How Universal Design Can Positively Impact People with Disabilities

Published September 23, 2020

Universal design, as part of an accessibility strategy, enhances user experience and has a massive return on investment.

What is universal design?

The NC State University Center for Universal Design defines universal design as an accessibility design strategy that may enable the majority of people to use the same products and environments, regardless of their abilities. It can involve features such as customizable environments and products, or information and materials presented in a manner that is simple for a wide array of people to process. This set of best practices eliminates the need to create accommodations or alterations of such products and environments. Those features are built in at the outset.

The core principles of universal design

The fundamental principles of universal design, which were developed by an expert team of engineers, product designers, architects, and environmental design researchers, are provided by the NC State University Center for Universal Design:

  1. Equitable use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  2. Flexibility in use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. 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.
  4. Perceptible information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  6. Low physical effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
  7. Size and space for approach and use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

What are the benefits of universal design?

Universal design can broaden the scope of people who benefit from products or environments. The United States Office of Disability Employment Policy (USODEP) noted that is designed to be nearly one-size-fits-all, an approach that allows individuals to use products and knowledge they may otherwise be barred to use because of those entities’ inaccessibility. That way, these materials can reach larger audiences.

Additionally, the USODEP pointed out that universal design can offer practical business advantages. It can prevent businesses from spending time and money on unanticipated road blocks as they arise, as those accommodations are addressed from the beginning. It also can help businesses recruit and retain employees because employees can work more efficiently.

Furthermore, the USODEP denoted that universal design has demonstrated benefits that those who do not have disabilities enjoy. For example, sidewalk curb cuts were designed for utilization by wheelchair users, however they are a feature that nearly everyone uses. In addition, telework may be a great tool for people with certain disabilities, but those without disabilities can also have much to gain from the practice. No matter what someone’s background is, universal design may maximize accessibility for them.

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