Universal Design

Universal Design1


Principle One: Equitable Use

Useful and marketable to any group of users

  • Provides the same means of use for all users (identical whenever possible; equivalent when not).
  • Avoids segregating or stigmatizing any users.
  • Provisions for privacy, security and safety equally available to all.

Principle Two: Flexibility in Use

Design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

  • Provides choice in methods of use.
  • Accommodates right or left-handed access and use.
  • Facilitates user’s accuracy and precision.
  • Provides adaptability at the user’s pace.

Principle Three: Simple & Intuitive Use

Use of the design is easy to understand regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.

  • Eliminates unnecessary complexity.
  • Is consistent with user expectations and intuition.
  • Accommodates a wide range of literacy and language skills.
  • Arranges information consistent with its importance.
  • Provides effective prompting for sequential actions.
  • Provides timely 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.

  • Uses different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
  • Maximizes legibility of essential information all sensory modalities.
  • Differentiates elements in ways that can be described (i.e., makes it easy to give instructions or directions).
  • Provides compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations (e.g., screen readers).

Principle Five: Tolerance for Error

Design minimizes hazards and adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

  • Arranges elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated or shielded.
  • Provides warnings of hazards and errors.
  • Provides failsafe features.
  • Discourages unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.


Principle Six: Low Physical Effort

Design can be efficiently and comfortably with a minimum of fatigue.

  • Allows user to maintain a neutral body position.
  • Uses reasonable operating forces.
  • Minimizes repetitive actions.
  • Minimizes sustained physical effort.

Principle Seven: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture or mobility.

  • Provides a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
  • Makes reaching to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
  • Accommodates variations in hand and grip size.
  • Provides adequate space for use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

Example 1:

You are setting up a buffet table on campus for students, staff and faculty. Consider whether someone seated could reach all the food. Think about how a blind person might know what was available. Would it be better to have people be able to access both sides of the buffet table, or to have a server behind the table for assistance. Are foods readily able to be taken without difficulty. How much hand dexterity is needed to serve or open a drink. How could you encourage a smooth flow of people so there is not a sticking point. If there are tables to eat at, is there only one table for a wheelchair user or more options of where to sit. How would you minimize background noise for someone with hearing loss.

Example 2:

You are setting up a classroom for a workshop, and do not know the accessibility needs of the audience. Have you saved aisle seats for several wheelchair users. Are there reserved spots in front for those with hearing or concentration difficulties. Do you have sign language interpreters and places in the front for the Deaf person and the two interpreters?  Are your films open captioned. Is there sufficient space between participants for someone who is larger, or who has assistive devices. Are handouts available in large print; are handouts online. Are break times sufficiently long for the size of the audience and for those who need to take care of disability-related needs. Do you have both audio and visual signals for the end of break time.

1 Principles of Universal Design from Richard Hardine (2021). Universal Design. Post Polio Health, 37(4), 4-6.