Colorado State University Access Project: Universal Design for Learning

By Peter Connor

"Universal design," according to Ron Mace, North Carolina State University, who first developed its principles in the early 1990's, "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."

Here's a predictive example.

A new building goes up on campus. Like magic, a constant stream of students define the most efficient corridors between the new building and surrounding destinations—paths quickly get beat into the dirt. No doubt remains about where the pavement ought to be poured.

Pretty simple on the surface: Requiring nothing out of the ordinary, human nature ran its course and logical avenues emerged. The largest number of diverse human beings, exhibiting the widest variety of human behavior factors, determined where the sidewalks should go; pedestrian and wheelchair users alike were equally accommodated.

Similarly, Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, applies Universal Design principles to creating new all-encompassing models for instructional environments, materials and teaching strategies.

  • The goal: specifically enhancing the educational experience of students with disabilities.
  • The strategy: increase the avenues by which all students access learning and teaching tools, as well as those by which they undertake and complete course activities and assignments.
  • The underlying theory: predictively, all students, regardless of individual learning styles and challenges, abilities or disabilities, will benefit from increased avenues of accessibility.

A few practical examples of Universal Design for Learning include:

  • Larger Web site font sizes and contrasting font colors
  • Captioning video and transcribing audio presentations
  • Contrasting Web site color schemes that account for color-blindness

By accounting for the largest amount of human factors in the design stage, and including the appropriate alternatives, all Web site visitors benefit—not just the visually or hearing impaired.

Check out the CSU ACCESS Project for help in applying UDL techniques to your teaching strategies. Heavily invested in providing postsecondary educators with the skills, know-how, and technical assistance to make instructional materials and techniques more accessible to all students, the ACCESS Web site is constantly being updated with new materials and guidelines.

Other online UDL resources:

CAST – The Center for Applied Special Technology

The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State

The Faculty Room Project at the University of Washington