Credit: Rolex enterprise, 2004


To start teens on their mission of gaining a working knowledge of Universal Design, the UD Learnsite's first lesson introduces both its definitions and principles, which are applied throughout the remaining lessons. To prepare our Guides, this section includes THREE versions of the UD Principles (UDP) plus their associated Guidelines (CUD, 1997). We also provide instructions for helping teens use the UDP to identify UD examples.

The seven UD Principles make it easier to identify universally USABLE products or places. The principles' titles each give a specific characteristic related to using an item: Equitable use; flexibility in use; simple and intuitive use; perceptible information; tolerance for error; low physical effort; and size and space for approach and use.

Man on the chair reaching a bulb
Credit: Vission Connection
Any "test subjects" that can be described by all or most of the above terms or phrases ARE universally-designed. After you study all three Principles' formats and the example images, UDLS Lesson 1 should be a breeze, especially if the youth can rephrase the principles correctly in their own words.

Practice identifying examples in magazines or around your home. If you haven't filled your UD sample suitcase, pack up a few photo clips and small household tools for your group of teens to show and TEST against the principles. We also suggest that you complete the Lesson 1 Learning Activities in advance, to be prepared for any questions or difficulties that youth encounter when they charge forth.

Assist your class or group in learning what UD IS, then have them find AND defend their own examples. To introduce each principle, divide the group by seven, and draw straw/principles so each small group can "specialize" in and present one principle (with example) to everyone. Lesson 1 includes a UD Scavenger Hunt for identifying other examples in an active and fun way, maybe even AFTER DARK!. Teens need not memorize each principle's description or its associated guidelines because with enough hands-on practice in picking out universal features, they should become internalized.

Remind your foot-soldiers that their example products or housing features must accommodate as many people as possible withOUT adaptation for use by those with limitations. Also, caution them against the trap of "taking it personally" (e.g., I don't need THAT!) Universal Design is for EVERYONE--to be there when the time comes that they DO need it--even temporarily.

After completing your UD Unit and practicing on a variety of small and large items that family members of all ages, sizes, and ability levels use daily, teens should have a working knowledge of the UD Principles Prepare to be their boot camp drill instructor as they mount the 'Charge of the Light Change Agents.' Upon "graduation," your young recruits will be able to spread the message of a user-friendly world FOR ALL. Have a great time!


You'll find that many consumer products meet one or two UD Principles. Although we can't document regulations that specify a minimum number of principles, we vaguely remember one "rule" that you could try: Items must meet at least four UD principles and NOT violate ANY others. Because the UD concept is not yet well-known, teens may identify some universally-designed products labeled as, "flexible and easy to use," with NO mention of UD or its principles.

UD provides INcreased usability for ALL. Meeting all seven UD principles will create product and environments that neither discriminate nor raise barriers. But not all apply to every product or place. The first six principles apply to consumer products and housing features. Principle 7 deals with space to use fixed or built-in equipment (anywhere), thus may NOT apply to small products that are used in the hands or lap. In sum, the more UD Principles it meets, the more universally-designed the product or environment.


Compare Figures GS4-1 and 4-2 to Lesson 1's simplified narrative with example images accompanying each UD Principle. Once familiar with those short and long versions of the Principles, you'll probably agree that the mid-length narrative in Lesson 1, with teen jargon and colorful images, is better for youth than the GS4-2 long form's extra detail.

The one-page short form (GS4-1), limits each principle to its title and a one-line description. Those who use such minimal guidance to identify UD items, are likely to discover that the GS4-2 long form additional guidelines and example images will multiply one's chances of selecting excellent examples. Number 3 is a bonus, UD Principles WITH ICONS. It's a fun, quick, and visual review or quiz that's in BOTH sites. But YOURS already has the icons in the CORRECT positions.

The GS4-2 long form notes that the UD Principles are NOT intended to be the ONLY criteria for good design--just for UNIVERSALLY-USABLE DESIGN. Aesthetics, cost, safety, gender, and cultural appropriateness are OTHER important design values to consider. If an inquisitive youth asks why safety is NOT one of the UD Principles, a sharp look will reveal that the description of Principle 5, "Tolerance for Error," mentions hazards and accidents.

Keeping human errors from resulting in accidents is part of safety-but not all. Protecting public health, safety, and welfare is the realm of local, state, and federal governments and international standards' organizations. The "UDP Framers" knew that safety is already covered by multitudinous codes and regulations-with the exception of product users' mistakes.

About the absence of aesthetics, cost, gender, and cultural appropriateness from the UD Principles, since we weren't involved in creating the concept, our conclusion is tentative. Those four design criteria may be either individual or contextual specifics that vary. As any new concept matures, its name, definitions, and principles are subject to clarification and revisions. Watch for future improvements!


UNIVERSAL DESIGN: The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without adaptation or specialized design (Mace, 1987).

The seven principles described below may be used to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process, and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments.

  1. EQUITABLE USE The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

  2. FLEXIBILITY IN USE The design supports a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

  3. SIMPLE AND INTUITIVE USE The design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or concentration level.

  4. PERCEPTIBLE INFORMATION The design presents necessary user information effectively, regardless of prevailing conditions or users' sensory abilities.

  5. TOLERANCE FOR ERROR The design minimizes hazards and negative consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

  6. LOW PHYSICAL EFFORT The design can be used efficiently, comfortably, and with minimal fatigue.

  7. SIZE AND SPACE FOR APPROACH AND USE Provides appropriate size and space for approach, reach, and manipulation, regardless of users' body sizes, posture, or mobility.

Source: The Center for Universal Design (1997). Used with permission.


Note: These principles are NOT intended to be the ONLY criteria for good design, ONLY FOR UNIVERSALLY-USABLE DESIGN. Aesthetics, cost, safety, gender, and cultural appropriateness are other important design values to be considered.

Principle 1 EQUITABLE USE Design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

1a. Provide the same means of use for all users; identical when possible, equivalent when not.
1b. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
1c. Make equal privacy, security and safety available to all users.
1d. Make the design appealing to all users.


*Oxo Good Grips (kitchen utensils originally designed for older people): By realizing that people change and ergonomics are in flux (we are only temporarily-abled), universal design extends the useful life of both the object and its user.

Designer: Davin Stowell and staff, Smart Design, Inc. for Oxo International, New York, NY.

*Rocker switch: Everyone can operate the switch because the large rocker is easy to locate and push with minimal force and manual dexterity (e.g., use closed fist or elbow).

Designer: Leviton Manufacturing Company, Little Neck, NY.

Sources: The Center for Universal Design (CUD), North Carolina State University, Version 2.0 (4/1/97) used by permission. Example products are from the CDROM, Images: Universal Design Excellence (1996), with permission by J. Salmen, Universal Designers and Consultants.


The design supports a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

2a. Provide choice in methods of use.
2b. Allow for both right- and left-handed access and use.
2c. Facilitate the user's accuracy and precision.
2d. Be adaptable to the user's pace.


*Large, multi-use bathroom: Waterproof floor with drain, plus faucet beside toilet allow roll-in use or a wet area shower. Hand-held shower controls can be reached from the toilet, allowing the user to bathe while seated. Bathtub has a built-in ledge at one end for transferring or for use as a shower seat. A hydraulic seat raises the user in and out of the tub.

Designer: Dede Gilreath, Interior Designer, Atlanta, GA.

Hand mixer*The SmartPower Hand Mixer's handle design fits any hand size, and its swivel cord makes the mixer convenient to use with either hand.

Designer: Tucker Viemeister and Scott Henderson, Smart Design, Inc. for Cuisinart.


Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or concentration level.

3a. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
3b. Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
3c. Usable with a wide range of literacy and language skills.
3d. Provide effective prompts and feedback during and after task is completed.


*Full-length entry door sidelight: It does not disadvantage or stigmatize any group of users, and can be an advantage to small children, tall adults, and older people.

Designer: The Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.

*"Cuddle tub:" The molded plastic shell with hammock insert and head cushions provide safety and security for the baby, thus enabling parents to use one or two hands to bathe the child.

Designers: Robert Wise and Kathleen Campisano, Century Products, Co., with Thomas McLinden and W. Daniel Haberstich of Anderson Design Associates, Plainville, CT.


The design presents necessary user information effectively, regardless of surrounding conditions or users' sensory abilities.

Guidelines: 4a. Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for repeated presentation of essential information.
4b. Maximize "legibility" (see or read) of essential information.
4c. Separate the parts in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
4d. Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.


*Talking sign system presents wayfinding information effectively in unfamiliar places, regardless of surrounding conditions or the user's sensory abilities. The user simply points the receiver (that incorporates volume control and an earphone) at the location about which information is needed.

Designer: Smith-Kettlewell/Talking Signs, Inc., San Francisco, CA.

*The Miconic Elevator System provides audible, visual, and tactile information, and is "destination-oriented" in that the user selects the desired floor while in the elevator lobby. S/he is then directed to a specific car that goes to that floor with a minimum number of intermediate stops.

Designer: Dr. Ing Joris Schrsder for Schindler Elevator Corporation, Morristown, NJ.


The design minimizes hazards and negative consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

5a. Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: Most-used elements are most accessible; hazardous elements are eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
5b. Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
5c. Provide fail-safe features.
5d. Discourage unthinking action in tasks that require close attention for safety.


*The G-O-cup is disposable, made of all-recycled paper fiber, and the lid is held by three oversized grab hooks that fit into the cup rim. The cup minimizes hazards with its oversized, highly visible sidewall seam and open rim band that act as cool zones for the user's thumb and fingers. The recessed lid acts as a splash guard to contain hot liquids, and is easy to drink through without tearing off tabs or other devices.

Designer: Timothy C. Johnson, Tim Johnson Design, Inc., Boston, MA.

*The Lighthouse building avoids accidents by placing the automatic sliding doors adjacent to the wall and installing a handrail to separate the in and out traffic lanes at the building entrance. For some, these serve as convenient safety and wayfinding features; for others, they provide optional assistance and traffic flow organizers.

Designers: Steven M. Goldberg and Jan Keane, Architects, Mitchell/Giurgola Architects, New York, NY.


The design can be used efficiently, comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue.

6a. Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
6b. Use reasonable operating forces.
6c. Minimize repeated actions.
6d. Minimize sustained physical effort.


*The Rest Seat's seating surface is higher and pitched further forward than conventional bench seating, so users can sit and rise with minimal fatigue. Clearance beneath the seat also allows users to push up to a standing position by using their large leg muscles.

Designer: Brian F. Donnelly, Donnelly Design, Davis, CA.

*Universally-designed tent site is raised 18" by a low retaining wall of logs that also serves as a bench. The wall/seat height minimizes the effort needed to get into the tent, whether transferring from a wheelchair or getting down on stiff or arthritic hands and knees.

Designer: Terry C. Lee, U. S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Grants Pass, OR, for Rogue River National Forest.


Appropriate size and space provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of users' body size, posture, or mobility.

7a. Provide any seated or standing user with a clear line of sight to important things.
7b. Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
7c. Allow for variations in hand and grip size.
7d. Provide adequate space for use of assistive devices or personal assistance.


*Swing-clear hinge allows a door to be fully open, making the clear opening 1 inches wider, creating extra room for people steering wheelchairs or moving bulky furniture. Usable on all types of hinged doors.

Designer: Unknown, but the product is available in catalogs and hardware stores.

*Adaptable base cabinet allows for a wide range of preferences and abilities by using self-storing doors that slide into the cabinet or doors that are quickly removable to provide under-counter storage and knee space for the seated cook.

Designer: The Center for Universal Design, NCSU, Raleigh, NC for builder Jay Beamon.

THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES WERE COMPILED BY ADVOCATES OF UNIVERSAL DESIGN: Bettye Rose Connell, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullick, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story, and Gregg Vanderheiden.

Note: See the Universal Design Exemplars CDROM (2000) in Lesson 6. They include international, award-winning projects from Architecture, Exhibit Design, Industrial Design, Interior Design, and Landscape Design.


(Short, simplified format with icons IN THE CORRECT POSITIONS)

  1. Equitable does not disadvantage, stigmatize, or privilege any group of 1 users

  2. Flexible accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and varying functional abilities

  3. Intuitive easy to understand regardless of the user's experience, 3 knowledge, language skills or concentration level

  4. Perceptible communicates all necessary information to all users regardless of ambient conditions or the user's abilities

  5. Safe minimizes hazards and adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions

  6. Easy can be used efficiently, comfortably and with minimal fatigue

  7. Accommodating provides appropriate size and space for approach and use regardless of body size, posture, or functional abilities

Source: Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA), 2003. Used with permission.