7 Principles of Universal Design

Family Caregiving September 25, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Universal Design, also known as "design for all people" or "design for the lifespan," is a principle for designing environments for all people, regardless of age, gender, ability or change in ability. This philosophy of design, and its incorporation into overall design of a home or the addition of home modifications, can help make it easier to care and extend your ability to care for someone in your home. In addition, the features may help support the abilities of the person you are caring for, allowing them to maintain their functioning, and thereby their independence, longer.

One example of a universal design would be the addition of a handheld adjustable-height shower. This feature can help both caregiver and care receiver. For the caregiver, it may assist you in bathing the individual you care for. For a care receiver who may need to sit while bathing, it may be the tool that allows him/her to continue to bath him/herself without assistance. Another example is the stairless entry to the home. This feature allows someone who cannot climb stairs to enter and exit a home with greater ease. Likewise, it helps a caregiver who may need to assist a wheelchair user in entering and exiting a home.

In addition to providing support and extending the independence of the caregiver and care receiver, universal design supports the needs of all individuals living in the home—from young to old, from disabled to able-bodied—so everyone living in the home benefits from the incorporation of universal design.

Principles of Universal Design

While the principles were originally developed by a group of universal design advocates in 1997, they are applicable to the practice of universal design today.

How The Principles are Formatted

  1. Name of the principle (a concise statement of the key concept embodied in the principle)
  2. Definition of the principle (brief description of the principle's primary directive for design)
  3. Guidelines (list of the key elements that should be present in a design which adheres to the principle)
  4. Images (photographic samples of the principles applied)

Universal Design Definition

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.

Please note: These Principles of Universal Design address only universally usable design, while the practice of design involves more than consideration for usability. Designers must also incorporate other considerations such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes. Offer designers guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible. All guidelines may not be relevant to all designs.

Source: The Center for Universal Design (1997). The Principles of Universal Design, Version 2.0. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University. Compiled by advocates of universal design, 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.

Used with permission, Copyright © 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design.

The Principles of Universal Design were conceived and developed by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Use or application of the Principles in any form by an individual or organization is separate and distinct from the Principles and does not constitute or imply acceptance or endorsement by The Center for Universal Design of the use or application.


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.