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What is Universal Design?

Accessibility is a mandate; universal design is a movement. Universal design is not a trend but an enduring design approach that originates from the belief that the broad spectrum of human ability is ordinary, not special. It is a worldwide movement that approaches the design of the environment, products, and communications with the widest range of users in mind. It envisions a world where shared experience is possible, where special effort to gain full access to facilities and programming is never needed.

Known elsewhere in the world as design for all, life span design, and inclusive design, the U.S. origins of its philosophy date back three decades to the disability rights movement. Both aesthetically pleasing and functional Universal Design accommodates people with disabilities, older people, children, and everyone whose abilities change with age in a way that is not stigmatizing. Universal Design benefits everyone.

Universal Design has a parallel in the green design movement that also offers a framework for design problem solving based on the core value of environmental responsibility. Universal Design and green design share a fundamental connection however they are at very different evolutionary stages. Green design focuses on environmental sustainability while Universal Design focuses on social sustainability.

Demographic shifts in the US and internationally were a primary catalyst to Universal Design. Due to various factors, including advancements in medicine and health care, people are living longer than at any other time in human history. In the US alone, the average life spans 30 years longer than it did 100 years ago. Design is only now catching up to these demographic facts.

The Principles of Universal Design and their guidelines were developed by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers, and environmental design researchers as part of a project coordinated by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. The seven Principles that describe the characteristics that make designs universally usable are:

1. Equitable Use
2. Flexibility in Use
3. Simple and Intuitive Use
4. Perceptible Information
5. Tolerance for Error
6. Low Physical Effort
7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

Universal Design is a framework for the design of places, things, information, communication and policy to be usable by the widest range of people operating in the widest range of situations without special or separate design. In short, Universal Design is human-centered design of everything with everyone in mind.
For more information on Universal Design, visit the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University

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