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Understanding Universal Design

The 7 Principles of Universal Design

Universal design takes into account all people of diverse abilities. Products, services and environments that have been designed in this way are highly marketable, inclusive and can be used by everyone, to the fullest extent.

At its core, universal design is flexible, adaptable, safe and efficient. The following seven principles form the basis of universal design in order to create a truly universal user experience:

  1. It’s Equal: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. This means the design is useful and marketable to all people, and the user experience is identical to all users – it’s safe, secure and doesn’t isolate or stigmatize anyone. E.g. Level entry access instead of stairs allows easier mobility and access for all.
  2. It’s Flexible: The design accommodates all individual preferences and abilities, such as tools that allow for right or left handed use, level entrances or larger washroom facilities that allow for wheelchair access. E.g. A wheel-in shower fitted with a bench allows all users to shower whether standing or seated.
  3. It’s Simple and Intuitive: The design is easy to understand and operate, allows for different literacy levels and language abilities, and provides prompts and feedback. E.g. Assembly instructions featuring graphic images and clear, simplified language for all users, including people whose first language is not English.
  4. It Uses Perceptible Information: The design makes it easy to provide pictoral, verbal and tactile directions/instructions to communicate information effectively to the user regardless of ambient conditions or sensory abilities. It’s compatible with different devices or techniques used by people with sensory disabilities. E.g. Images and site maps that are tactile with raised features.
  5. It Minimizes Risks and Accidents: The design minimizes hazards and risks of accidental or unintended actions by arranging commonly used elements in most accessible locations and hazardous elements either removed or shielded. Warnings and fail safe features are built in. E.g. A warning sign with both text and graphics to alert everyone to a potential danger.
  6. It Requires Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably, with little effort or fatigue. This could mean allowing a user to remain in a neutral body position, or avoiding repetitive actions and controlling the level of physical effort needed. E.g. Lever action handles make doors easier to open for everyone, including children and persons with limited dexterity.
  7. It’s Appropriately Sized and Spaced: The design incorporates enough size and space for approaching, reaching, manipulating and using, regardless of user’s body size, posture or mobility. The space should accommodate assistive devices, a service animal or a personal attendant. Whether standing or sitting, the design provides a clear line of sight and allows for a comfortable reach modified for a variety of hand or grip size. E.g. A washroom with clear space both in front of and beside a toilet allows for maximum use of the facility for all users, including people requiring transfer from mobility devices.

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