The HSE-gateway

Universal design

Universal design describes how we design society around us in order to increase people’s opportunities to participate in society.

Bildet viser en trapp som er univeselt utformet.
Emil Breistein

Universal design at the University of Bergen

For a university, universal design is important in terms of the learning environment and the students. At the same time, a university is a large workplace whose employees naturally reflect the diversity of the population, and this includes people with reduced functional capacity.

The inclusion of people with reduced functional capacity is of great importance to the individual, and also vital to society.

It is important for students and employees with reduced functional capacity not only to receive support for their rights but also, at the same time, to be able to fulfil their duties as equal citizens of society. A lack of accessibility is discriminatory. Universal design should provide solutions that take everyone – with or without reduced functional capacity – into account.


The term "universal design" has been used for a number of years without having had an unambiguous content. In November 2007, the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment published the theme report: Universal design – clarification of the term. Here, universal design is defined as follows:

"Universal design is the design of products and surroundings in such a way that, to the greatest extent possible, they can be used by everyone without any need for customisation or special design."

The definition is expanded on as follows: "Universal design is a normative strategy that provides the basis for giving specific or definite form to products and surroundings in such a way that they may be used by everyone in an equal way. Universally designed solutions must be good in overall terms. Universal design must work alongside other goals in society and form an integrated part of an overall design."

The words "used by everyone" basically apply without exception. This applies to all age groups, irrespective of varying skills, capacity and functional capacity. Central to this are circumstances relating to mobility, vision, hearing, understanding and the environment (asthma/allergies).

"To the greatest extent possible" alludes to the fact that the strategy points towards ever better solutions. Developments in technology and skills are progressing rapidly and there is a constant need to assess new opportunities to reduce the limitations.

"Without any need for customisation or special design" makes it clear that it must be possible for everyone to use the design. This does presuppose that the design takes into account the use of personal technical aids such as a wheelchair, hearing aid, etc. The solutions should not indicate that they have been designed especially for people with varying functional capacity.

Seven principles of universal design

Seven principles of universal design have been developed, showing the functional and performance requirements that products, buildings and solutions must satisfy in order to be good for people with varying requirements.

1. Equal opportunities for use
The design must be usable and accessible to people with varying skills.

2. Flexibility of use
The design must serve a broad spectrum of individual preferences and skills.

3. Simple and intuitive use
The design must be simple to understand, without regard to the user’s experience, knowledge, linguistic skills or level of concentration.

4. Understandable information
The design must communicate the necessary information to the user in an effective way, irrespective of any circumstances relating to the surroundings or the user’s sensory skills.

5. Tolerance of faults
The design must minimise dangers and damage that may produce adverse consequences, and minimise unintended actions.

6. Low physical exertion
It must be possible to use the design effectively and comfortably, with a minimum of difficulty.

7. Size and space for access and use
The appropriate size and space should be available to allow access, reach, service and use, irrespective of the user’s body size, posture or mobility.

The most affected groups

As far as possible, universal design must encompass the entire population. In order to achieve this, the design of products and surroundings must be such that they include people of reduced functional capacity. The main groups are people with movement, orientation and environmental disabilities. An extended summary of the most affected groups is shown below:



people with movement disabilities

wheelchair users, people with walking difficulties, people with prams and suitcases, people with heart and lung disease

people with visual impairment

the blind and people with low vision

people with impaired hearing

the deaf and people with reduced hearing

people with orientation disabilities

people who have difficulties understanding public/new spaces; also includes the visually impaired and people with impaired hearing

people with environmental disabilities

people with asthma and allergies, indoors and outdoors

people with reading and writing disabilities

illiterate people, dyslexic people, person with no/poor knowledge of Norwegian

people with developmental disabilities

often associated with orientation disabilities and reading and writing difficulties, understanding

people with mental illness

fear of wide open spaces, lifts, fear of changes, etc.