What is Universal Design?
Design that's usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialization.

People often think it's just for individuals with disabilities. Why? Because people affected by disability are finally included.


Black & white photo of Ron MaceRon Mace (1941-1998) was an architect, product designer, educator, and consultant. He is best known for coining the term “universal design” in 1985, and for his work advocating for people with disabilities. He used a wheelchair most of his life due to polio.
Read our fictional interview with Ron on Medium.

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“Design that’s usable by all people…”

The challenge of designing for “all people” is including the myriad of individuals and families affected by disability while ensuring that the design is appealing and useful for everyone. Universal design isn’t strictly about disability, but it wouldn’t exist if disability didn’t exist.


“To the greatest extent possible…”

Something that’s universally designed will work for as many people as possible, regardless of variations in communication, mobility, hearing, vision, cognition, and/or mental health, throughout every stage of the human lifespan.


“Without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

Adaptation is a process in which an individual has to change the way he or she typically interacts with something. Specialized design is for a specific demographic or need. Universal design is inclusive to any generation someone belongs to or a health condition that someone may have.

What to learn more? Sign up below to Go Deeper with UD. Here’s some of what we talk about:

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No tiptoeing around disability.

Universal Design is a difficult sell for people who don’t identify with the disability community, but UD wouldn’t exist if disability didn’t exist.

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The words we use matter.

Universal Design isn’t the same thing as ADA compliance or accessibility modifications. “Universal” really does mean “for all people” here.

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Better to design new than to redesign.

Universal Design is a process of designing without barriers. It’s not a fix-it activity. Compromises are often made when redesigning. Start fresh.

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Eliminating bias will eliminate exclusion.

We see the world through our eyes, not someone else’s. Universal Design necessitates working with people who see things differently.

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Listen to people who understand disability.

Universal Design isn’t one-size-fits all. It’s about accommodating a range of ways people do things. Listen to users. Don’t depend on personas.

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Doing universal design well is costly.

Universal Design needs to be a collaborative process. It takes a lot more effort than design done by a single individual. This costs time and money.

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