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EPD - Teaching & Learning - Theories & Principles - Universal Design

Universal Design (UD) ensures that a product or environment can be used by as many people as possible.

Universal Design


Universal Design creates an environment for users that is accessible, usable, and understandable to the greatest extent possible, regardless of age, ability, or situation (National Disability Authority [NDA], 2020). The seven principles of Universal Design are (NDA, 2020):

 Principle Guidelines
Equitable Use
  • Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible, equivalent when not.
  • Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
  • Make the design appealing to all.
Flexibility in Use
  • Provide choice in methods for use.
  • Facilitate the user's accuracy and precision.
  • Provide adaptability to the user's pace.
Simple and Intuitive Use
  • Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
  • Be consistent with user 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.
Perceptible Information
  • Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
  • Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
  • 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.
Tolerance of Error
  • Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated or shielded.
  • Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
  • Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.
Low Physical Effort
  • Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
  • Use reasonable operating forces.
  • Minimize repetitive actions and sustained physical effort.
Size and Space for 
Approach and Use
  • Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
  • Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.


The concept of Universal Design has many applications, including Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Web Accessibility. When designing for learning, it is important to incorporate the three principles of UDL (UW-Madison, 2016):

Principle 1 is Multiple Means of Engagement. Stimulate motivation and sustained enthusiasm for learning by promoting various ways of engaging with material. Principle 2 is Multiple Means of Representation. Present information and content in a variety of ways to support understanding by students with different learning styles or abilities. Principle 3 is Multiple Means of Action or Expression. Offer options for students to demonstrate their learning in various ways. One example of this is to allow students to choose the type of assessment.
Learning management systems (e.g., Canvas) and instructional materials should be accessible, easy to use, and engaging for learners (UW-Madison, 2020). For more on accessible online learning, see EPD - Teaching & Learning - Theories & Principles - Accessibility.


KeywordsLDT, teaching and learning theories, designing online courses, instructional design, instructional technology, adult learning, accessible, accessibility, UD, UDL, UID, UDI   Doc ID99265
OwnerRebecca K.GroupEPD Department Resources
Created2020-03-23 09:41:50Updated2021-07-14 12:49:04
SitesEngineering Professional Development - Department Resources, Interdisciplinary Professional Programs
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