Universal Design Basics

The Principles of Universal Design (developed by Ronald L. Mace) emphasize designing all products and building environments to be usable by everyone regardless of their age or ability. An example of universal design is curb cuts. Everyone benefits from using curb cuts, including parents with strollers, kids on skateboards, persons in wheelchairs, and people who have difficulty walking. Universal design was born from a broader accessibility movement which included adaptive and assistive technology.

Universal Design (UD) is based on seven principles:

  • Equitable use: design is usable by people with diverse abilities.
  • Flexible: design accommodates a wide range of performances and abilities.
  • Simple and intuitive: design is understandable regardless of experience, language, knowledge, and mental concentration.
  • Perceptible information: design communicates information regardless of user’s sensory abilities.
  • Tolerance for error: design minimizes hazards and adverse consequences of unintended or accidental actions.
  • Low physical effort: design can be used effectively and comfortably with minimum of fatigue.
  • Size and space for approach and use: design has room for ease of physical maneuvering regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) stems from UD and is used to in classroom curriculum to help engage not only students with disabilities but all students in the class. UDL has three main principles:

  • Provide multiple means of representation – Use different kinds of instructional materials. When given a choice, students will be more engaged with the content. When possible flexible content can be manipulated by the students.
  • Provide multiple means of expression – Provide alternative ways for students to express or demonstrate their learning.
  • Provide multiple means of engagement – Create meaningful rubrics. Offer choices of assessment or provide adjustable levels of challenge in type of assessments provided.


Universal Design in Higher Education – Sheryl E. Burgstahler (Editor) Rebecca C. Cory (Editor)
Universal Design for Learning – Tracey E Hall, Anne Meyer, David H. Rose
Maryland Learning Links – UDL in Your Classroom