03 | Universal Design

Universal Design

Universal Design requires that all environments can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.

Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.

An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. This is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits.

By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, Universal Design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples’ needs. Simply put, Universal Design is good design.

The Seven Principles of Universal Design

Principle One: Equitable Use
Principle Two: Flexibility in Use
Principle Three: Simple and Intuitive
Principle Four: Perceptible Information
Principle Five: Tolerance for Error
Principle Six: Low Physical Effort
Principle Seven: Size and Space for Approach and Use

The Irish Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD) was established in 2007 under the Disability Act 2005 and is dedicated to the principle of Universal Access, enabling people in Ireland to participate in a society that takes account of human difference and to interact with their environment to the best of their ability.

The CEUD is part of the National Disability Authority in Ireland (NDA). The CEUD aims to support the achievement of excellence in Universal Design in Ireland.

The Benefits of Universal Design Home

A Universal Design (UD) Home can adapt and change with us by factoring in at the outset key design features that benefit the quality of life of everyone in the home. The application of Universal Design thinking to homes recognises differences and accommodates them through the integration at the outset of the design and construction stages of:


  • Flexibility and ease of adaptability to meet people’s changing needs over time in a cost effective way;
  • Sustainable design to improve comfort and energy efficiency; and
  • Smart technologies to enable ease of living independently for longer.

Living in a UD Home helps to avoid the need for re-location or costly building works as  needs change over time. Integration of smart infrastructure and energy efficient systems at the outset of home design avoids costly re-fits and also benefits everyone in terms of comfort, efficiency and quality of services.

It is not about a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model – the UD Home environment enables the widest possible number of people to participate at home, in society, and to live independently. For a housing provider, builder or developer, a UD Home offers more for the widest range of potential residents.

UD Homes are about good design, efficiency and a broader market need.


3 Bedroom 5 Person Semi-Detached House Universal Design Layout-Indicative Floor Plan Sample


  • The Built Environment section of the CEUD website includes a section dedicated to designing housing to Universal Design standards. Access to the following CEUD publications is available on the CEUD website: http://universaldesign.ie/.
  • Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, National Disability Authority, (2012) (online)Buildings for Everyone: A Universal Design Approach. Available at http://universaldesign.ie/Built-Environment/Building-for-Everyone/. (Accessed August 2018). This series of 10 booklets provides comprehensive best practice guidance on how to design, build and manage buildings and spaces so that they can be readily accessed and used by everyone, regardless of age, size, ability or disability. Section A1 of each booklet provides a definition of Universal Design
    Section A2 covers Human Abilities and Design
    Section A3 Further Reading:
    – National and International standards and codes of practice and
    – National and International Reference Documents.
  • Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, National Disability Authority, (2015) (online)Universal Guidelines for Homes in Ireland. Available at http://universaldesign.ie/Built-Environment/Housing/. (Accessed August 2018). These guidelines provide a framework for designers to apply the principles of Universal Design to new homes through incremental steps described as UD Homes and UD + and ++ Homes. Appendix B pages 244- 248 provides an extensive bibliography for designing Universal Design homes and lists some useful websites for reference.
  • Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, Early childhood Ireland, TrinityHaus, Mary Immaculate College, (2019). Universal Design guidelines for Early learning and Healthcare Settings.
  • Grey, T., Pierce, M., Cahill, S. and Dyer, M. (2015) (online). Universal Design Guidelines Dementia Friendly Dwellings for People with Dementia, their Families and Carers. Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, National Disability Authority. Available at: http://universaldesign.ie/Web-Content-/UD-DFD-Guidelines-Full-Document-non-acc-June-15.pdf. (Accessed August 2018).
  • Grey, T., Siddal, E. and O’Shea, E. (2012) (online). Shared Space, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones from a Universal Design Approach for the Urban Environment in Ireland, National Disability Authority. TrinityHaus. Explores contemporary national and international practices and thinking on Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones and to investigate these concepts from a Universal Design approach in the Irish Urban environment, References pages 179-184. Available at: http://universaldesign.ie/Built-Environment/Shared-Space/Shared-Space-Full-Report.pdf (Accessed August 2018).
  • Irish Wheelchair Association, (2014) (online). Best Practice Access Guidelines, Designing Accessible Environments. 3rd Edition. Available at: https://www.iwa.ie/downloads/about/iwa-access-guidelines.pdf (Accessed August 2018). Provides guidance on designing the built environment, including housing, for wheelchair users and individuals with limited mobility.
  • Sport Eireann, Irish Wheelchair Association (2019), The Great Outdoors – A guide for Accessibility in conjunction with Sport Ireland.