Universal Design (UD) is the process of creating products that are user-friendly and accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, and other characteristics. Universally designed products accommodate individual preferences and abilities; communicate necessary information effectively (regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities); and can be approached, reached, manipulated, and used regardless of the individual’s body size, posture, or mobility. Application of universal design principles minimizes the need for assistive technology, results in products compatible with assistive technology, and makes products more usable by everyone, not just people with disabilities.
Typically, products are designed to be most suitable for the average user. In contrast, products that are designed according to principles of universal design are designed to be usable by everyone, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design (Connell et al., The Principles of Universal Design in resources list).
Universal design results in product features that benefit a variety of users, not just for people with disabilities. For example, sidewalk curb cuts, designed to make sidewalks and streets accessible to those using wheelchairs, are today often used by kids on skateboards, parents with baby strollers, and delivery staff with rolling carts. Similarly, a door that automatically opens when someone approaches it is more accessible to everyone, including small children, workers whose arms are full, and people using walkers or wheelchairs.