Plain Language Summary: Universal Design

Most people will have a disability during their lifetime or will know someone who does. Also, the way we interact with the world can be affected in many ways. Some examples are breaking a bone, being pregnant, or not being able to focus in a noisy environment. This is why universal design benefits everyone. Universal design means making products and environments that people of different ages, sizes, or disability status can use. Some examples of universal design are captioned videos and automatic sliding doors. However, universal design applies to more than objects. Programs and education can also be universally designed. For example, using a variety of teaching and instructional methods can help more people learn.

Universal design applies to mental health too. A person’s mental health struggles can affect how they interact with their environment. For example, a student with anxiety may have trouble engaging and learning in school. One recommendation is using universally designed mental health programming in schools. This can mean teaching all students coping strategies, which helps reduce stigma too. Also, not everyone has equal access to mental health resources. A person’s language skills, income level, and other personal characteristics can limit resources.

There are seven universal design principles that can help when planning a product, program, or environment.

  1. Equitable Use: Is the design useful and usable for people with a wide range of abilities?
  2. Flexibility in Use: Does the design consider people’s individual preferences? One example is letting people choose their own pace.
  3. Simple and Intuitive: Is the design usable by people with different levels of experience?
  4. Perceptible Information: Is information communicated in an effective way for a range of people?
  5. Tolerance for Error: Does the design have prompts to help people avoid errors when using it?
  6. Low Physical Effort: Can your design be used comfortably and effectively by people with a wide range of physical characteristics?
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Does the size of your product and amount of space given, allow for people to use it? Some factors to consider are people’s posture and mobility.

The University of Washington’s DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center website has a process you can follow when using universal design. There are also additional resources about universal design in education and software.

On the CAST website, you can find guidelines about using universal design with teaching. These guidelines are available in multiple languages and can be found on the CAST’s downloads page.

Also, the Web Accessibility Initiative’s Introduction to Web Accessibility has information on how to make a website accessible. This site offers many resources and is available in Spanish. You can translate the information into other languages by using a tool at the top of their page.

Read the full Universal Design fact sheet.

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