Dispelling Myths

There are many misconceptions regarding universal design. Let’s put an end to the most common ones.

Myth 1: Universal design is nothing more than design for people in wheelchairs.

Fact: The opposite is true. To be considered universal, a design will be accessible not only to people in wheelchairs, but also to people of most sizes, shapes, and abilities. Universal de­sign applies to people tall or short, young or old, left-handed or right-handed, visitors to an unfamiliar city or home, parents with children, people carrying packages, and more.

Myth 2: Universal design only helps people with disabilities and older people.

Fact: Universal design extends the benefits of functional design to many people, including short or tall people, large people, frail people, pregnant women, children, or even people traveling with much to carry or where there is a language barrier—everyone eventually. Myth 3: Universal design costs more than traditional design.

Fact: Many universal concepts are standard products and cost no more than traditional products. The degree of customization and quality of the products will have the greater impact on cost.

Myth 4: Universal design is stigmatizing because it looks medical.

Fact: The best universal design is invisible. When done well, universal design enhances the appearance and personality of a space, as well as the function of that space, for a variety of users.


In the United States, most existing access-related laws, building codes, and standards are intended as minimum criteria for access for people with disabilities, applicable, for the most part, in other than privately owned single-family residential spaces. While this is not universal design, the related guidelines can serve as a starting point for design parameters that support universal thinking, and in fact, the NKBA Access Standards are based on the ICC (ANSI) standard.

Updated: September 28, 2015 — 6:26 pm