Universal Design and Accessibility

Students in postsecondary classes come from a wide variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. For some, English is not their first language. In most classes, there are students with many types of learning styles and preferences, including those who are primarily visual or auditory learners. In addition, increasing numbers of students with disabilities are pursuing postsecondary education. Their disabilities include:

  • Blindness
  • Low vision
  • Hearing impairments
  • Mobility impairments
  • Learning disabilities
  • Health impairments
  • Psychiatric impairments

Students want to learn and their instructors share this goal. How can instructors select their curriculum and instructional strategies to maximize the learning of all students? The field of universal design (UD) can provide a framework for inclusive instruction, where lectures, discussions, visual aids, videos, printed materials, web resources, labs, and field work are accessible to all students.

 

University of Redlands is committed to creating a campus that is fully accessible to our diverse population and to preventing discrimination against people with disabilities. The University believes that every individual is entitled to an opportunity equal to his or her abilities. Redlands strives to provide people with disabilities the opportunity to become and remain employed, participate in activities, and benefit from programs, at all levels, within the institution pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The ADA and the ADAAA are intended to remove barriers that prevent qualified individuals with disabilities from enjoying the same opportunities that are afforded persons without disabilities. The ADA and ADAAA prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, education, public accommodations, telecommunications and transportation.

Learning environments should be accessible and follow the standards set by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. Utilizing the framework, of Universal Design for Learning (UD), can assist educators in meeting those standards.

UD is defined as an approach characterized by proactively thinking about and designing products, systems, services, and environments to be usable by all people (to the greatest extent possible), without the need for accommodation, adaptation, or specialized design.

The term UD, according to the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, is a valid framework for guiding educational practice that:

  • Provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and
  • Reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, and attempts to remove classroom challenges, which can potentially interfere with students, maintaining a high level of achievement.

Three primary principles guide UD

To learn more, click on one of the guidelines below.

I. Provide Multiple Means of Representation
Perception
Language, expressions, and symbols
Comprehension
II. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression
Physical action
Expression and communication
Executive function
III. Provide Multiple Means of Engagement
Recruiting interest
Sustaining effort and persistence
Self-regulation

CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.

Additional Resources

If you are creating content for your course using MS Office, there are separate tools which may help you check for compliance. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a good article with details: How to Create Accessible Documents.

The University of Washington has a video which conveys what a student with disabilities may experience with components in a course that do not meet Section 508 standards. These materials are available at: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone Video.