Universal Challenge

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This is a photo of a young man pushing his wheelchair up an incline beam to a platform.  The young man has a person on each side of his wheelchair and one person walking behind his chair; all are working as safety spotters.
Universal Challenge Programming

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History of Universal Design

A working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers collaborated to establish Principles of Universal Design to guide a wide range of design disciplines including environments, products and communications. The seven principles may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments.

The Principles of Universal Design were authored through the initiatives of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University and funded through a grant by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. Visit the Center for Universal Design for examples of universal design and additional resources.

The Principles are presented in the format: name of principle, intended to be a concise and easily remembered statement of the key concept embodied in the principle; definition of the principle, a brief description of the principle's primary directive for design; and guidelines, a list of the key elements that should be present in a design which adheres to the principle.

Note that all guidelines may not be relevant to all designs. In addition, the 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, culture, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes. The Principles offer designers guidance, which will allow better integration of features that meet the needs of as many users as possible.

(This background section reprinted from “Designing for the Widest Spectrum of Park Visitors” with permission from the National Center on Accessibility.)

Principles of Universal Design

In this photo‚ smiling participants sit on a platform waiting for an activity to begin.
Participants prepare for a low challenge course activity.

Principle 1: Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.



  • Guidelines:
    • Provide the same means of use for all participants identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
    • Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any participants
    • Make provisions for privacy‚ security‚ and safety equally available to all participants
    • Make the design appealing to all participants

Principle 2: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

  • Guidelines:
    • Provide choice in methods of use.
    • Accommodate right or left handed access and use.
    • Facilitate the participant’s accuracy and precision
    • Provide adaptability to the participant’s pace.

Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience‚ knowledge‚ language‚ skills‚ or current concentration level.

  • Guidelines:
    • Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
    • Be consistent with participant expectations and intuition.
    • Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
    • Arrange information consistent with its importance.
    • Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

Principle 4: Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the participant‚ regardless of ambient conditions or the participant’s sensory abilities.

  • Guidelines:
    • Use different modes (pictorial‚ verbal‚ tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
    • Maximize “legibility” of essential information.
    • Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e. make it easy to give instructions or directions).
    • Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

Principle 5: Tolerance for Error

The design minimized hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

  • Guidelines:
    • Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors most used element‚ most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated‚ isolated‚ or shielded.
    • Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
    • Provide fail safe features
    • Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

Principle 6: Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

  • Guidelines:
    • Allow participant to maintain a neutral body position.
    • Use reasonable operating forces.
    • Minimize repetitive actions
    • Minimize sustained physical effort

Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach‚ reach‚ manipulation‚ and use regardless of participant’s body size‚ posture‚ or mobility.

  • Guidelines:
    • Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing participant.
    • Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing participant.
    • Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
    • Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

Adapted from The Principles of Universal Design‚ Version 2.0 (1997) by North Carolina State University (as cited in Preiser & Ostroff ‚ 2001‚ Fig. 10.1).

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