The Principles established a valuable language for explaining the characteristics of Universal Design. They are in common use around the world, sometimes with slight modifications, primarily one or two principles grouped together.

  1. Equitable Use: The design does not disadvantage or stigmatize any group of users.
  2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple, Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
  4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue.
  7. Size and Space for Approach & Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user's body size, posture, or mobility.

Compiled by advocates of Universal Design in 1997. Participants are listed in alphabetical order: Bettye Rose Connell, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullick, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story, Gregg Vanderheiden. The Principles are copyrighted to the Center for Universal Design, School of Design, State University of North Carolina at Raleigh [USA].

World Health Organization (WHO) and the Redefinition of Disability, 2001

In 2001, following a ten-year global participatory process, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) issued a new definition of disability that had been approved by the UN member nations. It addressed two competing definitions of disability: the ‘medical model’ that saw disability as a feature of the person and focused on ‘correction’ of the condition; and the ‘social model’ of disability that defined disability as a social construct. Both oversimplified the issue and failed to reflect the evidence that accessibility and expanded participation of people with disabilities has proved since the 1960s that diagnosis was NOT a determinant of individual outcome.  

WHO developed a “biopsychosocial” definition that focused on “function,” referring to body functions, body structures, activities, and participation. They also focused on the interaction of the person with a functional limitation and their personal and environmental context. Context matters and the environmental context offered a powerful opportunity to minimize disability as a negative consequence of that interaction. The definition was built into the WHO’s International Classification of Function, Disability, and the Health (ICF).  

Key concepts of the ICF’s contextual definition of disability:

  • Functional limitation is a universal human experience for those who live a typical 21st century lifespan.
  • There is “parity” (no difference) between physical and mental reasons for disability.
  • The environmental context should reflect 21st century realities and holistically include attention to physical sites and facilities, information, communications, attitudes, and policies.
  • People design the context of their lives and have the opportunity and power to create an environmental context that minimizes disability.

Just four years after the Principles of Universal Design were published, the WHO embraced it as the most promising framework for identifying “facilitators” that enhance performance and well-being, in keeping with the contextual definition of disability.

Inclusive Design Principles 

In the United Kingdom, Inclusive Design has been the preferred term for design for all since the 1990s.  This set was generated by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE).  Today, CABE exists as an arm of the UK Design Council.

Inclusive so everyone can use them safely, easily and with dignity.

Responsive taking account of what people say they need and want.

Flexible so different people can use them in different ways.

Convenient so everyone can use them without too much effort or separation.

Accommodating for all people, regardless of their age, gender, mobility, ethnicity or circumstances.

Welcoming with no disabling barriers that might exclude some people.

Realistic offering more than one solution to help balance everyone’s needs and recognizing that one solution may not work for all.

Understandable everyone knows where they are and can locate their destination.

CABE, Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, United Kingdom (2006)