What is Universal Design for Work?

In order to nail down a definition for Universal Design for Work, it’s important to answer the question - what is Universal Design? 

Universal Design (UD) is a powerful framework ensuring that products and spaces are accessible to everyone. Widely embraced in education for inclusive classrooms, it empowers students by customizing environments and tools to their unique needs. Just like with classrooms, companies that create inclusive workplace practices guided by Universal Design can empower employees to do their best work. It will not only promote performance but ensure an inclusive, diverse and accessible environment for all.

How do companies use Universal Design?

Did you know that around 15-20% of the population is neurodivergent? A Universally Designed workplace provides employees with multiple means of perceiving, understanding and expressing themselves. This not only boosts the success of neurodivergent talent, but also benefits 100% of your team members. Explore how to create inclusive workplace practices with Universal Design to embrace the unique strengths of each individual, unlocking your team's full potential.

Webinar: What is Universal Design for Work & how does it improve the employee experience?

Universal Design (UD) acts as an inclusive guide for workplaces, turning them into a space where everyone feels valued and included. With 7 key principles, UD ensures workplaces are accessible to all, embracing diverse learning styles, abilities and backgrounds. Imagine a workplace where everyone, regardless of abilities, can communicate easily and contribute their unique skills. That's the power of Universal Design!

In this webinar, experts in the space of Universal Design explain what it means and how it can be applied to the workplace. They also share how using digital tools like our Read&Write for Work can support the creation of a universally designed workplace.

  • About the webinar
  • Speaker details
  • Transcript & slides

This 1 hour session explores:

  • What is Universal Design for Work?
  • 7 principles of Universal Design
  • 6 stages to using these principles to improve the employee lifecycle
  • How inclusive technology contributes to a universally designed working environment

A brief history on Universal Design

Universal Design (UD) originated in architecture in the 1980s, initially focused on creating accessible environments for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Evolving from building design, it expanded into education (Universal Design for Learning) and now the workplace. In 1997, the 7 principles of Universal Design were created to guide the design of environments, products and communications to ensure usability for all.

What are some examples of Universal Design?

  • Universal Design is now everywhere but there's still more work to do! Big box stores were the first to install electronic sliding doors, initially for people carrying heavy loads. It became clear this supported a wide variety of groups. For example, those using wheelchairs or pushing strollers and even reducing the spread of germs.

    Today, Universal Design is used to not only guide physical environments but also to digital ones, ensuring that technology, systems and processes are inclusive and accessible for all. Discover more on The origin of Universal Design in this podcast episode, exploring how the principles can be applied in all settings.

  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL) began in 1984 when Harvard researchers Dr. David Rose and Dr. Anne Meyer created CAST, Inc. The UDL approach to teaching minimizes barriers and maximizes outcomes for all learners. Today, educators use UDL in classrooms, creating neuroinclusive environments. Students thrive in schools with setups designed for their unique strengths. It's crucial this continues into the workforce.

    In workplaces, like in schools, Universal Design helps everyone work better. Using these ideas means understanding how each person works and learns, creating a workplace that fits everyone. It's about fairness, ensuring everyone has what they need to succeed. It's a smart way to make sure everyone can do their best!

3 lessons from educators on neuroinclusion at work

Martn McKay, Texthelp's CEO, has over 27 years supporting neurodivergent individuals in both education and the workplace. Gain unique perspectives from his wealth of experience as we explore his three valuable lessons educators can teach us about enhancing neuroinclusion at work. Discover the importance of fostering an inclusive workplace culture in this webinar.

What are the 7 Principles of Universal Design for Work?

Nancy Doyle explains in the webinar above that there are 7 principles of Universal Design. Discover how they build inclusive workplace practices: 

  1. Perceptible Information
    Ensure information is presented in a way that everyone, with different abilities and preferences, can easily understand. This can include providing information in multiple formats. As well as providing inclusive tools like Read&Write that allows employees to choose how they consume content.
  2. Equitable Use
    Design products and spaces for diverse abilities, promoting equal access and usability for everyone. When it comes to inclusive technology, Read&Write contributes to equitable use by accommodating various needs.
  3. Low Physical Effort
    Make using products or navigating spaces easy for people with various physical abilities. For example, consider remote or hybrid options to reduce physical effort. Also digital tools should offer features that streamline tasks and interactions.
  4. Simple and Intuitive Use
    Promote straightforward interactions for everyone. In physical spaces, clear and simple layouts enhance accessibility. Tools like Read&Write can help to make digital content more accessible, with features that support diverse users to understand and communicate in a way that’s simple for them.  
  5. Tolerance for Error
    Acknowledge that mistakes happen and ensure systems in place can handle errors. Having training programs, guidance and feedback loops allow for a supportive environment that understands and accommodates mistakes. Inclusivity tools can also assist in proofreading and error correction as employees complete their work.
  6. Flexibility in Use
    Designs should adapt to diverse preferences and abilities. Tools like Read&Write can contribute to customizable digital experiences such as adjustable font sizes and backgrounds. Offering flexible hours, adjustable furniture and varied workspaces can also help cater to diverse needs. 
  7. Space and Size for Approach
    In offices, ensure there's enough space and easy navigation for different mobility devices. In the digital realm, use responsive design to make content accessible on various devices and screen sizes.

How to use Universal Design to enhance the employee life cycle

Inclusive workplace practices inspired by Universal Design can empower employees at all stages of their journey. From crafting straightforward and accessible job descriptions to fostering wellbeing, discover some examples below:


  • Create job role descriptions with adjustable text and multi-sensory options.
  • Promote performance-focused language for clear goals.


  • Offer a welcoming attitude with a standard menu of adjustments.
  • Match the hiring environment to job performance for a calm space.


  • Consider remote work possibilities and flexible hours for inclusivity.
  • Review contracts verbally for better understanding.


  • Ensure consistent formatting and scheduling for accessible training.
  • Provide assistive technology and regular comfort breaks.

Performance Review:

  • Focus on personal performance for neurodiverse teams.
  • Use a standard format for clear and consistent assessments.


  • Consider specialists to tailor wellbeing for diverse needs.
  • Advertise services with clear referral routes.

What does Universal Design for Work look like?

There are 3 principles of Universal Design that come from UDL (Universal Design for Learning). Find out how they can be adapted for the workplace:


Allowing choice, encouraging autonomy and meeting different needs.


Giving information in ways that everyone can take in and understand.


Encouraging ways of working that suit each individual, so they can thrive in every task.

Create a neuroinclusive culture in your workplace by looking at how you can implement these three principles. Start by considering the following:

1. Office space and digital working environment:

  • Barriers to different ways of working: Assess the office and digital setup for potential obstacles to diverse work styles, such as physical constraints and technology limitations.
  • Seeking employee feedback: Initiate open communication with employees through surveys and discussions to gain insights into their perspectives on the work environment.
  • Willingness to adjust: Demonstrate a genuine commitment to making necessary adjustments based on employee feedback, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

2. Processes and available resources:

  • Discouraging staff autonomy and creativity: Evaluate existing processes and resources for any constraints that might hinder autonomy and creativity among staff.
  • Promoting autonomy and creativity: Revise processes and allocate resources to empower staff, fostering a culture that values autonomy and encourages creative thinking.

3. Accessibility and inclusivity

  • Communication in multiple formats: Prioritize accessibility and inclusivity by communicating in various formats and offering digital tools that cater to different learning styles.
  • Amplifying employee voices: Establish feedback loops, Employee Engagement Groups, and support roles like Neurodiversity and Disability champions to ensure diverse voices are heard and valued.

How inclusive technology promotes Universal Design

It is crucial to consider inclusive technology that allows accessibility and inclusivity for all employees. Here are just some of the many benefits inclusivity tools can add to the workplace:

  • Empowers neurodivergent Individuals
  • Fosters multilingual collaboration
  • Improves literacy and effective communication
  • Aligns with Universal Design principles
  • Promotes independence
  • Enhances learning and growth
  • Builds a neuroinclusive culture

Read&Write supports the 3 principles of Universal Design for Learning:

Texthelp’s Read&Write inclusion software was created with Universal Design principles in mind, featuring a selection of tools to assist various learning styles. Here are just some ways it can help your team:

Increases employee engagement and ability to participate

Read&Write’s features give employees a choice in how they work, allowing them to participate in their own way and collaborate more effectively. Like Universal Design, the provision of inclusion tools create an environment that says “it’s ok to learn, work and communicate in your own preferred way!”. This can help employees, particularly those who are neurodivergent, to feel they can bring their whole selves to work.

Helps employees to understand through multiple means of representation

Read&Write allow users to change the format of content, so they can choose how they understand digital text. For example, useful features include:

  • Text-to-Speech: Hear information read aloud  instead of reading digital text.
  • Screenshot Reader: Capture images and text, transforming them into editable formats. This means they can use Text-to-Speech to hear this information read aloud as well.
  • Dictionary: Provides word definitions through text and images.
  • Scan: Convert paper documents and PDFs into accessible digital formats. This means they can use Read&Write’s features to understand tall types of content in their own way.

Empowers employees to express themselves in their own way

Read&Write is created to help diverse employees to thrive. Its features support and enhance different ways of communication, so all employees can express themselves with confidence.

  • Dictation: Employees can speak, and watch their words appear as digital text.
  • Voice Note: An alternative to leaving text notes, employees can leave audio notes instead for easy collaboration with employees.
  • Check It: Advanced spelling and grammar checker to increase confidence when writing.
  • Word Prediction: Intuitively predicts the next word as users type, helping employees to maintain their focus and flow when writing.

Supports people who think, learn and work differently. Helps neurodiverse workforces to thrive.

The impact of Universal Design in the Workplace

In the webinar above, Prof. Amanda Kirby explains ‟it’s not the person that needs fixing”, but the environment they are in. Did you know that 1 in 5 people have a neurodivergent condition and 1.3 billion people are living with a disability? Chances are, these may include individuals in your workplace. 

Let’s find out how inclusive workplace practices based on Universal Design can benefit both your employees and business: 

Benefits for Employees:

  • Increased engagement: An accommodating environment can lead to a 75% decrease in sick days and 56% increase in job performance. 
  • Greater happiness: Inclusive workplaces have resulted in employees being 2.4 times more likely to be proud of their workplace.
  • Improved wellbeing: In a recent survey, 30% of companies with specialized accommodations in place witnessed a boost in company moral
  • Increased job performance: A commitment to diversity and inclusive culture can increase innovation by 83% and team collaboration by 42%, fostering peak performance.
  • Empowerment: Valuing unique skills empowers employees, with a sense of belonging which can lead to 5.3 times better performance.

Benefits for Businesses:

  • Broader talent pool: 93% of neurodivergent employees and 63% neurotypical, would be more likely to apply or continue to work for a company that was supporting neurodivergent employees well.
  • Increased productivity and team cohesion: Neuroinclusive teams make better decisions up to 87% of the time, fostering a collaborative environment.
  • Better creativity: Embracing diverse viewpoints can result in an 83% increase in innovative problem-solving.
  • Legal compliance: Supporting neurodivergent individuals aligns with legal obligations, reducing the risk of legal challenges.
  • Enhanced reputation: Prioritizing inclusivity and social responsibility boosts a positive public image, with companies supporting disability inclusion reporting 30% higher profit margins.
  • Improved employee satisfaction and retention: 67% of job seekers prioritize workplace diversity, while over 50% of current employees desire increased diversity efforts. Meaning companies that implement UD principals can experience heightened satisfaction and retention.

Explore further why Universal Design Matters in this podcast featuring Cory Quigley. Cory is a neurodivergent professional with ADHD and Dyslexia who shares how employers can enhance experiences and create an inclusive workplace.

Discover how we can support you in creating a Universally Designed workplace. Enhance your Diversity Equity and Inclusion journey today.