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities. An example of this principle being employed is when television programming projected in noisy public areas like academic conference exhibits includes captions.
  5. Tolerance for Error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. An example of a product applying this principle is an educational software program that provides guidance when the user makes an inappropriate selection.
  6. Low Physical Effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue. Doors that are easy to open by people with a wide variety of physical characteristics demonstrate the application of this principle.
  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. A flexible science lab work area designed for use by students with a wide variety of physical characteristics and abilities is an example of employing this principle.

- - -

Want to find out more about Universal Design?

Universal Design: Process, Principles, and Applications - A goal and a process that can be applied to the design of any product or environment, by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.