The Institute was founded in 1997 as a non-profit organization, Housing Works, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to promote accessible and context-based community housing for people with disabilities. In 2008 the name was changed to The Ronald L. Mace Universal Design Institute to reflect an expanded mission that now includes a focus on the built environment in its entirety, and most particularly, to include universal design as its primary guiding principle.
The Institute's staff has a wealth of expertise in universal design and accessibility codes and standards with an emphasis on human function, architecture, and planning. The Institute has developed technical and policy documents and a wide range of graphic and multimedia materials to explain technical specifications in context of the environment. The Institute has a history of collaborative, multidisciplinary work: research, plan review; development of new plans, survey instruments, photo documentaries, product designs, state agency policies, demonstration houses, educational programs, and contributing to federal and state legislation.