Universal Design

What is Universal Design?

  • Universal design originates in barrier-free design and architectural accessibility. According to the Center for Universal Design, “Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

  • Ron Mace of North Carolina State University Center for Universal Design stated “The design of instruction of products and environments to be usable by all students, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

What is an example of Universal Design?

  • Universal design (close relation to inclusive design) refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to older people, people without disabilities, and people with disabilities.

What is Universal Design for Learning?

(National Center on Universal Design for Learning)

  • Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.

  • UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

What are Universally Designed Products?

(University of Washington)

  • They are products that accommodate individual preferences and abilities; communicate necessary information effectively (regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities); and can be approached, reached, manipulated, and used regardless of the individual’s body size, posture, or mobility. Application of universal design principles minimizes the need for assistive technology, results in products compatible with assistive technology, and makes products more usable by everyone, not just people with disabilities.

Why use Universal Design in Instruction?

(Harvard, The Importance of Universal Design for Learning)

  1. Multiple means of representation- Gives learners various ways of acquiring knowledge
  2. Multiple means of expression- alternatives for demonstrating what they know
  3. Multiple means of engagement – taps into learners’ interests, increases motivation, offers appropriate challenges

Principles of Universal Design

(University at Buffalo, Principles of Universal Design)

  1. Equitable use
  2. Flexibility in use
  3. Simple & Intuitive
  4. Perceptible Information
  5. Tolerance for Error
  6. Low Physical Effort
  7. Size and space for Approach and use

Getting Started

8 Examples of instruction that employ principles of UD

(Washington University, Center for Universal Design in Education)

  1. Class climate. Adopt practices that reflect high values with respect to both diversity and inclusiveness. Example: Put a statement on your syllabus inviting students to meet with you to discuss disability-related accommodations and other special learning needs.

  2. Interaction. Encourage regular and effective interactions between students and the instructor and ensure that communication methods are accessible to all participants. Example: Assign group work for which learners must support each other and that places a high value on different skills and roles.

  3. Physical environments and products. Ensure that facilities, activities, materials, and equipment are physically accessible to and usable by all students, and that all potential student characteristics are addressed in safety considerations. Example: Develop safety procedures for all students, including those who are blind, deaf, or wheelchair users.

  4. Delivery methods. Use multiple, accessible instructional methods that are accessible to all learners. Example: Use multiple modes to deliver content; when possible allow students to choose from multiple options for learning; and motivate and engage students-consider lectures, collaborative learning options, hands-on activities, Internet-based communications, educational software, field work, and so forth.

  5. Information resources and technology. Ensure that course materials, notes, and other information resources are engaging, flexible, and accessible for all students. Example: Choose printed materials and prepare a syllabus early to allow students the option of beginning to read materials and work on assignments before the course begins. Allow adequate time to arrange for alternate formats, such as books in audio format.

  6. Feedback. Provide specific feedback on a regular basis. Example: Allow students to turn in parts of large projects for feedback before the final project is due.

  7. Assessment. Regularly assess student progress using multiple accessible methods and tools, and adjust instruction accordingly. Example: Assess group and cooperative performance, as well as individual achievement.

  8. Accommodation. Plan for accommodations for students whose needs are not met by the instructional design. Example: Know campus protocols for getting materials in alternate formats, rescheduling classroom locations, and arranging for other accommodations for students with disabilities.

Additional Resources:

  • National Center on Universal Design for Learning
    Examples and reseources for each of the Universal Design for Learning checkpoints.
  • Classroom Climate (Cornell University, Center for Teacbing Innovation)
    Examples of feedback techniques you can use to manage your classroom’s climate in order to have positive impacts on learning.
  • Connecting with Your Students (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning)
    From their Online Course-In-A-Box: Best practices to enhance teaching presence to create a learning community and increase student motivation and success.