Universal design is a broader concept that is defined 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.”
Sidewalks with curb cuts and doors that automatically open when a person moves near them are examples of universally designed products. They benefit people with disabilities, parents with baby strollers, delivery workers, and others. Human characteristics considered in universal designs may include age, gender, stature, race/ethnicity, culture, native language and learning preference.
In the case of information technology, products that are universally designed are accessible to and usable by people with a wide variety of characteristics, including different types of disabilities. These products are often designed to eliminate or minimize the need for assistive technologies. At the same time, they are compatible with common assistive hardware and software devices. For more information about applications of universal design, consult DO-IT’s Applications of Universal Design.
Both accessible and universal design are concerned with addressing the needs of users beyond those considered to be “average” or “typical.”