Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning

Below is a very brief introduction to the concepts of accessibility and universal design for learning. For more information (including tips, techniques, and strategies for faculty), see Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning at Boise State, a web site developed and maintained by the IDEA Shop.

What Do We Mean by “Accessibility”?

An accessible product or service is one which can be used by all its intended users, taking into account their differing capabilities. Accessibility begins with understanding that a user’s ability to make inputs and perceive outputs may be limited. The limitation can be either permanent or temporary and may be due to various physical, mental, or environmental conditions. A thoughtful, intentional approach to designing courses and learning materials attempts to remove barriers arising from such limitations.

In education, accessibility is primarily associated with the legal obligation to provide students with disabilities reasonable accommodations that affords equal access to course content, learning activities, assessment, and other aspects of the learning experience. For instance, a student with impaired hearing may be accommodated by supplying him or her with headphones that receive and amplify and instructor’s lecture. Or a student with dyslexia may be accommodated by being given additional time to take a test.

What is Universal Design?

Universal Design is an approach to the design of all products and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability, or situation.

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 by drawing upon the principles of universal design for learning.

  • 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.
  • 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.