Online Accessibility Training

General Accessibility Tool:
Universal Design


Logo, Adaptive Environments CenterUniversal design is a worldwide movement based on the concept that all products, environments and communications should be designed to consider the needs of the widest array of users. It is also known by other names: design for all, inclusive design, lifespan design or human-centered design. Universal design is a way of thinking about design that is based on the following premises:

  • Varying ability is not a special condition of the few but a common characteristic of being human, and we change physically and intellectually throughout our lives.
  • If a design works well for people with disabilities, it works better for everyone.
  • At any point in our lives, personal self-esteem, identity, and well-being are deeply affected by our ability to function in our physical surroundings with a sense of comfort, independence and control.
  • Usability and aesthetics are mutually compatible.

Universal design asks from the outset how to make the design work beautifully and seamlessly for as many people as possible. It seeks to consider the breadth of human diversity across the lifespan to create design solutions that work for all users.
© Adaptive Environments Center.

For more on Universal Design, see “What is Universal Design?” by Polly Welch, Associate Professor, University of Oregon, Eugene. This document is the first chapter in the book, Strategies for Teaching Universal Design, Welch, P. Editor, (Adaptive Environments Center and MIG Communications, 1995). It discusses what Universal design is and is not and why the term was needed at all.

The Principles of Universal Design

These seven principles may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process, and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments.

PRINCIPLE ONE: Equitable Use
The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

  • Guidelines:
    1a. Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
    1b. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
    1c. Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.
    1d. Make the design appealing to all users.

PRINCIPLE TWO: Flexibility in Use
The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

  • Guidelines:
    2a. Provide choice in methods of use.
    2b. Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
    2c. Facilitate the user's accuracy and precision.
    2d. Provide adaptability to the user's pace.

PRINCIPLE THREE: 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.

  • Guidelines:
    3a. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
    3b. Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
    3c. Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
    3d. Arrange information consistent with its importance.
    3e. Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

PRINCIPLE FOUR: Perceptible Information
The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.

  • Guidelines:
    4a. Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
    4b. Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
    4c. Maximize "legibility" of essential information.
    4d. Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (that is, make it easy to give instructions or directions).
    4e. Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

PRINCIPLE FIVE: Tolerance for Error
The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

  • Guidelines:
    5a. Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most-used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
    5b. Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
    5c. Provide fail-safe features.
    5d. Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

PRINCIPLE SIX: Low Physical Effort
The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

  • Guidelines:
    6a. Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
    6b. Use reasonable operating forces.
    6c. Minimize repetitive actions.
    6d. Minimize sustained physical effort.

PRINCIPLE SEVEN: Size and Space for Approach and Use
Appropriate size and space are provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility.

  • Guidelines:
    7a. Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
    7b. Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
    7c. Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
    7d. Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

Please note that the Principles of Universal Design address only universally usable design, while the practice of design involves more than consideration for usability. Designers must also incorporate economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes. These Principles offer designers guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible.

"The Principles of Universal Design were conceived and developed by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Use or application of the Principles in any form by an individual or organization is separate and distinct from the Principles and does not constitute or imply acceptance or endorsement by The Center for Universal Design of the use or application."

Copyright 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design


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