Universal design is first and foremost a concept that recognises that human beings all live with impaired and changing abilities – it is a universal condition of being human. In this understanding of universal design, the concept holds the potential to transform and challenge our common understanding of what average and ideal means with regard to human bodies, and what it means to be human.
Universal design was coined by American architect Ron Mace in the 1980s. Mace taught at the School of Architecture at North Carolina State University (NCSU), and he was a wheelchair user himself. In his practice, Mace found that solutions defined as “accessible” or “barrier-free” often ended up stigmatising and exposing the user, even though the intention was the opposite.