Universal Design in Learning

Universal design (UD) principles, which call for barrier-free design and architectural accessibility, are the result of changing demographics in America and the Civil Rights Movement of the last half of the twentieth century. With a greater population of people with disabilities and federal disability rights legislation, architecture and product design that could be universally used and accessed became increasingly important. The concept of universal access and use has now spread in the area of education, and is known as Universal Design for Learning. In 2008, the Higher Education Opportunity Act stated that postsecondary institutions should design curricula with universal design principles for learning in mind. UD for learning principles are intended to reach the widest audience possible. While UD may not eliminate every request for accommodation, it should reduce numbers of requests. It is important to remember that subtle changes to course organization lessen the barriers faced by many students with disabilities. Students with visual impairments that once had to wait a day or more to receive their syllabus now have the opportunity to gain instant access to an electronic version. Hard of hearing or deaf students that either received minimal information or none at all now have immediate access to captioned videos. Student with learning disabilities, who may find it difficult to listen to lectures and take relevant notes at the same time, will now benefit from lecture notes being stored on Blackboard or through some other accessible means.

The promise of UD development in the classroom will replace much of the need to retrofit barriers that may limit a student’s access to information. In 1997, the Center for Universal Design developed seven principles to consider when developing any product or environment. More information about the principles.

  1. Equitable use
  2. Flexibility in use
  3. Simple and intuitive use
  4. Perceptible information
  5. Tolerance for error
  6. Low physical effort
  7. Size and space for approach and use
  8. Community of Learners
  9. Instructional Environment

Copyright © 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design.

The Principles of Universal Design were conceived and developed by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Use or application of the Principles in any form by an individual or organization is separate and distinct from the Principles and does not constitute or imply acceptance or endorsement by The Center for Universal Design of the use or application.

Universal Design Tips for Instruction

  • Provide textbooks, handouts, and other documents in electronic forms. Electronic forms improve access for students with diverse needs. Visually impaired students could use various technology options to listen to or enlarge the text for easier reading. English as a second language learner could take advantage of online dictionaries and thesauruses.
  • Provide class notes online to improve access to information. Most students, regardless of their ability to take notes or effectively listen, will benefit from this UD approach. Students utilizing assistive technology benefit by having immediate access to the notes.
  • Consider using Canvas to post the course syllabus and the other course information listed above. While Canvas is accessible, make sure files posted to the course are in an accessible format.
  • Encourage students to share their notes online with other classmates
  • Consider using a lecture capture program such as Panopto to provide students an alternate method to receive lecture materials. Visit the Biggio Center's Panopto page for more information for instructors on using Panopto to supplement their teaching.
  • Consider implementing the use of LiveScribe in your courses as a supplement to your teaching and tutoring. Contact the Office of Accessibility for more information on this tool and how it could be used in your classroom.
  • Clearly repeat and clarify student’s questions and comments; this will benefit students with hearing impairments and students whose first language is not English.
  • Describe audibly what you are drawing, when using a board or other technology. When drawing on a board or some other technology, be sure to describe audibly what is being drawn. Students who are blind and have low vision rely heavily on audible descriptions of drawings. Providing written descriptions in advance of the lecture will improve a student’s ability to follow the lecture effectively.
  • Provide a rubric that clearly addresses course expectations and grading for exams, projects and assignments.
  • Ensure videos are captioned and turned on during class viewings.
  • Serif fonts (e.g., Times New Roman, Georgia) are more readable when printed, both serif and sans-serif (e.g., Arial, Verdana) fonts are appropriate when displaying text onscreen. The font should be clean and readable.