The Center was established under a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), US Department of Education. The Center was originally founded by Ronald L. Mace , FAIA who used a wheelchair most of his life as a result of having polio. Ron was recognized, nationally and internationally for his accomplishments in accessible design, starting in North Carolina with his having developed the first illustrated state building code. Always seeing a universe where people with and without disabilities could share their lives, he not only coined the term "Universal Design," but he did much to fashion the tools so that it might one day become a reality. Guided by his vision, the Center developed a successful program of creating new, landmark designs and informational documents on accessible designs.
Under a second grant from NIDRR, funding expanded the Center's mission to
1) develop a variety of affordable housing options and innovative approaches to designing, financing, and managing models of accessible and adaptive housing; and
2) investigate applications of universal design in the home environment.
The Center officially changed its name to The Center for Universal Design to reflect its broadened focus across the built environment.
The Center convened a group of advocates of Universal Design who developed and compiled " The Principles of Universal Design © " which today are referenced by over 6000 web sites world wide and have been translated into French, German, Korean, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. Soon to be added to this list will be, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian, Hebrew, and Chinese.
With Ron Mace's unexpected death, the Center reassessed its strengths and reaffirmed its commitment to continuing Ron's pioneering work.
The Center was funded by NIDRR to operate a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Universal Design and the Built Environment. The grant's purpose was to help the Center improve the accessibility and usability of the built environment, and advance the field of universal design.
Current Center staff includes a research ergonomist/industrial engineer, architect, planner, interior designer, and others. The expert staff and nationally recognized associates and strategic partners constitute The Center for Universal Design.
The Center's mission is to improve the built environment and related products for all users by impacting change in policies and procedures through research, information, training, and design assistance.