Picture of two students looking at a computer screen. Picture of a professor with a computer teaching a small group of students. Picture of a student working at a laptop.

Introduction to Universal Design for Instruction


Universal Design

Picture of man coming out of store through automatic sliding doors.Picture of hand pushing down on door handle to open door.
Source: Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University

These pictures display some examples of architectural features that broaden access to the physical environment for individuals with disabilities. For example, the sliding glass door benefits a person using a wheelchair or a scooter. However, it also benefits a person pushing a carriage or a baby stroller. Automatic doors also help travelers who are carrying multiple suitcases. The door handle displayed in the middle photo might benefit a person with a physical disability, but it also might benefit a person with arthritis, a young child trying to open a door, or someone with full hands who can lean on the handle to gain access to the building! These are common examples of Universal Design (UD) that benefit a wide range of users.

According to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, UD 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.”

This picture of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City exemplifies Universal Design. Patrons can explore the museum via the long, slowly winding ramp. This feature creates accessibility for a wider range of users and minimizes the need for retrofitted accommodations such as chair lifts and wheelchair ramps.

Additionally, the Center for Universal Design notes, “the intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.”

The philosophy of Universal Design is now evident in a variety of areas outside of architecture. Companies such as Oxo market products that can be used by a range of people with varying abilities. For example, these pictures show an angled measuring cup and a one-handed salad spinner. While these might benefit some people with disabilities, they might also benefit senior citizens, a parent carrying a child while preparing dinner, or a child helping out in the kitchen.

Permission is granted to copy this document for educational purposes; however, please acknowledge your source using the following citation:

UDI Online Project. (2010). Introduction to UDI Module. Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability, University of Connecticut, Storrs. http://www.udi.uconn.edu/index.php?q=content/introduction-universal-design-instruction.