Universal Design was defined in 1997 by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University as "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." Universal Design is in use all around us, by architects, product designers, engineers, and educators.

Below is an excerpt from the Principles of Universal Design, developed by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University (1997) and modified by the Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability at the University of Connecticut (2001). From the original nine principles, seven included in this list apply directly to Universal Design for Distance Education. Principles six and seven apply more appropriately to the face-to-face classroom.

The guide covers a wide range of design disciplines, including environments, products, and communications. While not applicable in every situation, these nine principles may be universally applied to evaluate existing designs. The principles are intended to guide the design process and educate both designers and users about the characteristics of more functional environments.

  • Principle One: Equitable Use

    Instruction is designed to be useful to and accessible by people with diverse abilities. Provide the same means of use for all students; identical whenever possible, equivalent when not.

  • Principle Two: Flexibility in Use

    Instruction is designed to accommodate a wide range of individual abilities. Provide choice in methods of use.

  • Principle Three: Simple and Intuitive Use

    Instruction is designed in a straightforward and predictable manner, regardless of the student's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.

  • Principle Four: Perceptible Information

    Instruction is designed so that necessary information is communicated effectively to the student, regardless of ambient conditions or the student's sensory abilities.

  • Principle Five: Tolerance for Error

    Instruction anticipates variation in individual student learning pace and prerequisite skills.

  • Principle Six: Low Physical Effort

    Instruction is designed to minimize nonessential physical effort in order to allow maximum attention to learning. Note: This principle does not apply when physical effort is integral to the essential requirements of a course.

  • Principle Seven: Size and Space for Approach and Use

    Instruction is designed with consideration for appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulations, and use regardless of a student's body size, posture, mobility, and communication needs.

  • Principle Eight: A Community of Learners

    The instructional environment promotes interaction and communication among students and between students and faculty.

  • Principle Nine: Instructional Climate

    Instruction is designed to be welcoming and inclusive. High expectations are espoused for all students.

Source: Principles of Universal Design for Instruction, by Sally S. Scott, Joan M. McGuire, and Stan F. Shaw. Storrs: University of Connecticut, Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability. Copyright 2001