About Universal Design

The term universal design was coined by Ron Mace, an architect who used a wheelchair and who experienced building inaccessibility first-hand. He defined universal design as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

Universal design principles are applied prior to the development of a product or
environment and take into consideration the needs and characteristics of a wide range of potential users, including those who have disabilities. A classic example of universal design is the curb cut. Curb cuts were designed to be used by people who use wheelchairs. However, curb cuts are also used by people who have difficulties walking, people riding bicycles, and people pushing baby carriages.

In educational settings, universal design was initially applied to environment and building development. However, the principles of universal design can also be applied to teaching, learning, assessment, and curriculum development. Universal design is beneficial to a broad group of students including students with identified disabilities, students with unidentified disabilities, students who are culturally or linguistically diverse, students who are of non-traditional age, students who are low achieving, and students who are high achieving.

Within an educational context, universal design has several synonymous terms: universal instructional design, universal design for learning, and universal design for instruction.