What is universal design?

Universal design is design that’s usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

– Ron Mace, 1985


1. Design that’s usable by all people…

The challenge of designing for “all people” is including people with any type of impairment while ensuring that the design is appealing and useful for everyone.

2. To the greatest extent possible…

Something that’s universally designed will work for as many people as possible, regardless of struggles with (1) upper body movement, strength, and/or sensation, (2) lower body movement strength, and/or sensation, (3) balance, (4) vision, (5) hearing, (6) cognition and memory, (7) activity tolerances, (8) speech and/or communication, (9) chemical sensitivities, (10) sensory tolerance, (11) needs for caregiver assistance, and (12) extremes in height and weight.

3. 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.

Note: yes, some people have significant functional needs that require specialized design. If universal design is the foundation for design, adding specialized features as-needed is much easier and more cost-effective than if a design is fully specialized.