Skip to main content

Universal Design in a Nutshell

Universal Design, Accessibility, and Universal Design for Learning

Universal design is an approach to design that originates from the belief that the broad range of human ability is ordinary, not special. Universal design accommodates people with disabilities, older people, children, and others who are atypical, and it accommodates them in a way that is not stigmatizing and benefits all users. After all, computer equipment labels that can be read by someone with low vision are easier for everyone to read; public telephones in noisy locations that have volume controls are easier for everyone to hear; and building entrances without stairs assist equally someone who moves furniture, pushes a baby stroller, or uses a wheelchair. Designing for a broad range of users from the beginning of the process can increase usability of an environment or product without significantly increasing its cost. It results in easier use for everyone and it reduces the need for design modifications later when abilities or circumstances change.

Universal design for learning builds on these principles while seeking to provide:

  • Multiple means of representation—to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge.
  • Multiple means of action and expression—to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know.
  • Multiple means of engagement—to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.

In a Nutshell

Our “In a Nutshell” series explores the basic principles of Universal Design for Learning and their incorporation into the design, production, and delivery of teaching materials. Each 2-page document in the series focuses on concrete, specific steps that faculty can take to make teaching materials more accessible and more beneficial to all students.

  • UDL in Action
    Universal Design for Learning (UDL) encourages instructors to design courses that give students options on how to engage in course activities, provide students with choices in how they access and interact with course content, and let students choose from among multiple ways to demonstrate what they have learned. Applying universal design principles helps to ensure that a course is accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities, under as many circumstances as possible.
  • Universally Designed Assignments
    This “In a Nutshell” document focuses on how to provide learners with choices in how they demonstrate their learning.
  • Universally Designed Course Content
    This “In a Nutshell” document focuses on how to ensure students can best access and understand the information and resources you share in your course.
  • Universally Designed Learning Activities
    This “In a Nutshell” document focuses on how to provide learners with choices in how they engage in learning activities.
  • Captioning Videos
    Captioning videos creates accessible content for viewers who are deaf or otherwise have difficulty processing audio.
  • Creating Accessible Documents
    A few small tweaks help to ensure that students won’t face any challenges in reading and navigating your documents. but they’re especially important for digital text. A well-formatted digital document can be read by text-to-speech software commonly used by people with low vision, brain injuries, and some learning disabilities.
  • Creating Accessible Images
    Images in digital content must be accessible, meaning that people with visual impairments or learning disabilities are provided with alternative ways to understand the images. For example, clarifying or descriptive textual information can be added to an image. Fortunately, many of the tools used to create content make it easy to make images accessible.
  • Creating Accessible Slide Presentations and Delivering Accessible Presentations
    Creating and delivering a slideshow presentation so that it is accessible to all students regardless of physical, mental, or cognitive abilities helps to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to be engaged with the presentation. Planning for accessibility can benefit all students, including those without disabilities.