What is Universal Design?

Laptop first person point of view

Recently, we wrote a blog highlighting a few common accessibility terms - with the last one being universal design. Universal design can be defined as "designing for accessibility as the base of the design process to provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people possible instead of as additional steps in the process only for those with disabilities." However, there are several relating terms that all refer to this field of study, including inclusive design, barrier-free design, human-centered design, design-first, person-first design, and universal access.


Does it Differ from "Accessibility?"

Often used synonymously with the term "accessibility," universal design is a broad field of study that can be applied to numerous industries including website and application design, product design, and building designs. While "Accessible Design" surely eliminates barriers to certain groups of people, including people with disabilities, it does not imply universal access or universal "usability."

Thus, if designers think with accessibility in mind, without considering the broader scope of universal design, they risk excluding users. 

The biggest takeaway here is that universal design = good design.


A Framework to Follow 

Creating something that is accessible to everyone means designing to create a product that is usable by all. But, how do we measure just HOW usable the product is?

The 7 Principles of Universal Design were developed in order to help designers think inclusively. It is a combination of principles that, when implemented, allow an object, place or tool to be fully usable by everyone.


7 Principles of Universal Design

Principle 1: Equitable Use

There is a market need for the design among users with diverse abilities.

    Principle 2: Flexibility in Use

    The design is individualized to accommodate personal preferences and abilities.

    Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use

    The design is relatively easy to use and understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge and communication abilities.

    Principle 4: Perceptible Information

    The design communicates (through verbal, audial, text, pictorial etc.) information to the user, regardless of the user's current environment, hearing or visual impairments.

      Principle 5: Tolerance for Error

      The design implements features for a reduced risk of harm or consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

        Principle 6: Low Physical Effort

        The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

        Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

        The design considers an appropriate size and space for users to access and use, regardless of a user's limited mobility.

        This is not an exhausted list of principles to follow but is a great starting point for designers who are looking to implement universal design into their field.

        To read more about the specific guidelines for each principle, visit the National Disability Authority.

        You can also learn about making general healthcare more accessible here.

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