What is Universal Design?
By definition, 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.” The term “Universal Design” is borrowed from the movement in architecture and product development that calls for curb cuts, automatic doors, video captioning, speakerphones, and other features to accommodate a vast variety of users, including those with disabilities. Experience shows that everyone benefits from Universal Design features. When designers apply UD principles, their products and environments meet the needs of potential users with a variety of characteristics. Disability is just one of many characteristics that an individual might possess. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for designing educational environments that enable all learners to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. This is accomplished by simultaneously reducing barriers to the curriculum and providing rich supports for learning. Employing UD principles in everything we do makes a more accessible world for all of us. It minimizes the need to alter it for anyone.
By using principles of Universal Design in your instruction, you’ll maximize learning for all students in your class. Universal Design principles can apply to lectures, classroom discussions, group work, handouts, web-based instruction, labs, field work, and other academic activities and materials. Listed below are examples of instructional methods that employ principles of Universal Design. They make course content and activities accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, ethnic backgrounds, language skills, and learning styles.
Class Climate. Create a classroom environment that values both diversity and inclusiveness. Put a statement on your syllabus inviting students to meet with you to discuss disability-related accommodations and other special learning needs. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any student. Respect the privacy of all students.
Physical Access, Usability, and Safety. Assure that classrooms, labs, and field work are accessible to individuals with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Make sure equipment and activities minimize sustained physical effort, provide options for operation, and accommodate right- and left-handed students as well as those with limited physical abilities. Assure the physical safety of all students.
Delivery Methods. Alternate delivery methods, including lecture, discussion, hands-on activities, Internet-based interaction, and field work. Make sure each is accessible to students with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, interests, and previous experiences. Face the class and speak clearly in an environment that is comfortable and free from distractions. Use multiple modes to deliver content. Provide printed materials that summarize content that is delivered orally.
Information Resources. Use captioned videotapes. Make printed materials available in electronic format. Provide text descriptions of graphics presented on web pages. Provide printed materials early to allow students to prepare for the topic to be presented. Create printed and web-based materials in simple, intuitive, and consistent formats. Arrange content in order of importance.
For information on how to make your Villanova website accessible to all users, please go to UNIT's training site. For an in-depth look at ways to make all online content accessible, go to Penn State's site: AccessAbility.
Interaction. Encourage different ways for students to interact with each other and with you. These methods may include in-class questions and discussion, group work, and Internet-based communications. Strive to make them accessible to everyone, without accommodations.
Feedback. Provide effective prompting during an activity and feedback after the assignment is complete.
Assessment. Provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate knowledge. For example, besides traditional tests and papers, consider group work, demonstrations, portfolios, and presentations as options for demonstrating knowledge.
Washington University's DO-IT program has been a leader in Universal Design for many years. Their recent publication on promising practices in UD has some excellent ideas and explanations.
The National Center on Universal Design for Learning has posted “UDL Guidelines Examples and Resources” that illustrate each of the UDL checkpoints. These examples provide ideas for Faculty in applying UDL. Best of all, most of the examples and resources are free! Try them today!