Universal Design Policy

Source: Office of the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Affairs

UW- Whitewater respects diversity as a core value of the institution.  As an indicator of this commitment, the university and administration adopts the concepts of "universal design" and social equity as a standard of operation to aspire to for all new construction and remodeling/renovation at UW-Whitewater. 


The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Affairs and the ADA Coordinator will assure that all individuals (Architectural/Engineering design consultants, campus building committees and building project chairs, facilities personnel, etc.) involved with facilities construction projects, 1) understand Universal Design (UD), UD Philosophy, the value UW-Whitewater places on Universal Design, and the UWW UD Guidelines 2) seek to incorporate the principles of Universal Design into the design of environments, and 3) provide opportunity for review, input and recommendations  the Universal Design Committee (UDC) and/or a representative of the Committee. 

  1. The UDC shall be a standing committee, comprised of the ADA Coordinator, Chair or designate of Chancellor's Committee on Disabilities Concerns, Campus Planner, Director of Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD) and/or designee, Student representative and other UW-Whitewater staff, faculty and students as deemed appropriate. It shall be chaired by the ADA Coordinator and he/she shall establish its administrative protocols.

    The appointments to the Committee will be made annually by no later than May 1 by the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Affairs upon the recommendation of the Committee Chair and/or the Committee itself. All terms are one year and there is no limit on the number of terms an individual can serve.

  2. The UDC, working with and through the Campus Planner, shall:
    • Ensure that a copy of the UWW UD Guidelines is referenced in RFP for capitol planning to be incorporated into design by the architect, builder, contractor, designer or other.
    • Ensure that any justifications are provided to the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Affairs and the ADA Coordinator
      • Justifications will be reviewed by the appropriately designated individuals in a timely manner
    • Perform ongoing access audit and/or identify accessibility issues. 
    • For major projects the ADA Coordinator will serve as a member of the Building Committee, while for others the Committee or a representative will review design plans. Determine at what point and how the Committee will participate in the design process. 
  3. The UDC will meet regularly on a bi-monthly basis, or on an as needed basis if the timeline dictates(1), to; review upcoming construction projects, determine method of participation for each of the upcoming projects and to formulate and forward accessibility design recommendations through the Campus Planner to be considered in the design of individual facilities construction projects, identify and review outstanding accessibility issues (including ADA non-compliance) that need to be addressed through a project and review the overall process, including developing and forwarding recommendations for revisions to this policy to the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Affairs. 

    The Campus Planner and Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Affairs will review the recommendations with the appropriate individuals for each of the projects.  If there is disagreement, the Campus Planner will first arrange for a meeting between the appropriate project representatives and the UDC, or a representative of the UDC, to resolve differences and if not resolved, facilitate a meeting with the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Affairs to make a final determination.  

    The Campus Planner will also work with the appropriate individuals to develop accessibility solutions for those issues not yet incorporated into an existing project.

(1)Maintaining the established timeline for design of facilities is critical to achieving a timely and efficient facilities design and construction process.  Consequently, the UACC must be prepared and willing to participate in the process in a time and manner that does not cause delays.


What Is Universal Design? 
With impetus provided by people with disabilities and their advocates, legal mandates for physical accessibility in all public environments became a reality.  In meeting and exceeding these legal mandates, architects have begun to show the way. "Instead of responding only to the minimum demands of laws which require a few special features for disabled people, it is possible to design most manufactured items and building elements to be usable by a broader range of human beings, including children, elderly people, people with disabilities, and people of different sizes."  Universal design might be thought of as "accessible" or "inclusive" design. The underlying goal is to design products or services for the fullest range of human function--taking into account the physical, sensory, cognitive, and language needs or abilities of the broadest spectrum of customers during the initial design phase. Good universal design is transparent and aesthetically pleasing.  To do that, design concepts must be adopted with an understanding of how all individuals function when using a product, service, or physical environment.  Two key questions to keep in mind in incorporating universal design concepts into our planning would be:

  1. Is it easy to find your way around and access all spaces and programs offered at the campus if it was your first visit?
  2. Is there anything on the campus that would be difficult to use for a grandparent, small child, someone in a wheelchair or someone who is blind?

At the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University a group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers established the following set of principles of universal design to provide guidance in the design of environments, communications and products. 
Principle One: EQUITABLE USE 
The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. 
The Principle of Equitable Use is the most significant component of universal design as it speaks to respect for human dignity.  Transparency is the key to universal design and implies a phenomenon that is beyond visual conception.   The access should be inherent in an environment and not represent an afterthought about disability or meeting code.  It represents access that is intended for human inclusion and not legal mandates. 

1a. Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not. 
1b. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users. 
1c. Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users. 
1d. Make the design appealing to all users. 
·Electronic eye openers in doorways to replace buttons with disability marking 
·Fully accessible bathrooms instead of separate accessible bathroom 
· Web site that is designed so that it is accessible to everyone, including people who are blind 
·Counters with lower and higher tops at differing intervals 
·Drinking fountains at two different levels with both being activated through a motion detector 
Principle Two: Flexibility in Use 
The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
2a. Provide choice in methods of use. 
2b. Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use. 
2c. Facilitate the user's accuracy and precision. 
2d. Provide adaptability to the user's pace. 

  • A museum that allows a visitor to choose to read or listen to the description of the contents of a display case
  • Scissors that can be used left or right handed
  • Automatic elevator doors that stay open until the individual has cleared the doorway

 Principle Three: 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. 
3a. Eliminate unnecessary complexity. 
3b. Be consistent with user expectations and intuition. 
3c. Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills. 
3d. Arrange information consistent with its importance. 
3e. Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion. 

  • Clearly marked exits
  • Well placed and visible elevators
  • Contrasting colors in tile and carpet for direction
  • Floor texture changes at office entrances
  • Imported furniture instructions that illustrate assembly without written words

 Principle Four: Perceptible Information 
The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.
4a. Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information. 
4b. Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings. 
4c. Maximize "legibility" of essential information. 
4d. Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions). 
4e. Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations. 

  • Television programming projected in noisy public areas like academic conference exhibits include captions
  • Documents are available in Braille, large print, audiotape, and computer disk. Accessible modes of communication may include sign language interpreter services or speech interpreters
  • Tactile activated, audible cues, and large print at ATM machines

 Principle Five: Tolerance for Error 
The design minimizes hazards and adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
5a. Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded. 
5b. Provide warnings of hazards and errors. 
5c. Provide fail safe features. 
5d. Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance. 

  • Warning signs or lights
  • Elevators with eyebeam sensors
  • Automatic doors that remain open for an extended period of time

 Principle Six: Low Physical Effort 
The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
6a. Allow user to maintain a neutral body position. 
6b. Use reasonable operating forces. 
6c. Minimize repetitive actions. 
6d. Minimize sustained physical effort. 

  • A door that is easy to open by people with a wide variety of physical characteristics
  • Cabinets with sliding shelves
  • No Step Entry

 Principle Seven: Size and Space for Approach and Use 
Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility.
7a. Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user. 
7b. Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user. 
7c. Accommodate variations in hand and grip size. 
7d. Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance. 

  • A flexible science lab work area designed for use by students with a wide variety of physical characteristics and abilities
  • Spacious isles in classrooms
  • Staggered Seating and aisles with multiple rows
  • Adequate space in seating for personal adaptive aids and equipment

Designers must also incorporate other considerations such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes. These principles are intended to offer designers guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible. 
(This information was adapted from The Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University, the DO-IT Program for Universal Design at Washington State University)

As amended 28 April 2009
Last Reviewed: October 2015