The curb cut is one of most often cited examples of Universal Design. The dip in the curb allows people who use wheelchairs easy access to the street, but is it also useful for skateboarders and people pushing strollers or carrying luggage, or people who have arthritis and are unable to climb steps. The simple curb cut makes the sidewalk and street accessible to a wide variety of users so that more people in the community have access to public spaces, without having to make a special arrangement. A curb cut is an example of Universal Design in action, while retrofitting steps into a house or school is an example of an accommodation. Universal Design can eliminate the need for many accommodations by considering the needs of a diverse set of users up front.
Universal Design as a principle asks us to consider the broad range of participants in any given situation. Rather than designing for the “average” user, or even the majority of a type of user, all possibilities are considered in the planning stages. While it might not be possible to design for every individual in the world, at least considering a variety of needs will help ensure more people are included than are excluded. In the classroom, other theories including multiple intelligences and theories on various learning styles also consider a wide variety of learners. Universal Design differs in that the emphasis is on increasing access regardless of ability or disability.