Universal Design is a design approach and process; it is not prescriptive, and it is not an end in itself. It is applicable to all projects, products, learning programmes, systems and services.
Universal Design recognises human diversity and basic human rights. It focuses on the needs that are common to us all and aims to incorporate features that will enable as many people as possible to independently use and interact with an environment, object or a product.
Industries such as car manufacturers have recognised this, and designed adjustable car seats to suit different body sizes. If further specification is required, cars are flexible enough to accommodate specialised features such as hand brakes instead of foot brakes.
However, the built environment is more permanent and takes longer to develop and construct. Careful planning is required to ensure the range of tolerances/allowances required. The adaption or retrofitting of an inappropriately designed environment is likely to be slow and expensive. This results in some groups of people being excluded altogether or having significant difficulties for a considerable time.
To prevent such exclusions or barriers, it is essential that the starting point for any design is to aim to meet the needs of as many people as possible. Careful consideration is required of all elements of a building including the outside and surrounds, entrances and exits, as well as inside of the building.