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Universal Design

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Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. –Ron Mace

According to the Center for Universal Design, the intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone. This is done by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.


7 Principles

Equitable Use

Curb cuts are equitable b/c it can be used by any wheeled device such as strollers, bikes, etc. to get off and on sidewalks
Curb cuts are equitable b/c it can be used by any wheeled device such as strollers, bikes, etc. to get off and on sidewalks
Design is useful and usable to people with diverse abilities
  • Same means of use for all users (non segregating or stigmatizing)
  • Privacy, security and safety should be equially available to all users

Flexibility in Use

Accomodates a wide range of individual abilities and preferences

  • Provides choice
  • Accommodates handedness
  • Aids in accuracy and precision by user
  • Adjust to user's abilities

Simple and Intuitive

Easy to understand regardless of skill, education, or experience

  • No unnecessary complexity (accomodate wide range of literacyand language skills)
  • Consistant with expectations and intuition
  • Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after completion

Perceptible Information

Design communicates necessary information effectivly to user, regardless of user's sensory abilities.

  • Different modes available (pictorial, verbal, tactile)
  • Adequate contrast between essential information and surrounding
  • Makes easy to give instructions or directions
  • Compatibility with a variety of AT or devices used by individuals with sensory limitations

Tolerance for Error

Minimizes hazards and adverse consequences of unintended actions

  • Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors
    • Most used elements, most accessible; least used and hazardous elements isolated or shielded
  • Provide Warnings
  • Provide Fail safe features

Low Physical Effort

Automatic soap dispensers require low physical effort by muscles and joints
Automatic soap dispensers require low physical effort by muscles and joints

Design is used efficiently and comfortably with minimal fatigue

  • Users can maintain neutral body position
  • Reasonable operating forces
  • Limited repetitive actions

Size and Space for Approach & Use

Appropriate size and space is provided approach, reach, mainpulation and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility.

  • Clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user
  • Accommodate variations in hand and grip size
  • Adequate space for use of AT devices or for personal assistance

Examples of Universal Design

Round doorknobs

Problem: Not usable by people with limited use of their hands 
Solution: lever handles provide accessibility to a much larger percentage of the population 

Narrow doorways

Problem: Wheelchair access 
Solution: Make doorways wider and easier for everyone to enter a room 


Problem: Buttons  not always accessible
Solution: Instructions and floor numbers provided in Braille, plus visual floor  displays and audio call outs of the floor and the direction the elevator is traveling.

Light switches

Problem: Often placed too high for people in wheelchairs or of short stature
Solution: Locate light switches lower


Problem: May not be accessible to people who are deaf or who do not speak  English
Solution: Include the ability to have closed captioning in multiple languages 

Household appliances

Problem: May be hard to use for people with limited mobility or dexterity
Solution: Develop remote controls for operating appliances

(Taken from

Slide Show & Pamphlets

6 North Apartment Universal Design

Principles of Universal Design Pamphlet