Universal design of schools and classrooms

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Helpdesk Query:

HEART were asked to find evidence to support investment in universal design of schools and classrooms. Studies were requested that looked at benefits, costs, and specific elements of universal design.


Universal design is about access and also creating a more inclusive and learning-friendly environment in school. Schools that are built based on universal design principles will be more effective because they will enable children to learn, develop, and participate, instead of “disable” children by creating barriers to their development and participation. Space, light, materials, and even colour affect the way education is experienced.

The cost of including access features to a school latrine in Ethiopia was found to be under 3% of the total cost. Accessibility incorporated into the design of a school in South Africa was found to be 0.78% of the school’s total costs. A World Bank report notes that the cost of making adaptations after a building is completed is far greater than providing full access from the outset. It can rise up to 5% or more of total cost depending on the modification of the architectural features of the building. Participation of local stakeholders is critical for cost effective universal design because it helps identify locally available products and construction techniques.

Benefits include:

  • Easier buildings maintenance.
  • Improved lighting and elimination of hazards will lead to fewer accidents.
  • Improved use for school as a civic facility so increased participation at a village level and reinforcement of the value of school attendance.
  • Improved use of school buildings as temporary shelters in emergencies.


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