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We appreciate your interests in Universal Design, a global movement of inclusive design practice initiated at NC State University College of Design. The Center for Universal Design is currently not active due to funding challenges. We are working to revive the Center, hopefully in the near future. We are unable at this time to provide assistance to your design inquiries.

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CD-ROM of Universal Design Exemplars

Universal Design Exemplars is a CD-ROM collection of 32 international, award-winning universal design projects from:

  • Architecture
  • Exhibit Design
  • Industrial Design
  • Interior Design
  • Landscape Architecture

The Universal Design Exemplars WINNERS

Alex Wilson Community Garden
Kent Ford Design Group
Toronto, ON Canada
Allegro Cookware
Metaphase Design Group
St. Louis, MO USA
Amphitheater at Bradford Woods
National Center on Accessibility
Martinsville, IN USA
Apollon Lamp
Tokyo Design Network
Tokyo, Japan
The Art House
Action Wood Technologies
Clinton Township, MI USA
Barrierfree Kitchen
KIDStudio Corporation
Yokohama, Japan
Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield, IL USA
Chuo Silver Zone
Nikken Sekkei Ltd
Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Cridge Centre
Donna Riddell Design
Victoria, BC Canada
The Dorcas Project
The Dog Rose Trust
Ludlow, Shropshire UK
Freewheeling Mountain Cabin
Asheville, NC USA
GE Living Center
Mary Jo Peterson, Inc.
Brookfield, CT USA
Graniteville Playground
Playground Environments
Quogue, NY USA
Handy Birdy Pen
Environmental Design Studio
Tokyo, Japan
Health Buddy
Palo Alto, CA USA
IT-G1000 Telephone
Sony Corporation
Tokyo, Japan
LifeSpan Seating
LifeSpan Furnishings, LLC
Emeryville, CA USA
Ludus Lever Handle
Colombo Design SPA
Terno D'Isola (BG), Italy
MAE Ticket Machine
Barcelona, Spain
Microlet Finger Device
Metaphase Design Group
St. Louis, MO USA
Millay Colony for the Arts
Michael Singer, Inc.
Wilmington, VT USA
Museo Colombia and Musee Des Beaux Arts
Coco Raynes Associates, Inc.
Boston, MA USA
National Building Museum
Washington, DC USA
Portal Shield
Carlson Technology, Inc
Livonia, MI USA
Rinku Park
SEN, Inc.
Osaka, Japan
Sensory Garden
SEN, Inc.
Osaka, Japan
Shougai Juutaku
Sekisui House, Ltd.
Kyoto, Japan
Stadium Seating
Volunteers for Medical Engineering, Inc
Baltimore, MD USA
System for Handrails
Lancaster, PA USA
TransG(tm) Interior
Lear Corporation
Southfield, MI USA
Video Entry System
Aiphone Co., Ltd
Nagoya, Japan
Window Ease
Albuquerque, NM USA

Each project describes in detail the background, universal features and relationship to the Principles of Universal Design. The CD-ROM is an outstanding teaching tool for design educators and students, as well as for advocates of universal design.

Below you can view an edited sample (the navigation between elements has been removed and it is presented in a linear fashion) of the Universal Design Exemplars CD-ROM. In this sample, the Sensory Garden in Osaka's Oizumi Ryokuchi Park is featured.

Sensory Garden Graphic 

Project Synopsis Graphic

Image of Sensory Garden Water Element

Seating alcoves surrounded by water are provided with benches and sufficient clear floor space for people using either a wheelchair or scooter.

The Sensory Garden in Osaka's Oizumi Ryokuchi Park invites exploration through the senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch. A revised philosophical approach promoting inclusion, the addition of universal features, a name change, and a new location in the park for this former "Garden of the Blind" provide recreational opportunities and a diversity of sensory experiences for all visitors. The garden supports this invitation with features such as an integrated wayfinding system, raised plant beds and walks that take visitors into seating areas surrounded by water. A variety of tactile displays and audio information, as well as opportunities to touch and smell flowers and to feel the water and sculptures, enrich everyone's experience in the garden.

Background as an image

Image of bench and gardens

Benches, with side and center armrests, provide an inviting place to rest out of the path of travel. Retaining walls also provide perches for sitting.

The Sensory Garden initially was developed as a renovation of the "Garden for the Blind" in Oizumi Ryokuchi Park, Osaka, Japan. The earlier garden opened in 1974 and was designed to appeal specifically to people with vision disabilities. Tucked away in a distant corner of the park and with a name that denoted a place segregated from sighted visitors, the garden received few visitors and stagnated over the years.

The Sensory Garden evolved from concepts of integration and universal design. This new garden, established in a more central location within the park, invites visitors of all ages and abilities to enjoy its displays. As many as 500 people with a range of abilities were consulted on the features to be included in the park.

Maintaining some of the garden's initial purpose, emphasis has been given to plant beds of vividly contrasting colors; raised to allow close inspection, smelling, and easy touching. The new location, adjacent to the park's centrally located lake, spawned the integration of water elements. The new name denotes a place that can be experienced through a variety of senses and is inviting to all people. It is a delightful combination of hard surface walks and retaining walls, dominated by soft profusion of foliage and flowers and the serenity of an intimate relationship with water.

Year of Project Completion: 1997

Location of Project: Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, Japan

Designer/Developer Name:
Yoshisuke Miyake

Features graphic


Information and Wayfinding

The Experience


Window into garden

A window cut in the hedge gives an enticing glimpse into the interior of the garden allowing visitors to create a mental map before actually entering the garden.

  • A circular "window" in the hedge surrounding the garden offers an enticing glimpse, inviting all to enter.

  • The garden is small enough for almost all visitors to experience the key elements during a single visit, not requiring visitors to travel great distances.

Entrance Gate

The entrance gate, with its visual and tactile elements, offers an engaging experience for all visitors and mirrors the inner atmosphere when the Sensory Garden is closed.

  • Starting at the entrance gate, which displays tactile images of children, a dog, trees, and birds, all visitors are invited to view and touch the figures.

Information and Wayfinding

Tile wall at entrance

Relief tiles on the entrance wall and Braille labels on the backside of a conventional-appearing handrail provide identifying information on the plants found in the garden.

  • The entrance wall incorporates decorative, tactile tiles, representing plants found within the garden. The top of the relief tiles is at approximately 60 inches to allow someone with low vision to get close enough to examine and also to touch. A person seated in a wheelchair assuming a side or parallel approach to the wall could reach the lower section of the tile relief.

  • Braille labels identifying the plants are placed on the backside of the handrail along the entrance wall. A second, lower handrail is available for visitors who may be of shorter stature.

Man at information board

The garden layout, readable by all visitors, is presented both tactilely and visually in the same informational board. Featured is standard print, Braille, a tactile map and push-button audio system.

  • The orientation board at the entrance provides information in Braille with text, a tactile map and push-button audio system. All text and map lines are presented so they contrast significantly with the background. The pedestal is recessed and the information board angled, from higher in the back to lower in front, so people in wheelchairs and scooters may approach, get close, and examine the information simultaneously with standing visitors.

  • The angle at which the Braille labels are placed varies from the more conventional angle, which requires the reader to bend the wrist, to a less acute angle making the Braille easier to read.

Entrance with pillars

Multiple wayfinding cues are incorporated to guide users and aid in orientation. Prominent ornamental pillars indicate the entrance to this section of the garden.

  • Strategically placed pillars with brightly colored ornaments and checkerboard patterns indicate pathways and aid in orientation.

  • Starting at the entrance and continuing through the entire garden, a double row of flat, stainless steel bars have been embedded in the walking surface as a navigational guide. Larger textured areas of the same material mark locations to hear or read additional commentary.

  • Surface material changes along the path identify different sections of the garden, giving additional navigational cues as the visitor moves from the entrance and between different sections of the garden.

The Experience

Bench in garden

The bench, with side and center armrests, provides a gripping surface for a visitor who may need additional support when sitting and rising.

  • Periodically garden benches are placed in recessed alcoves out of the direct circulation path to allow visitors to pause and examine the flowers, lingering as long as desired. The alcoves are sufficiently wide, allowing a person to remain in his or her wheelchair and position themselves beside a person seated on the bench. The same space may be used to place a stroller or a child's wagon out of the circulation path.

  • Raised plant beds, with levels ranging from 12 to 32 inches, allow direct access, minimizing the amount of stooping and bending required of a standing visitor and allows a seated visitor to get close.

  • Flower color is consciously selected and often bold to provide interest for visitors with low vision.

  • At intervals, the top of the walls forming the raised plant beds widens, creating additional opportunities for sitting. The height is at wheelchair seat height, allowing someone to make a transfer onto the wall for closer inspection of the flowers.


Man and sculpture

The height of the pedestal places the model within an optimal range to be easily examined by seated people, children and adults of short stature, as well as tall visitors.

  • Sculptures, set on pedestals, can be explored tactilely and easily by all visitors, including standing and seated people and people of short stature. Care has been exercised so sculptures do not constitute protruding objects. Tactile labels and audio commentary are provided for further identification.

Man reaching toward lily

The pond level, elevated above the walking surface, makes it easy for all visitors to enjoy the multiple, sensory experiences of contact with water and aquatic plants without having to kneel, bend, stretch, or stoop.

  • Seating alcoves, with a floor level below the surface of the water, project into the lake. Direct and intimate contact with water and aquatic plants living in the water is possible for children and other visitors, seated and standing.

  • Pathway surfaces have no abrupt changes in level and are carefully laid so transitions are smooth even though surface materials change. All walking surface slopes are gradual, making travel easy by visitors with mobility disabilities.

Principles Graphic

UD Principles This Project Typifies

Man reaching toward lily

Visitors with little or no sight who must rely on sound and touch for information and those visitors who are primarily kinesthetic in their processing style share in a common experience with all visitors.

 Principle 1: Equitable Use

All visitors use the same level entrance and route of travel, and are afforded the opportunity to have a sensory experience. The water element, the aquatic life, the tactile elements, and the sculpture all make a rich experience possible for people with vision disabilities, and enhance the experience for other visitors. The elevated plant beds and elevated pond place the experience within a range that can be experienced equally by standing and seated visitors and not require seated users or users with limited flexibility to bend and lean over.

 Principle 2: Flexibility in Use

Visitors may explore and examine features at their own pace. Sufficient numbers of sitting alcoves are available so users may linger as long as desired. The design of the alcoves allows visitors to interact with water from either the bench provided or a wheelchair or stand.

Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use

The garden is small and laid out with a single wide path, marked with pillars, and a strongly defined entrance, all useful for orientation. The metal guide rail embedded into the path also marks the path for both sighted and visually disabled visitors. Users also are informed of their location in the garden by different surface materials along the walk and paths.

Principle 4: Perceptible Information

Relief tiles, Braille text at the entrance and at each display, audio systems and text in both English and Japanese provide a variety of methods from which a visitor may choose to receive information. Wayfinding cues are plentiful and readily apparent, i.e., the pillars, changes in the texture and color-contrasting walking surfaces, the metal guide rail embedded in the path, and contrasting edges on the raised flowerbeds.

 Principle 6: Low Physical Effort

The path through the garden is short and generally flat, requiring little effort to traverse the route. Raised plant beds and ponds are easy to experience, allowing visitors to maintain a neutral body position and requiring little stooping or bending to approach and enjoy.

 Principles 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

The benches, walkways, plant beds, and water elements have all been sized and positioned to accommodate multiple users simultaneously. Visitors, both standing and seated, as well as people of short stature may reach all components comfortably.

Entrance with pillars

The wayfinding system is integrated into the aesthetics of the garden.

Comments Graphic

Bench and raised pond

All visitors may share in a comparable experience.

"People with disabilities and the elderly who have long been kept from access to public gardens, are now able to visit the Sensory Garden and share enjoyable times with others."

"Although aesthetic value and accessibility often appear to conflict with each other, I have succeeded in providing as much accessibility as possible by considering this as a mere design issue, as shown in the example of water access."


The complete collection of Exemplars is available for purchase.

Major funding for this project was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Office for AccessAbility. Additional support was provided by NEC Foundation of America and the Trace R & D Center at the University of Wisconsin, as part of its Information Technology Access Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education).

  © Copyright 2008 Center for Universal DesignCollege of Design, North Carolina State University
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