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Universal Design for Learning

Over the past several years, the concepts and the principals of universal design have been integrated into a new set of constructs called Universal Design for Learning (UDL) [1]. As defined by researchers at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), UDL shifts old assumptions about teaching and learning in four fundamental ways:

  1. Students with disabilities fall along a continuum of learner differences rather than constituting a separate category.
  2. Instructional adjustment for learner differences should occur for all students, not just those with disabilities.
  3. Curriculum materials should be varied and diverse, including digital and online resources, rather than emphasizing a single textbook.
  4. Curriculum should be made flexible to accommodate learner differences, instead of remediating students so that they can learn from a set curriculum.

Examples of Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning

UD UDL
Generally benefits more than one group of users (e.g., the curb cut) Increases accessibility to written material for multiple users through technology use
Is usually invisible; is fully integrated into the design Identifies the essential course content
Provides choices in how people use the environment Uses a variety of instructional methods when presenting materials [2]

How is Universal Design Implemented in Higher Education?

Within higher education, the application of universal design as an approach to educational access for individuals with disabilities is growing in popularity because of the advantages it offers:

  • Environments designed universally serve all individuals simultaneously; the need for separate systems and multiple academic accommodations is minimized.
  • Accessibility problems become the responsibilities of the campus community to overcome; the environment is identified as the problem, not the individual.
  • Accessibility standards are integrated during design rather than approached as an afterthought.
  • The individual with a disability does not have to continually advocate for access; disability is viewed as a naturally occurring human difference and is addressed just as other individual variations are.
  • Accessibility is built in and does not need to be readdressed as each new individual encounters the environment and the curriculum. [3]

[1] Summary of Universal Design for Learning Concepts.  Visit CAST website for more information.

[2] Reprinted by permission from Universal Design: A Guide for Students (AHEAD).

[3] Reprinted by permission from Universal Design in Higher Education (AHEAD).

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Last reviewed 10/30/2008 3:15:09 PM

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia