Universal design

Universal design

Universal design refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to both people without disabilities and people with disabilities.

The term "Universal design" was coined by the architect Ronald L. Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life[1]. It was the work of Selwyn Goldsmith however, author of Designing for the Disabled (1963) who really pioneered the concept of free access for disabled people. His most significant achievement was the creation of the dropped curb - now a standard feature of the built enviornment.

It emerged from slightly earlier barrier-free concepts, the broader accessibility movement, and adaptive and assistive technology and also seeks to blend aesthetics into these core considerations. As life expectancy rises and modern medicine increases the survival rate of those with significant injuries, illnesses, and birth defects, there is a growing interest in universal design. There are many industries in which universal design is having strong market penetration but there are many others in which it has not yet been adopted to any great extent. Universal design is also being applied to the design of technology, instruction, services, and other products and environments.

Curb cuts or sidewalk ramps, essential for people in wheelchairs but also used by all, are a common example. Color-contrast dish ware with steep sides that assist those with visual or dexterity problems are another. There are also cabinets with pull-out shelves, kitchen counters at several heights to accommodate different tasks and postures, and amidst many of the world's public transit systems, low-floor buses that "kneel" (bring their front end to ground level to eliminate gap) and/or are equipped with ramps rather than on-board lifts.


The Principles of Universal Design

The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University expounds the following principles:[2]

  1. Equitable use
  2. Flexibility in use
  3. Simple and intuitive
  4. Perceptible information
  5. Tolerance for error
  6. Low physical effort
  7. Size and space for approach and use

These principles are broader than those of accessible design and barrier-free design.


  • Smooth, ground level, entrances without stairs
  • Surface textures that required low force to traverse on level, less than 5 pounds force per 120 pounds rolling force
  • Surface that are stable, firm and with slip resistant per ASTM 2047
  • Wide interior doors, hallways, and alcoves with 60" × 60" turning space at doors and dead-ends
  • Functional clearances to approach and use elements and components
  • Lever handles for opening doors rather than twisting knobs
  • Single-hand operation with closed fist for operable components including fire alarm pull stations
  • Components that do not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist
  • Components that require less than 5 pounds of force to operate
  • Light switches with large flat panels rather than small toggle switches
  • Buttons and other controls that can be distinguished by touch
  • Bright and appropriate lighting, particularly task lighting
  • Auditory output redundant with information on visual displays
  • Visual output redundant with information in auditory output
  • Contrast controls on visual output
  • Use of meaningful icons with text labels
  • Clear lines of sight to reduce dependence on sound
  • Volume controls on auditory output
  • Speed controls on auditory output
  • Choice of language on speech output
  • Ramp access in swimming pools
  • Closed captioning on television networks
  • Signs with light-on-dark visual contrast
  • Web pages that provide alternative text to describe images
  • Instruction that presents material both orally and visually
  • Labels on equipment control buttons that is large print
  • A museum that allows visitors to chose to listen to or read descriptions

Design standards

In 1960 specifications for barrier free design were published. It was a compendium of over 11 years of disability ergonomic research. 1961 the specifications became the first Barrier Free Design standard called the American National Standard, A1171.1 was published. It was the first standard to present the criteria for designing facilities and programs for the use of disabled individuals. The research started in 1949 at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Campus and continues to this day. The principal investigator is Dr. Timothy Nugent (his name is listed in the front of the 1961, 1971, 1980 standard). In 1949 Dr. Nugent also started the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. This ANSI A117.1 standard was adopted by the US federal government General Services Administration under 35 FR 4814 - 3/20/70, 39 FR 23214 - 6/27/74, 43 FR 16478 ABA- 4/19/78, 44 FR 39393 7/6/79, 46 FR 39436 8/3/81, in 1984 for UFAS and then in 1990 for ADA. The archived research documents are at the International Code Council (ICC) - ANSI A117.1 division. Dr. Nugent made presentations around the globe in the late 50's and 60's presentating the concept of independent functional participation, for individuals with disabilities through program options and architectural design.

Another comprehensive publication by the Royal Institute of British architects published three editions 1963, 1967, 1976 and 1997 of Designing for the Disabled by Selwyn Goldsmith UK. The publications contain valuable emprical data and studies of individuals with disabilities. Both standards are excellent resources for the designer and builder.

Disability ergonomics should be taught to designers, engineers, non-profits executives to further the understanding of what makes an environment wholly tenable and functional for individuals with disabilities.

In October 2003, representatives from China, Japan, and South Korea met in Beijing and agreed to set up a committee to define common design standards for a wide range of products and services that are easy to understand and use. Their goal is to publish a standard in 2004 which covers, among other areas, standards on containers and wrappings of household goods (based on a proposal from experts in Japan), and standardization of signs for public facilities, a subject which was of particular interest to China as it prepared to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The International Organization for Standardization, the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization, and the International Electrotechnical Commission have developed:

  • CEN/CENELEC Guide 6. Guidelines for standards developers to address the needs of older persons and persons with disabilities (Identical to ISO/IEC Guide 71, but free for download)

These standards are still under development:

  • ISO 20282-1 – Ease of operation of everyday products — Part 1: Context of use and user characteristics
  • ISO 20282-2 – Ease of operation of everyday products — Part 2: Test method

Design For All (DfA)

The term Design for All (DfA) is used to describe a design philosophy targeting the use of products, services and systems by as many people as possible without the need for adaptation. Design for All is design for human diversity, social inclusion and equality (EIDD Stockholm Declaration, 2004). According to the European Commission, it "encourages manufacturers and service providers to produce new technologies for everyone: technologies that are suitable for the elderly and people with disabilities, as much as the teenage techno wizard."[3] The origin of Design for All[4] lies in the field of barrier free accessibility for people with disabilities and the broader notion of universal design.


Design for All has been highlighted in Europe by the European Commission in seeking a more user-friendly society in Europe.[3] Design for All is about ensuring that environments, products, services and interfaces work for people of all ages and abilities in different situations and under various circumstances.

Design for All has become a mainstream issue because of the aging of the population and its increasingly multi-ethnic composition. It follows a market approach and can reach out to a broader market. Easy-to-use, accessible, affordable products and services improve the quality of life of all citizens. Design for All permits access to the built environment, access to services and user-friendly products which are not just a quality factor but a necessity for many aging or disabled persons. Including Design for All early in the design process is more cost-effective than making alterations after solutions are already in the market. This is best achieved by identifying and involving users ("stakeholders") in the decision-making processes that lead to drawing up the design brief and educating public and private sector decision-makers about the benefits to be gained from making coherent use of Design (for All) in a wide range of socio-economic situations.

Examples of Design for All

The following examples of Designs for All were presented in the book Diseños para Todos/Designs for All published in 2008 by Optimastudio with the support of Spain's Ministry of Education, Social Affairs and Sports (IMSERSO) and CEAPAT:[5]

Design for All in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

Design for All criteria are aimed at ensuring that everyone can participate in the Information Society. The European Union refers to this under the terms eInclusion and eAccessibility. A three-way approach is proposed: goods which can be accessed by nearly all potential users without modification or, failing that, products being easy to adapt according to different needs, or using standardized interfaces that can be accessed simply by using assistive technology. To this end, manufacturers and service providers, especially, but not exclusively, in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), produce new technologies, products, services and applications for everyone.[3]

European DfA organizational networks

In Europe, people have joined in networks to promote and develop Design for All:

  • The European Design for All eAccessibility Network (EDeAN)[7] was launched under the lead of the European Commission and the European Member States in 2002. It fosters Design for All for eInclusion, that is, creating an information society for all. It has national contact centres (NCCs) in almost all EU countries and more than 160 network members in national networks.
  • EIDD - Design for All Europe is a 100% self-financed European organization that covers the entire area of theory and practice of Design for All, from the built environment and tangible products to communication, service and system design. Originally set up in 1993 as the European Institute for Design and Disability (EIDD),[8] to enhance the quality of life through Design for All, it changed its name in 2006 to bring it into line with its core business. EIDD - Design for All Europe disseminates the application of Design for All to business and administration communities previously unaware of its benefits and currently (2009) has active member organizations in 22 European countries.

The "Barrier-Free" concept

Barrier-free (バリアフリー bariafurii?) building modification consists of modifying buildings or facilities so that they can be used by the physically disadvantaged or disabled. The term is used primarily in Japan and non-English speaking countries (e.g. German: Barrierefreiheit; Finnish: Esteettömän rakentamisen), while in English-speaking countries, terms such as "accessibility" and "handicapped accessible" dominate in regular everyday use. An example of barrier-free design would be installing a ramp for wheelchairs alongside or in place of steps. In the case of new buildings, however, the idea of barrier free modification has largely been superseded by the concept of universal design, which seeks to design things from the outset to support easy access.

Freeing a building of barriers means:

  • Recognizing the features that could form barriers for some people
  • Thinking inclusively about the whole range of impairments
  • Reviewing everything - from structure to smallest detail
  • Seeking feedback from users and learning from mistakes

Barrier free is also a term that applies to handicap accessibility in situations where legal codes such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 Guidelines don't make specifications.

National legislation

Regional legislation

  • Ontario, Canada - Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2005[15]

Funding Agencies

U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) funds the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC)[16] on Universal Design in the Built Environment. The current recipient is the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access[17] at the University of Buffalo[18].


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Universal Design — Universelles Design (engl. Universal Design) ist ein internationales Design Konzept, welches Produkte, Geräte, Umgebungen und Systeme derart gestaltet, dass sie für so viele Menschen wie möglich ohne weitere Anpassung oder Spezialisierung nutzbar …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Universal Design for Learning — (UDL) is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including neuroanatomy, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences [Rose, DH, Meyer, A (2002)… …   Wikipedia

  • Universal design for instruction — (UDI) is a framework for college educators that guides the development of inclusive instructional materials and methods, with the goal of teaching all students, including those with disabilities, more effectively. UDI has nine basic principles:… …   Wikipedia

  • Design für Alle — (DfA) ist ein europäisches Gestaltungskonzept, das mögliche Beeinträchtigungen der Nutzer mit einbezieht. Die gestalteten Produkte sollen für möglichst viele Anwendergruppen ohne spezielle Anpassungen nutzbar sein. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Begriff 2… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Universal usability — refers to the design of information and communications products and services that are usable for every citizen. The concept has been advocated by Professor Ben Shneiderman, a computer scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park. He also …   Wikipedia

  • Design for All (in ICT) — Design for All in the context of information technology is the conscious and systematic effort to proactively apply principles, methods and tools to promote universal design in computer related technologies, including internet based technologies …   Wikipedia

  • Design thinking — refers to the methods and processes for investigating ill defined problems, acquiring information, analyzing knowledge, and positing solutions in the design and planning fields. As a style of thinking, it is generally considered the ability to… …   Wikipedia

  • Design — [dɪˈzaɪn] (dt.: „Gestaltung“) bedeutet meist Entwurf oder Formgebung. Es ist ein Lehnwort aus dem Englischen, das wiederum aus dem lateinischen designare = (be)zeichnen abgeleitet ist und in viele Sprachen Eingang gefunden hat. Inhaltsverzeichnis …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Universal — Universal, hergeleitet vom lateinischen Wort universus (= „gesamt“), bedeutet „gesamtheitlich“, „umfassend“, „global“ („weltweit“). Als Substantiv ist Universal (Universal ) Bestandteil von: das Universalinstrument der Astronomie und Geodäsie… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Universal Designed Pension Subaru — (Oshima,Япония) Категория отеля: 3 звездочный отель Адрес: 100 010 …   Каталог отелей

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”