What are the principles of universal design?
Universal design is an approach to design that emphasizes the needs of all users, regardless of ability or disability.
There are seven main principles of universal design:
The design should be usable by as many people as possible. What works for one group should not create barriers for others.
A design that is usable by people without disabilities should not be difficult or inconvenient for people with disabilities to use. The vice versa is also true.
For example, a design feature that is helpful for people who are blind, such as raised lettering on a control panel, should not be excluded because it might be considered superfluous for people who can see.
Flexibility in use
The design should support a wide range of user preferences and abilities. What works well for one individual may not work well for another.
The design should allow users to tailor the environment or product to their individual needs and preferences.
For example, a design that includes adjustable shelves and furniture can accommodate people of different heights and sizes.
By allowing users to adjust the environment to their own needs, the design becomes more flexible and usable for a wider range of people.
Simple and intuitive use
The design should be easy to understand and use, regardless of a person’s experience, knowledge, or language skills. What is self-explanatory for one user may not be for another.
The design should use clear and simple language and symbols, and minimize the need for memory and guesswork.
For example, a door handle that is easy to grip and does not require precise finger placement is easier to use for people with limited dexterity.
By making the design as simple and intuitive as possible, it becomes more accessible to a wider range of users.
The design should provide information that is easy to see, hear, and touch. What appears evident to one person may not appear so to another.
The design should use a variety of sensory cues, such as color, shape, size, and position, to make information more noticeable and understandable.
For example, a design that uses high contrast colors can be more easily seen by people with low vision. By making information more perceptible, the design becomes more accessible to a wider range of users.
Another example is using Braille on elevator buttons so that people who are blind can easily find the button they need. If the design includes a variety of sensory cues, it becomes more accessible to people with different disabilities.
Tolerance for error
The design should be forgiving, minimizing the potential for errors. What is easy to do for one person may not be for another.
The design should provide feedback about errors, and allow users to recover from them without undue inconvenience.
For example, a design that uses raised lettering on a control panel can be more easily seen by people with low vision and is less likely to be misread.
By making the design tolerant of errors, it becomes more accessible to a wider range of users.
Low physical effort
The design should require minimal physical effort to use. What is easy to do for one person may not be for another. The design should minimize the amount of physical effort required, and allow users to rest when needed.
For example, a design that uses power assist features can reduce the amount of physical effort required to use it. By minimizing the physical effort required, the design becomes more accessible to people with disabilities.
Another example is a design that allows users to take breaks when needed. If the design allows users to rest when needed, it becomes more accessible to people with disabilities.
Size and space for approach and use
The design should provide adequate size and space for a person to approach, reach, and use the product or environment.
What is easy to do for one person may not be for another. The design should take into account the user’s reach, height, and mobility.
For example, a design that includes a turnstile can be used by people in wheelchairs. By providing adequate size and space for the user, the design becomes more accessible to people with disabilities.
Another example is a design that includes an audible cue to indicate when a user has reached the edge of a platform. If the design provides an audible cue, it becomes more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision.
These principles enable designers to approach universal design from a variety of perspectives, reminding them of the goals set forth to create a built environment that is usable by the widest possible range of users.