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Definition of Universal Design

Universal design is "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." (Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University).

The following UD principles were compiled by leading UD advocates and experts.

  1. Equitable Use: Useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  2. Flexibility in Use: Accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use: Easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
  4. Perceptible Information: Communicates necessary information to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for Error: Minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  6. Low Physical Effort: Can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

White House Memorandum on Strategy for the Development of Assistive Technology and Universal Design

On July 25, 2000, President Clinton issued a memorandum "to accelerate the development and deployment of assistive technology and technology that promotes universal design."

Send Your Opinion on Technology Needs to the White House at:


Built Environment

Universal Design in Housing Initiatives from the Assistive Technology (AT) Act Grantees

Alabama Missouri
Alaska Nebraska
Arizona New Hampshire
Delaware New Mexico
Florida New York
Idaho North Carolina
Illinois Oklahoma
Iowa South Dakota
Kansas Vermont

The 56 AT Act Grantees (one in every U.S. state, territory, and commonwealth) are funded under the AT Act of 1998 through the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). The purpose of these grants is to increase the awareness, use, and funding both for AT services and products for individuals with disabilities of all ages.

Several of the grantees have initiated housing projects in their states that address universal design issues such as "visitability" policies and laws and the use of AT to build or renovate a house for independent and safe living. Grantees working on housing activities will share these with the RESNA Technical Assistance Project which will be posted on the Technical Assistance website. A list of all the AT Act Grantees are available from the RESNA Technical Assistance Project website at Below are listed a few examples of what some of the AT Act grantees are accomplishing in universal design strategies for housing:

Alabama STAR (Statewide Technology Access and Response) Project System
This AT Act Grantee includes programs on accessible housing opportunities at its conference workshops, in its newsletter, and I&R. STAR seeks to create community interest in developing accessible and affordable housing. Mobile Accessible Housing, Inc. was formed from a consumer group and STAR-facilitated a partnership with Volunteers of America. In addition, a HUD Section 811 grant was obtained and a 14-unit apartment complex is under construction.

Assistive Technologies of Alaska (ATA)
ATA assisted with funding sources for villagers to make their Mutual-Help/Northwest Inupiat Housing Authority program's homes accessible.

Arizona Technology Access Program (AZTAP)
This project has published the Navajo Nation "Guidelines Documents for Contracting for Renovations and New Home Construction.

Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative (DATI)
DATI provided a supplement to the Delaware AT funding guide focusing on architectural barriers and home modifications (funded by Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council and Delaware Division of Mental Retardation).

Florida Alliance for Assistive Service and Technology (FAAST)
FAAST provides training on the Federal Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines, assisted Dade County in hiring a skilled AT specialist for accessible housing needs, renovated an accessible model apartment, works with Broward County Community Development for barrier-free housing, and offers a home modifications and universal design workshop.

Idaho Assistive Technology Project (IATP)
HCBS (Home and Community-Based Services) Waiver for Older Persons is an ongoing initiative. This waiver is a Medicaid reform being implemented by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to establish an HCBS-waiver program that includes 14 new services for older persons and individuals with mental illness. IATP staff has collaborated with advocacy groups to successfully resist efforts within Medicaid to remove the broad definition of AT devices and services and home modifications that the project had added to the waiver application in 1998. The older person waiver program is being phased in across Idaho over the year 2000, starting in southeast Idaho.

Illinois Assistive Technology Project
This project introduced legislation in Illinois that establishes an Accessible Housing Demonstration Grant that provides grants to builders who build "spec homes" meeting accessibility standards for individuals with disabilities.

Iowa Program for Assistive Technology (IPAT)
IPAT will provide technical assistance to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission to develop HUD-funded trainings for consumers on accessibility for multifamily housing. In addition, IPAT was part of a joint coalition, composed of Iowa disability and state organizations and the Department of Architecture at Iowa State University, to produce a guide, What the Law Requires: Accessible Multi-family Housing in Iowa. The guide was written for owners, developers, architects, engineers, builders, building contractors, anyone who designs or builds multi-family housing. The guide is available at:

Assistive Technology for Kansans Project
The Kansas AT Project and the Centers for Independent Living started a home accessibility grant program, Kansas Accessibility with Modification Program (KAMP). This project, begun in 2000, is aimed at all Kansans of all ages who need to make their homes accessible. Home modifications are limited to $5,000 for a homeowner and $2,500 for a person renting property. In Kansas, approximately 76 percent of persons with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed or receive a fixed disability income. Therefore, these individuals are unlikely to afford the necessary modifications without assistance. To operate the program, the Centers for Independent Living, Areas Agencies on Aging, and the Kansas AT Project staff are providing on-site evaluations, arranging for home modifications, and verifying the completion of work. KAMP also promotes independence under the U.S. Supreme Court's Olmstead decision, which supports the most integrated community-based settings for individuals with disabilities.

The project also provided testimony in Kansas state legislature for a Visitability bill.

Maryland Technology Assistance Program (MTAP)
MTAP, in a cooperative effort with the Maryland Department of Rehabilitative Services (DORS), has produced the Maryland Home Modifications Directory. The Directory contains resources in Maryland for making a home accessible to persons with disabilities, including an interactive on-line database at:

Massachusetts Assistive Technology Project (MATP)
MATP offers a Home Modification Loan Program and provides technical assistance to the Executive Office of MA Health and Human Services on the design and implementation of the home modification loan program.

Missouri Assistive Technology Project
The Missouri project passed state legislation establishing a low-interest loan program for purchase of AT and home modifications with appropriations of $500,000 state match. The staff are also involved with a Universal Design Housing Project, composed of applicable agencies and professionals, formed in 1998, to educate the public and encourage more new home construction utilizing UD features with media coverage. The UD Housing Project plans to conduct a groundbreaking ceremony for a UD home in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and members of the Kansas City Police Department. In addition, the project introduced a tax credit bill for anyone building a UD home in Missouri.

Nebraska Assistive Technology Partnership
The Nebraska project provides assessments for viable assistive technology (AT) and home modification alternatives to increase the availability of alternative long-term care options for the elderly and persons with disabilities. In Nebraska, AT and home modifications are recognized by their inclusion as core services of the comprehensive long-term care system. If appropriate, AT or home modifications can be provided to keep the person with a disability in his/her home, living independently.

Making Homes Accessible (MHA) is a conditional grant program in Nebraska that helps people with disabilities make their homes accessible via housing rehabilitation and new additions. A lien is placed against the property but is forgiven after five years. If the house is sold before that time (or the tenant moves out), a prorated payback is required.

HomeChoice (funded through Fannie Mae) is another Nebraska program for single-family mortgage loans developed by Fannie Mae and the Nebraska Home of Your Own (HOYO) coalition to meet the mortgage underwriting needs of low- and moderate-income individuals with disabilities living with them.

The Nebraska project also worked with the Developmental Disabilities System, the Governor's Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities, Commercial Federal Bank, and others to create this program. The Nebraska AT Partnership provides administrative and technical support to identify necessary modifications and costs and to ensure the property complies with housing quality standards and housing preservation guidelines.

Lastly, the Nebraska project is working on the Homestead Exemption Act (expanding eligibility) definition to include more people with disabilities. The exemption will lessen taxes for homeowners and enhance their ability to afford a home of their own.

New Hampshire Technology Partnership Project
The project submitted a proposal for $50,000 to the New Hampshire Housing and Finance Authority for home modifications for seniors wanting to remain in their homes vs. nursing homes.

New Mexico Technology Assistance Program
The New Mexico project works on home accessibility in rural areas, especially in Native American communities.

New York State TRAID Project
The project supports a home waiver-home modification process that is consistent across the state.

North Carolina Assistive Technology Project
This project works with the Center for Universal Design (Raleigh) on their Habitat for Humanity project, develops public awareness materials for home modification funding options, and develops awareness by credit unions for the need for home modification funding.

Oklahoma ABLE Tech
Through its Assistive Technology Lending Program, the Oklahoma project provides low-interest loans to individuals with disabilities or for persons who have a dependent with a disability residing in Oklahoma to purchase AT devices and services, modify equipment, or make adaptations in their homes, at work, in school, or in leisure activities.

South Dakota Assistive Technology Project (DakotaLink)
DakotaLink has published a Community Options Technology Project (CTOP)-final report on the cost-benefit data on home modifications vs. nursing home housing for nine individuals. The findings of the report are that nursing home placements can be avoided and/or substantially delayed through the use of assistive technology devices and services.

Vermont Assistive Technology Project (VATP)
IN 1999, VATP initiated a "rental unit study bill" (S. 174) with the Vermont legislature to mandate minimal accessibility standards in all new 1-, 2-, and 3-family housing units built on speculation in the state. Known as the "Visitability" standard bill, VATP negotiated with their legislature to add language to the rental study that would include aspects of disability access. A 1999 task force was established to work on this study. The task force consisted of representatives from the Department of Labor and Industry, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the Council of Vermont Elders, the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, the Vermont Center for Independent Living, the Disability Law Project, the Vermont Contractors Association, and low-income housing advocates.

The agreements reached by this task force resulted in the passage of H. 612 on April 27, 2000. H. 612 mandates accessibility requirements for all new residential housing (including townhouses, condominiums, etc.) constructed in Vermont. Besides basic visitability features, the law directs VATP to work with the Department of Labor and Industry, Department of Housing and Community Affairs, and representatives from the homebuilding industry to create educational materials that explain the new construction standards and the advantages of "visitable" homes. VATP will be the lead agency in the production and dissemination of the educational materials.

NIDRR Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers on the Built Environment

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) funds two Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs) on Universal Design and the Built Environment and another RERC on Aging, all of which include housing initiatives. Their contact information is listed below. Additional information can be found on their websites. AT Act projects may find networking, training, and cross-fertilization activities in working with these RERCs.

RERC on Universal Design and the Built Environment
North Carolina State University
School of Design
Box 8613
Raleigh, NC 27695-8613
800/647-6777 (V/TTY); 919/515-3023 (Fax);

The Center for Universal Design is a national research, information, and technical assistance center that evaluates, develops, and promotes universal design in housing, public and commercial facilities, and related products.

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Universal Design and the Built Environment
Center for Inclusive Design & Environmental Access (IDEA)
State University of New York (SUNY)/Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14214
716/829-3483; 716/829-3256 (Fax);

IDEA is dedicated to improving the design of environments and products by making them more usable, safer and appealing to people with a wide range of abilities, throughout their life spans. Originally based on the concepts of accessible or "barrier free" design and normalization, our work has expanded to embrace the concept of universal design, or design of places and products that are usable by and desirable to a broad range of people, including people with disabilities and other often overlooked groups. IDEA provides resources and technical expertise in architecture, product design, facilities management and the social and behavioral sciences to further these agendas.

IDEA’s "Visitability Project," in collaboration with Concrete Change and the Buffalo, NY Habitat for Humanity, offers a hands-on traveling exhibit, "Unlimited by Design." AT Act projects or their affiliates can sponsor an exhibit by contacting the RERC.

Other Universal Design Resources

American Society of Interior Designers (ASID)
608 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E.
Washington, DC 20002-6006
202/546-3480; 202/546-3240 (Fax)

One of ASID's 2001 publications is Aging in Place: Aging and the Impact of Interior Design. Printed copies can be ordered from ASID at

National Consortium on Universal Design for LearningTM
Center for Applied Systems Technology (CAST)
39 Cross Street
Peabody, MA 01960

CAST has launched the National Consortium on Universal Design for Learning, a national partnership of educators, schools and experts committed to improving access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities, and indeed all students, through the application of the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). A key premise of UDL is that a curriculum should include alternatives to make it accessible and appropriate for students with different backgrounds, learning styles, abilities, and disabilities in widely varied learning contexts. The "universal" in Universal Design for Learning does not imply one optimal solution for everyone. Rather it reflects an awareness of the unique nature of each learner and the need to accommodate differences, creating learning experiences that suit the learner and maximize his or her ability to progress.

The National Consortium on Universal Design for Learning will capitalize on the collective expertise of regular and special educators and other professionals to foster shared responsibility and accountability for the educational needs of all children in the regular education classroom, especially those with disabilities. It will advance this goal through research, professional development, demonstration of best educational practices, and collaboration with experts.

The Consortium will collaborate with the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum, a national resource led by and based at CAST. The National Center is researching the policies and practices that affect access to the general curriculum, and it will develop collaborative efforts between regular and special educators over the next five years. As the National Center identifies best practices and promising approaches, the Consortium will respond by creating research, development, or demonstration projects that help educators to understand how these innovations might be advanced in real classroom settings. The combined work of the Consortium and the National Center will provide effective models for improving achievement for students with disabilities.


Center for Universal Design’s Universal Design and Health Care

The Center publishes two resources on health care and universal design:

Removing Barriers to Health Care A Guide for Health Professionals, produced by the Center for Universal Design and The North Carolina Office on Disability and Health. See
Booklet copies may be ordered from the Center for Universal Design (School of Design North Carolina State University, Campus Box 8613, Raleigh, NC 27695-8613; 1-800-647-6777 (V/TTY); (919) 515-3023 (fax); ) and The North Carolina Office on Disability and Health (Frank Porter Graham Center, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Campus Box 8185, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-8185; 919/966-0868; 919/966-0862 (fax); Alternate formats are available upon request.

Medical Care Facilities
ADAMCF.6.0 17 pp. 1994, $5.00
The passage of ADA broadened the types of medical care facilities that must be accessible under Section 504 of the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. This booklet discusses modifications to patient bedrooms and patient toilet rooms and highlights general design specifications for medical care facilities.

RERC on Universal Telecommunications Access
Gallaudet University
Technology Assessment Program
800 Florida Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002
202-651-5257; 202-651-5476 (Fax); 202-651-5257 (TTY)

This RERC is a collaborative project of Gallaudet University’s Technology Assessment Program, the Trace R & D Center of the University of Wisconsin, and the World Institute on Disability. The center works toward accessible telecommunications through six types of activities: (1) Systems Engineering Studies, in which a leading expert on telecommunications is synthesizing information about access issues, telecommunication technology trends, and government policy to present guidance on how to promote universally accessible approaches to new products and services.

Web interfaces to TTYs is another development to watch.

Easter Seals Project Action (ESPA) (formerly known as Project ACTION)
Easter Seals
700 – 13th Street NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005
800/659-6428; 202/347-3066 (V); 202/347-7385 (TTY)

Project ACTION (Accessible Community Transportation in Our Nation) is a Congressionally created national technical assistance program authorized under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). The fundamental work of Project ACTION is to promote cooperation between the disability community and the transportation industry. This work enables improved access to transportation for people with disabilities and the provision of accurate and practical information to help transportation operators implement the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Project ACTION provides training, resources, and technical assistance to thousands of disability organizations, consumers with disabilities, and local transportation operators. It maintains a resource center with the most up-to-date information on transportation accessibility.

Project Access for All
United Cerebral Palsy(UCP)
1660 L Street NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036
800/872-5827; 202/776-0406

UCP, under a demonstration grant from Easter Seals Project Action, published a report in 1998 that demonstrates data from a survey of 2,000 public transit customers and their use of universal design features. The six key universal access features are:

  • color coding
  • voice announcements
  • wider fare gates
  • curb cuts and ramps
  • moving walkways
  • elevators

Universal Design Education On Line
This site supports educators and students in their teaching and study of universal design. Universal design is an approach to the design of all products and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability, or situation.


Selected Bibliography

A more comprehensive bibliography is available through the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC) at or by calling 1/800-346-2742 (V/TTY).

  1. American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Aging in Place: Aging and the Impact of Interior Design. ASID, Washington, DC, 2001.
    This short report provides an in-depth look at what interior design clients want and need. Tips on working more effectively with clients planning to age in place and resources are included.

  2. Connell, B. R.; Jones, M.; Mace, R.; Mueller, J.; Mullick, A.; Ostroff, E.; Sanford, J.; Steinfeld, E.; Story, M.; Vanderheiden, G. The Principles of Universal Design. North Carolina State University, Center for Universal Design. A short publication (four pages) that describes seven principles that may be applied to assess existing designs, guide the design process, and educate designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments.

  3. Danford, G. S.; Tauke, B. (eds.). Universal Design: New York, 2002. Book presents design criteria and universal design guidelines for New York City architects and building developers. Contains examples that are intended to raise awareness about the value of universal design, show how universal design can be implemented, and encourage the adoption of universal design.

  4. Harkins, J.; & Williams, N. Universal Design: What It Means to Deaf People. University of Wisconsin, 2000.
    Paper on the significance for people who are deaf of universal design in telecommunications technologies such as television and telephones. Examples of universal design goals are discussed.

  5. Keates, S., Lebbon, C., Clarkson, J. "Investigating industry attitudes towards universal design." Proceedings of the RESNA Annual Conference: Technology for the New Millennium, June28-July 2, 1999, Orlando. FL.
    The paper investigates that products are not being produced to meet the growing market sector of older adults. In response to this need, the United Kingdom government has launched a series of research initiatives to encourage the uptake of Universal Design practices by industry. The paper describes the aims and goals of the I~Design project, the largest multi-center, multi-disciplinary team funded under the latest round of these initiatives. It also discusses the findings of a workshop held to examine the attitudes of companies to the implementation of Universal Design practices.

  6. Kose, Satoshi. "From barrier-free to universal design: An international perspective." Assistive Technology, 10(1), 44-50, 1998.
    This paper tries to answer the question of what is universal design and what is the difference between universal design and barrier-free design from an international viewpoints—the Far East, where the concept came later than in the United States or Europe.

  7. Mace, R. L. F.A.I.A. "Universal design in housing." Assistive Technology, 10(1), 21-28, 1998.
    Universal design in housing is a growing and beneficial concept. Accessibility standards and codes have not mandated universal design and do not apply to most housing. Universal design in homes is usable and marketable to almost everyone and avoids the use of special assistive technology devices and, instead, incorporates consumer products and design features that are easily usable and commonly available.

  8. Mueller, J. L. "Assistive Technology and universal design in the workplace." Assistive Technology, 10(1), 37-43, 1998.
    The terms "assistive technology" and "universal design" challenge designers, engineers, and technologists to consider the broadest possible use for the things they create, to make assistive technology as useful to nondisabled persons as those with disabilities, and to make the products and environments we design as usable as possible for everyone, regardless of age or ability.

  9. Ostroff, E., Limont, M. & Hunter, D. Building A World Fit For People: Designers with Disabilities at Work. This book profiles 21 designers from six countries, highlighting their work, career development, and education. John Kemp, President and CEO of HalfthePlanet Foundation, says in the forward: "The disability mantra of the 1990s applies to the design industry today more than ever: 'Nothing About Us Without Us'..." For more information, contact Adaptive Environments Center, Inc., [], 374 Congress Street, Suite 301, Boston, MA 02210, 617-695-1225 (V/TTY), 617-482-8099 (Fax).

  10. Ostroff, E., & Preiser, W. (Eds.). Universal Design Handbook. McGraw-Hill, 2001.
    This 1200-page book, with 600 illustrations, describes and documents the extraordinary growth in the international movement to create environments and products for all people. During the past 15 years, the approach to design that accommodates people with functional limitations has been changing from narrow code compliance to meet the specialized needs of a few to a more inclusive design process for everybody.

  11. Peterson, W. "Public policy affective universal design." Assistive Technology, 10(1), 13-20, 1998.
    This paper looks at the cumulative effects of federal legislation and nonlegislative activities on breaking down the wall of inequality for persons with disabilities and promoting the concept of universal design and universal access.

  12. Rose, D. H. & Meyer, A. Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning. This book reflects and expands on the accumulated knowledge of 18 years of research and development of innovative computer technologies and instructional approaches, designed to improve learning for all students, especially those with disabilities. For additional information on the book, see CAST's site. Complementing the book is a new section of the CAST Web site, Teaching Every Student (TES). TES offers the complete text and images of the book in a universally designed format, and provides interactive, online mentoring, including tutorials, tools, activities, and communities of practice, to support educators in understanding and applying UDL in the classroom.

  13. Schauer, J.; Barnacle, K.; & Vanderheiden, G. C. Facilitating the Development of Cross-Disability Accessible Products: The Product Design/Interface Evaluation Toolkit. University of Wisconsin/Madison, Trace Research and Development Center, 1999.
    Paper on the development of a web-based Product Design/Interface Evaluation Toolkit, aimed at helping designers and manufacturers in maximizing the accessibility of their products.

  14. Story, M. F. "Maximizing usability: The principles of universal design." Assistive Technology, 10(1), 4-12, 1998.
    The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University has developed a set of seven Principles of Universal Design that may be used to guide the design process, to evaluate existing or new designs, and to teach students and practitioners. This article presents preceding design guidelines and evaluation criteria, describes the process of developing the Principles, lists the Principles of Universal Design, and provides examples of designs that satisfy each, and suggests future developments that would facilitate applying the Principles to assess the usability of all types of products and environments.

  15. United Cerebral Palsy (UCP). Project Access for All: Report on Universal Design and Access Features and Their Use in Public Transportation. Washington, DC. 1998.
    This report was funded by a one-year demonstration grant awarded through Easter Seals Project Action under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration. UCP surveyed 2,000 public transit customers and their use of universal design features. The six key universal access features are: color coding, voice announcements, wider fare gates, curb cuts and ramps, moving walkways, and elevators.

  16. Vanderheiden, G.; & Tobias, J. Universal Design of Consumer Products: Current Industry Practice and Perceptions. University of Wisconsin/Madison, Trace Research and Development Center, 2000.
    Study examining reasons companies adopt or do not adopt universal design in their products, and what might be done from the outside to encourage more companies to practice universal design. Data are from interviews.

  17. Vanderheiden, G. C.; Vanderheiden, K.; & Tobias, J. Universal design motivators and facilitators. University of Wisconsin/Madison, Trace Research and Development Center, 2000.
    Paper presenting results from a study of what motivates companies to practice universal design in their consumer products and services, and what can be done from the outside to increase the number of companies who do so.

  18. Vanderheiden, G. C. "Universal Design and assistive technology in communication and information technologies: Alternatives or complements?" Assistive Technology, 10(1), 1998.
    This article discusses the relative advantages for individuals with disabilities of universal design and assistive technology in communications and information technology.

  19. Young, L. Y., & Trachtman, L. H. "Universal design exemplars." Center for Universal Design, June 2000.
    A CD-ROM of more than 40 outstanding examples of universal design of environments, products, and communications collected from around the world.

The National Assistive Technology Technical Assistance Partnership is a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and RESNA. The grant (Grant #H224B050003; CFDA 84.224B) is funded under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, as amended and administered by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

This website is developed with grant funds. The information contained on these pages does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education or the Grantee and no official endorsement of the information should be inferred.