What is universal design?

Updated January 11th, 2013

The concept of universal design originated in the field of architecture, in which building designers were the first to clearly state and implement principles intended to assure that facilities were accessible to the broadest possible number of people.

A leader in promoting the concept has been the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. The center defines universal design as "design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design."

Universal design is the process of creating products that are accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, and other characteristics. Universally designed products accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities; communicate necessary information effectively (regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities); and can be approached, reached, manipulated, and used regardless of the individual's body size, posture, or mobility. Application of universal design principles minimizes the need for assistive technology, results in products compatible with assistive technology, and makes products more usable by everyone, not just people with disabilities.

Examples of universal design can be found in the publication Applications of Universal Design.