The Seven Basic Principles of Universal Design

  1. Equitable. Useful to people with all sorts of abilities. Provides the same means of use for all; does not segregate any user; makes the design safe and appealing to all.
  2. Flexible. Accommodates a wide range of preferences and abilities by providing choice in methods of use, allowing right- or left-handed application, adapting to the user’s pace.
  3. Simple. Easy to understand and natural to use, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language or attention span. Eliminates complexity where possible, uses common cues and provides effective prompting and feedback.
  4. Perceptible Information. Communicates necessary information to the user regardless of the user’s sensory abilities. Uses different modes to present information; makes them “legible” whether they are words, pictures or shapes; and makes the design compatible with other techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.
  5. Tolerance for Error. Assuming the user will make mistakes, the design minimizes the hazards of consequent accidents. Provides appropriate warnings and fail-safe features and discourages unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.
  6. Low Physical Effort. Allows the user to maintain a natural body position, requiring only reasonable exertion, and minimizes repetitive actions and sustained physical effort.
  7. Easy to Approach and Use. Accessible to approach, reach and manipulate, regardless of the user’s body size, posture or mobility. That means providing a clear line of sight to important elements and placing all components where they can be reached by a seated or standing user, accommodating various hand and grip sizes, and making room for assistive devices or people.
  8. Adapted from a paper by The Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University, 1997.

David Holtzman is a planner for Louisa County, Virginia, a freelance writer, and a former Shelterforce editor.


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