Universal Design and Recreation Sites

What is Universal Design?

Universal Design is the design of spaces and products that are usable by people of any age and various levels of ability. Conventional design caters to the “average” person, while universal design recognizes that people have a range of capabilities and need designs to include this range. Universal design strives for the safety, comfort and convenience of all users/participants. Universal design improves the quality of life for everyone.

Universal design makes sense. For example, level entrances allow parents with baby carriages or strollers to visit your facility/site. Good design has universal appeal!

Everyone wins!

The following principles and examples will help you to understand the relevance of universal design and how it ensures that a recreation facility / site is welcoming and accessible to all.

The Principles of Universal Design *

Principle One: Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.


  • Powered doors at all entrances allow people to enter and exit the facility wherever they choose.

Principle Two: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a side range of individual preferences and abilities.Example:

  • Fitness equipment that can be used by an able-bodied person or a person who has to remain seated in a wheelchair.

Principle Three: Simple and Intuitive Use

Use of design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.


  • Layout of washrooms should be obvious. Built-in paper towel dispensers with garbage disposals directly below are better than paper towel dispensers on one wall with the garbage disposal located on the opposite wall.

Principle Four: Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.


  • Brochures of programs should be in multiple formats (i.e., large print, Braille, audio, and on the Internet where possible).

Principle Five: Tolerance for Error

The design emphasizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.


  • Wider doorways and isles in locker rooms make movement for people using wheelchairs, walkers, etc. easier
  • Keys for lockers should be double cut for ease in usage

Principle Six: Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.


  • Lever handles, gentle ramps, rest areas
  • Doors of minimal weight, resulting in the need for less energy when opening and closing

Principle Seven: Appropriate 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.


  • Wider corridors and doors
  • Raised and lowered public phones
  • Adequate manoeuvring space between fitness equipment