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The Fundamental Principles of Universal Design*

The following principles and guidelines were developed in 1997 by a group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, led by the late Ronald Mace, at North Carolina State University. Their purpose is to guide the design of environments, products and communications, or to evaluate existing designs. In the process, it is hoped that both designers and consumers become more aware of the characteristics of more universally-usable products and environments.

1. Equitable Use. The design should be useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities, and should:

a. provide the same means of use for all users; identical at best, but at least equivalent;

b. not segregate or stigmatize any users;

c. provide privacy, security, and safety to all users;

d. appeal to all users.


2. Flexibility in Use. The design should accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities, and should:

a. provide choice in methods of use.

b. accommodate right- or left-handed access and use;

c. facilitate the user’s accuracy and precision;

d. adapt to the user's pace.


3. Simple and Intuitive Use. The design should be easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level by:

a. eliminating unnecessary complexity;

b. being consistent with user expectations and intuition;

c. accommodating a wide range of literacy and language skills;

d. arranging information consistent with its importance;

e. providing effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.


4. Perceptible Information. The design should communicate necessary information effectively, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities by:

a. using different ways to present essential information. These may include one or more methods of communication that are pictorial, verbal or tactile;

b. providing adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings;

c. making essential information clearly legible;

d. making it easy to give instructions or directions;

e. making essential information compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.


5. Tolerance for Error. The design must minimize potential hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions by:

a. arranging the design components with a goal to eliminate, isolate, or shield potentially hazardous or harmful components;

b. providing warnings of hazards and errors;

c. providing failsafe features;

d. Discourage complacency in tasks that require vigilance.


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

a. allowing the user to maintain a neutral body position;

b. keeping the strength needed to operate it at a reasonable level;

c. minimizing repetitive actions;

d. minimizing the physical effort needed.


7. Size and Space for Approach and Use. The design should be the appropriate size. Space should be provided for a comfortable approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user's body size, posture, or mobility, and should:

a. provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any user who is seated or standing;

b. make the reach to all components comfortable for any user, seated or standing;

c. accommodate variations in hand and grip size;

d. provide adequate space for those using assistive devices or personal assistance.


* 1. Source: The Principles of Universal Design, Compiled by (in alphabetical order): Bettye Rose Connell, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullick, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story, and Gregg Vanderheiden. With major funding provided by: The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education

Copyright 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design 

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