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Universal Design: Barrier-Free Environments

This guide will help in you in your research and design of buildings to create barrier-free environments for everyone.

What is Universal Design?

“’Universal design’ means the design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” (National Disability Authority, n.d.)

— Smith, Korydon H., and Wolfgang F. E. Preiser. Universal Design Handbook. New York: McGraw, 2011, p. 13.

Universal Design is governed by Five Principles created by North Carolina State University's,The Center for Universal Design.

The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University is a "national information, technical assistance, and research center that evaluates, develops, and promotes accessible and universal design in housing, commercial and public facilities, outdoor environments, and products."  In 1997 a group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers developed 7 Principles to guide design in a variety of design disciplines to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments.

Seven Principles of Universal Design:

1. Equitable Use - The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities

2. Flexibility in Use - The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

3. Simple and Intuitive Use - Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

4. Perceptible Information - The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.

5. Tolerance for Error - The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

6. Low Physical Effort -The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

7. Size and Space for Approach Use - Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility. 

— Copyright © 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design