This special issue combines 32 articles from the 5th International Conference on Universal Design (UD2021) organized by SOTERA, the Research Group for Health and Wellbeing Architecture, at Aalto University, Finland. We are celebrating 150 years of Art, Design and Architecture education in 2021, and inclusiveness is one of the major themes. Previous Universal Design conferences have been organized every two years, starting in Norway  and followed by Sweden , England , and Ireland , but the 2020 conference was first postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions, and was finally organized online in 2021. The conference offered the possibility to share knowledge and best practice, and to network with people from all over the world.
The current situation has highlighted the importance of web accessibility and the user-friendliness of interfaces and easy to use remote connections, and many of us have moved seamlessly into remote work. At the university, new ways of teaching and learning may also have benefited those with dyslexia or other sensory limitations which may cause difficulties with participating in lectures. However, we have all also experienced the limitations of current technology and seen the need for its development from the point of view of users. The EU directive on Design for All (2016) and the standard (2019) encourage the design and construction of websites and mobile applications to make them more accessible to all users, in particular those with disabilities, but everyone benefits from easy to use solutions and wider access to services, and persons with disabilities and older people will also be better integrated in society as a result. The EU has also recognized that Universal Design has potential for both innovation and economic growth.
The importance of the quality of our daily living environment, access to services and green environment has become ever more obvious during the last year. The key to our wellbeing lies in our daily life and home environment. Population ageing is a global trend, but this demographic change may bring positive impacts, enhancing socially sustainable development, providing new solutions for the employment and better integrating of older workers and people with physical or sensory disabilities into our communities. These developments will affect the way we design our housing, work environments and services. As the UN convention of rights of people with disabilities (2006, article 9) states:
“To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas.”
Universal Design is a human rights movement. Its aim is to find solutions that enhance equity and equality in society, recognizing each person’s potential and accepting people’s individual characteristics. It promotes a realization of the built environment that does not stigmatize users and enables everyone to participate fully in their community.
Universal Design is part of the process for creating a sustainable society, and it has both economic and social impacts. The objective is to develop solutions for a variety of users, including the most vulnerable, involving them in the design process. The UD2021 conference gathers together a multidisciplinary group of experts from different parts of the world with the common goal of shaping the way we design, avoiding stereotyped or discriminatory views and solutions which may stigmatize particular groups of people. The articles in this book have been organized into seven chapters under the broad themes of: 1. Universal design and Inclusive Design; 2. User experience and co-design; 3. Access to education and learning environment; 4. Web accessibility and Usability of technology; 5. Architecture and the built environment; 6. Mobility and transport; and 7. Designing for older people.
With this preamble, it is particularly gratifying to be able to welcome you to read this publication with its wealth of new examples of Universal Design in action. The community of researchers, designers, policy analysts, activists, students and interested individuals around Universal Design is growing. We are delighted to spread the awareness, and hope to see you at our next event.
Helsinki, April 2021
Ira Verma, DSc. in Architecture, Scientific committee UD2021
Laura Arpiainen, Director, SOTERA research group
 The Delta Center, Trends in Universal Design, Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, The Delta Centre, Oslo, 2013.
 H. Caltenco, P.-O. Hedvall, A. Larsson, K. Rassmus-Gröhn, B. Rydeman, Universal Design 2014: Three Days of Creativity and Diversity. IOSPress, Amsterdam, 2014.
 H. Petrie, J. Darzentas, T. Walsh, D. Swallow, L. Sandoval, A. Lewis, C. Power, Universal Design 2016: Learning from the Past, Designing for the Future, IOSPress, Amsterdam, 2016.
 G. Craddock, C. Doran, L. McNutt, D. Rice, Transforming our World Through Design, Diversity and Education, IOSPress, Amsterdam, 2018.