J. L. Mueller, Inc. What is Universal Design?      
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What is Universal Design?
Related Terms
Design For You
Principles & Examples


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What is Universal Design?

Universal Design means design for people of all ages and abilities, but not necessarily ONE design for everyone. Universal design is a goal that can be approached creatively from many directions.

The designed world doesn't fit anyone perfectly all the time - not even the mythical person of "average" age and ability. At some time during our lives, we all have problems with the spaces where we live or work or the products we use. Age, illness, or accidents can make these problems more difficult. Universal Design is the practice of considering these factors in designing as inclusively and equitably as possible - for people of any age or ability. "Design for all", "inclusive design", and "kyoyo-hin" are essentially identical concepts.

Related Terms

Universal Design means design for people of all ages and abilities. It is a very broad term that encompasses several similar design approaches…

Adaptable design means design that can be changed to fit the user, rather than requiring the user to adapt, such as computer software that allows the user to select large or small display text, or a chair adjustable for height, angle, etc.

Barrier-free design means design that eliminates barriers to people with disabilities, such as widening doorways that are too narrow for wheelchair users. This term is often used as a synonym for "accessibility".

Ergonomic design means design based on the physical, mental, and sensory characteristics of human users.

Lifespan design or transgenerational design means design that specifically considers the mental, physical, and sensory changes in ability that occur with age.

Design for You

Throughout our lives, we are different from each other in our ability to think, see, hear, reach and handle things, and move about. Regardless of our age and abilities, we also share some common characteristics. Understanding how we are different and how we are similar can help us understand how Universal Design can help meet our needs throughout our lifetimes.

Design for You :: Thinking

Everyone is unique in their abilities to receive, understand, remember, and act on information. These abilities can be affected the demands of everyday tasks like…

Photo of a young man talking on a cell phone while driving.  Out the car window, trees are whizzing past.
  • Driving safely while talking on a cell phone
  • Concentrating while under the influence of medication
  • Trying to follow confusing road signs

In addition, some people have difficulty thinking due to disabilities like mental retardation, that affects 1.4 million Americans, or cerebrovascular disease, which affects 3.0 million.

Design for You :: Seeing

Everyone is unique in their abilities to see colors, judge distances, and see up things up close and far away. These abilities can be affected the demands of everyday tasks like…

Photo through a car windshield.  An overhead road sign is obscured by heavy rain and darkness.
  • Inserting a key into a door lock in the dark
  • Reading a book under the glare of bright sun
  • Driving in heavy rain

In addition, some people have difficulty seeing due to disabilities like color blindness, which affects 2.8 million Americans, glaucoma, which affects 2.6 million, and cataracts, which affect 7.0 million.

Design for You :: Hearing

Everyone is unique in his or her abilities to carry on a conversation, detect the direction a sound is coming from, and hear high- or low-pitched sounds. These abilities can be affected the demands of everyday tasks like…

Photo of a groundskeeper using gas-powered string trimmer
  • Hearing normal sounds with a head cold
  • Using a mobile phone on a noisy street corner
  • Operating noisy machinery

In addition, some people have difficulty hearing due to disabilities like tinnitis ( a constant noise inside the ear), which affects 7.9 million Americans. Altogether, about 22 million Americans have some form of hearing loss.

Design for You :: Reaching and Handling

Everyone is unique in their abilities to reach, lift, carry, and manipulate objects. These abilities can be affected the demands of everyday tasks like…

Photo of a person trying to twist a door knob while holding two bags of groceries.
  • Twisting a door knob with wet or oily hands
  • Writing with your non-dominant hand
  • Unlocking a door while carrying groceries

In addition, some people have difficulty using their arms and hands due to disabilities like arthritis, which affects 33.6 million Americans, bursitis and tendonitis, which affects 7.9 million, or loss of one arm, which affects 4.2 million.

Design for You :: Mobility

Everyone is unique in their abilities to stand, walk, and run. These abilities can be affected by the demands of everyday tasks like…

Photo of a man losing his balance while carrying three suitcases down a flight of stairs
  • Moving on slippery pathways
  • Rushing through an airport with luggage
  • Moving furniture down a flight of stairs

In addition, some people have difficulty moving due to disabilities like heart disease, which affects 20.6 million Americans, asthma, which affects 14.6 million, back injuries, which affect 16.9 million, and paralysis due to spinal cord injuries, which affects 2.1 million.

Principles & Examples

Principles of Universal Design

Links:
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Principles of Universal Design
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Universal Design File

Outline:
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Terms

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Thinking
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Seeing
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Hearing
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Reaching & Handling
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Mobility
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Principles of Universal Design