Universal design (UD) refers to the consideration of the needs of persons with disabilities in regards to physical spaces and objects; it has since grown into an initiative for education called the universal design for learning (UDL). The original Principles of Universal Design (1997) are equitable use, the flexibility of use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for appropriate use. See the UD poster. The Center for Universal Design described it as a design that doesn’t need adaption for persons with disabilities in perceiving the content or operating the program. Adaption is key to equal access to education to avoid having a student wait weeks while you provide a specific accommodation such as closed captioning to a video lecture. Instead, be proactive and have your first unit and/or introductory video captioned (or audio transcribed) in advance of the start date of your course. Another UDL educational correlation with the original UD principles is providing mastery test options or dropping the lowest grade for tolerance of error in the web-enhanced course.
There are several efforts to design education with UD in mind. Palmer and Caputo (2003) proposed seven principles for universal instructional design (UID): accessibility, consistency, explicitness, flexibility, accommodating learning spaces, minimization of effort, and supportive learning environments. The UID model recognizes those needs for course design. Its main premise is equal access to education and extends this to all types of learners and not just those with disabilities. For example, all learners can benefit from multi-modal lessons.
I recently attended a webinar by Dr. Tobin in which he recommended these instructional strategies for UDL:
- Start with the text. It can serve as the script.
- Make alternatives available such as a PDF instead of Microsoft Word so they can use the feature in Adobe products to read aloud the text.
- Allow students to select their type of assessment choice.
- Go step by step to break information into small chunks and provide still images for illustration when possible.
- Set content free. By this, he means to make sure it’s shareable and not tied to your choice of tool/software. Ex. MP3 audio file as output instead of the Audacity file, which students would have to know how to use to open/play. The benefits of these strategies reduce the cognitive load for all learners.
UD for the web isn’t only for education. Legal aspects include the web design standards created by the WWW Consortium (W3C) for information technology. They produced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG), which are promoted globally. I use their Web Accessibility Initiative website, as a reference at work. Additionally, US federal laws include policies for equal access to Web-based information and technologies such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Access Board standards. The Access Board standards are based on the WC3’s priority checklist.
Here are a few resources on UD:
- National Center on the Universal Design for Learning
- The Universal Design and Research Network
- The Center for Universal Design
Palmer, J., & Caputo, A. (2003). Universal instructional design: Implementation guide. Guelph, Ontario: University of Guelph.
The Center for Universal Design (1997). The Principles of Universal Design, Version 2.0. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University.