Module 10 – Universal Design (P.6 of 7)

Back - Next

Universal Design for Learning

This concept of UD has not only  become the norm in environmental/architectural accessibility, but it has also transcended into education and learning environments. The concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was developed based on the UD principle, equal access for all without the need for adaptation. UDL is defined as  the application of UD principles to enhance and make education accessible to all. When used successfully, it provides rich supports for learning and reduces barriers to the curriculum while maintaining high achievement standards for all students (CAST, 2006). Students with physical, sensory, and cognitive/learning disabilities, as well as language barriers, and behavioral or emotional issues are becoming more prevalent in general education classes. To reach all students, teachers need to be able to create lessons that students can benefit from regardless of their individual strengths or weaknesses. UDL concepts help educators customize their curriculum and adapt teaching styles to accommodate   individual differences and learning styles (CAST, 2006).  A successful UDL-based curriculum consists of the following components:

  • Multiple means of representation (written, picture, audio. etc.) to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge.
  • Multiple means of expression (written, verbal, picture-based, etc.) to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know.
  • Multiple means of engagement (books, presentations, videos, etc.) to tap into learners' interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn.

Providing multiple means of information representation, expression options, and engagement allows teachers to reach students regardless of their abilities. In school settings, information is typically provided in written form, students are expected to write answers, and most learning is done through books. Some students may have difficulty accessing information or reading books due to a visual impairment, a learning disability, a language barrier, or a lack of attention span for reading. Other students may have difficulty writing answers to questions due to a physical disability inhibiting their ability to grasp a pencil ,or move their hand to write. Students in these situations would best be served in a UDL environment, where they can benefit from options to access information or express acquired knowledge.

Technology (often AT) can help provide multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement options, and thus plays an important role in UDL. Many technologies that help people with disabilities also have positive residual effects for students without disabilities, which is an important aspect of UDL environments. An example of technology that can be used to create a UDL environment is a scan and read program. A scan and read program allows the teacher to provide a written assignment to the class in a format that can be accessed by all students. Students without disabilities can simply read the assignment while students who cannot comprehend the written material (i.e. they may better understand audio material) can scan the assignment into the computer and have it read to them at a desired speed.  Other technologies such as programs that aid students who struggle with spelling, need help organizing thoughts, who have difficulty seeing written material, etc. are also available to help teachers create UDL environments.

Technology does not have to be defined as AT to be effective in creating a UDL environment. UDL environments require multiple means of representation and expression to be available. Sometimes presenting students information in the form of maps, pictures, or video and allowing them to express what they know in the form of a powerpoint presentation or other non-writing-based means of representation can help students with reading and learning disabilities excel.

Understanding UDL concepts and technologies will help teachers create a classroom environment where students will be able to access the curriculum using their individual strengths. Providing students with multiple means of information representation, expression options, and means of engagement will create an environment that gives each students and opportunity to succeed.

(Source: CAST, 2006)

Back - Next

This is an example of an AT product designed to provide access via scan and read and other word processing tools. It can be used in education environments by students with and without various disabilities to help the individual succeed.