Universal Design

When you use a ramp instead of stairs or open a door using the lever instead of a knob, you are experiencing a product created employing features of universal design. Initially conceptualized by the School of Design at North Carolina State University, the purpose was to produce products and architectural features that would equally advantage all individuals, not only those with special needs.

It takes less effort for most people to use a ramp and is especially advantageous to individuals pushing strollers and those toting roll-aboard suitcases. Levers allow individuals with motor weaknesses and those carrying packages to open doors more easily.

Basic principles of Universal Design

The principles of universal design have been adopted for instruction: universal design for learning (UDL) and universal design for instruction (UDI). The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 defines UDL as a “scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice” with two objectives: to increase flexibility in classroom instruction through specific activities and to reduce barriers through accommodations and supports. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) has developed guidance for instructors in higher education settings as they seek to incorporate the principles of universal design in their course development and practice. See http://udloncampus.cast.org/home for information about syllabus construction, instructional practices, use of media and technology and assessment that employ the UDL philosophy.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL conceptualizes that effective learning depends on these elements: 1) recognition and ease of input of information; 2) engagement with the material and assimilation of information by linking to previous knowledge and 3) affective or motivational factors based on personal experiences and abilities.

This theory proposes that for individuals to learn effectively:

  • Information should be presented in a variety of ways
  • Learners should be allowed alternatives for demonstrating knowledge
  • New material should engage learners interests and challenge them appropriately

See http://www.cast.org/ and http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines for more information on principles of UDL and their application in higher education. 

Universal Design for Instruction (UDI)

The nine principles of Universal Design for Instruction are adapted from those of Universal Design for spaces and products.  The premise is that all learners will benefit from these principles and that keeping these in mind will reduce the need for accommodations.