Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction

[PDF graphic] PDF Version (362 KB)      -      get Acrobat Reader

A Checklist for Inclusive Teaching

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

Universal Design of Instruction

The universal design of instruction (UDI) is gaining increased attention and application by educational researchers and practitioners at K-12 and postsecondary levels. UDI means that, rather than designing for the average student, you design instruction for students who potentially have broad ranges with respect to ability, disability, age, reading level, learning style, native language, race, ethnicity, and other characteristics. UDI can be applied to all aspects of instruction, including class climate, interaction, physical environments and products, delivery methods, information resources and technology, feedback, and assessment.

UDI can be discussed as a goal, process, or set of practices.

UDI Goal

The goal of UDI is to maximize the learning of students with a wide range of characteristics by applying UD principles to all aspects of instruction (e.g., delivery methods, physical spaces, information resources, technology, personal interactions, and assessments).

A UDI Process

To apply UDI, an instructor should consider the potential variation in individual skills, learning styles and preferences, age, gender, culture, abilities, and disabilities as they select appropriate strategies for the delivery of instruction and then apply universal design to all course activities and resources. Specifically, the instructor needs to

  1. Identify the course. Describe the course, its learning objectives, and its overall content.
  2. Define the universe. Describe the overall population of students eligible to enroll in the course and then consider their potential diverse characteristics (e.g., with respect to gender; age; ethnicity and race; native language; learning style; and abilities to see, hear, manipulate objects, read, and communicate).
  3. Involve students. Consider perspectives of students with diverse characteristics, as identified in Step 2, in the development of the course. If they are not available directly from students, gain student perspectives through diversity programs such as the campus disability services office.
  4. Adopt instructional strategies. Adopt overall learning and teaching philosophies and methods. Integrate these practices with universal design guidelines or strategies for learning or instruction.
  5. Apply instructional strategies. Apply universal design strategies in concert with good instructional practices (both identified in Step 4) to the overall choice of course teaching methods, curricula, and assessments. Then apply universal design to all lectures, classroom discussions, group work, handouts, web-based content, labs, fieldwork, assessment instruments, and other academic activities and materials to maximize the learning of students with the wide variety of characteristics identified in Step 2.
  6. Plan for accommodations. Learn campus procedures for addressing accommodation requests (e.g., arrangement of sign language interpreters) from specific students for whom the course design does not automatically provide full access.
  7. Evaluate. Monitor the effectiveness of instruction through observation and feedback from students with the diverse set of characteristics identified in Step 2, assess learning, and modify the course as appropriate.

UDI Practices

The Principles of UD1, developed by the Center for Universal Design, encourage the development of products and environments that promote (1) equitable use, (2) flexibility in use, (3) simple and intuitive use, (4) perceptible information, (5) tolerance for error, (6) low physical effort, (7) size and space for approach and use.

A related, but more specific concept, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides "a framework for designing curricula that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. UDL provides rich supports for learning and reduces barriers to the curriculum while maintaining high achievement standards for all."2 UDL guidelines3, developed by CAST, promote the development of curriculum that includes options for (1) perception; (2) language, expressions, and symbolism; (3) comprehension; (4) physical action; (5) expressive skills and fluency; (6) executive functions; (7) recruiting interest; (8) sustaining effort and persistence; and (9) self-regulation.

UDI applies UD to all aspects of instruction. The following checklist provides examples of UDI practices. Numbers in brackets at the end of items in the checklist refer to UD principles and UDL guidelines to which the example is most relevant. This content does not provide legal advice. To clarify legal issues, consult your institution's legal counsel, ADA/504 compliance officer, or disability services office, or call the regional Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Class Climate

Adopt practices that reflect high values with respect to both diversity and inclusiveness.


Encourage regular and effective interactions between students and the instructor and ensure that communication methods are accessible to all participants.

Physical Environments and Products

Ensure that facilities, activities, materials, and equipment are physically accessible to and usable by all students, and that all potential student characteristics are addressed in safety considerations.

Delivery Methods

Use multiple, accessible instructional methods that are accessible to all learners.

Information Resources and Technology

Ensure that course materials, notes, and other information resources are engaging, flexible, and accessible for all students.

For specific guidelines for online content, consult the video and publication Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone4 and the publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Distance Learning.5


Provide specific feedback on a regular basis.


Regularly assess student progress using multiple accessible methods and tools, and adjust instruction accordingly.


Plan for accommodations for students whose needs are not met by the instructional design.

Checklist Updates and Resources

This checklist was applied by and field tested at more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide.6 A nationwide survey to test face-validity of checklist items led to further refinement of the checklist.

Additional Resources

A video presentation titled Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction.7 To increase the usefulness of this working document, send suggestions to sherylb@uw.edu. For more information and resources regarding applications of UD to education, and checklists for making a tutoring and learning center or other student service accessible to students with disabilities, consult The Center for Universal Design in Education website8. The book Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice published by Harvard Education Press; offers perspectives from UD leaders nationwide. To receive a 20% discount visit the website9

Cited Resources

  1. http://www.ncsu.edu/www/ncsu/design/sod5/cud/about_ud/udprinciples.htm
  2. http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines
  3. http://www.cast.org/udl/
  4. http://ww.uw.edu/doit/Video/real_con.html
  5. http://ww.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Technology/equal_access_uddl.html
  6. http://ww.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/admin.html
  7. http://ww.uw.edu/doit/Video/ea_udi.html
  8. http://ww.uw.edu/doit/CUDE/
  9. http://ww.uw.edu/doit/UDHE/coupon.html

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

University of Washington
Box 354842
Seattle, WA 98195-4842
206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
206-221-4171 (fax)
509-328-9331 (voice/TTY) Spokane

Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners


The Center for Universal Design in Education as well as this publication are based on work supported by the U.S. Department of Education (Grant #P33A020042, #P333A020044, #P333A050064). However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

Copyright © 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.