Universal design (UD) is the design of environments and products to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation. When designers apply UD principles, their environments and products meet the needs of users with a variety of characteristics, including disabilities.

Similarly, universal design of instruction (UDI) is an approach to designing course instruction, materials, and content to benefit people of all learning styles without adaptation. UDI provides equal access to learning, not simply equal access to information, by allowing the student to control the method of accessing information, while the teacher is responsible for imparting knowledge and facilitating the learning process.

UDI does not remove academic challenges; rather, UDI removes barriers to access. UDI provides students with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, ethnic backgrounds, language skills, and learning styles multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement. UDI principles can be applied to the overall design of instruction as well as to specific instructional materials, facilities, and strategies (such as lectures, classroom discussions, group work, web-based instruction, labs, field work, and demonstrations).

Employing UD helps create a more accessible world for everyone and minimizes the need to alter it for anyone. As such, UDI principles benefit students with disabilities as well as students who speak English as a second language, international students, and students whose preferred learning style is inconsistent with the professor’s teaching style. Put simply, UDI benefits all students.

For more information on universal design for learning, we recommend reviewing the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) website and DO-IT at the University of Washington.

Employing UDI Principles in the Classroom

Listed below are eight performance indicator categories that describe methods for employing UDI principles in classroom instruction:

  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 use a wheelchair.
  4. Delivery methods. Use multiple instructional methods that are accessible to all learners. Example: Use multiple modes to deliver content and when possible allow students to choose from multiple options for learning.
  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 Suggestions for Implementing UDI

Here are more suggestions for employing UDI in the classroom:

  • Put course content online so that students can also access oral lectures in print. Additionally, this allows students to access material that might have been missed in lecture.
  • Motivate and engage students by using hands-on activities, Internet-based communications, fieldwork, and collaborative learning options such as peer mentoring, group discussions, and cooperative learning situations.
  • Provide lecture outlines or use guided notes, which allows students to listen for essential concepts without copying notes off of overhead.
  • Allow students to audio record lectures.
  • When assigning projects, in addition to providing oral instruction, also provide handouts that clearly outline project deadlines and expected deliverables.
  • Update course materials based on current events and student demands.
  • Provide a comprehensive syllabus that clearly identifies course requirements and project due dates and includes an accommodations statement.
  • Clarify any feedback or instructions, ask for questions, and repeat or give additional examples as necessary to ensure all students understand course content.
  • Relate new topics to ones already learned or to real-life examples.
  • Allow the student to demonstrate knowledge of the subject through alternate means.
  • Permit and encourage the use of adaptive technology.
  • Develop study guides.
  • Give more frequent exams that are shorter in length.