Equal Access: Universal Design of Your Project

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A checklist for making projects welcoming, accessible, and usable

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities participate in academic opportunities and careers, the accessibility of classes, service offices, libraries, computer labs, electronic resources, events, and specific project activities increases in importance. The goal is simply equal access; everyone who qualifies to use your resources or participate in sponsored activities should be able to do so comfortably and efficiently.

Legal Issues

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 mandate that no otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in public programs. This means that courses, student services, information resources, and project activities should be accessible to qualified individuals with disabilities.

Universal Design

An approach to making facilities, information, and activities accessible to and usable by everyone is called universal design (UD). Universal design means that rather than designing for the average user, you design for people with differing native languages, genders, racial and ethnic backgrounds, abilities, and disabilities. Make sure that project staff and volunteers are trained to support people with disabilities, respond to specific requests for accommodations in a timely manner, and know who to contact regarding disability-related issues. The universal design of your project offerings will make everyone feel welcome and minimize the need for special accommodations for individual participants.

Guidelines and Examples

Addressing the following questions provides a good starting point for making your facility, information resources, and project activities universally accessible. This content does not provide legal advice. Contact the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) about legal mandates.

Planning, Policies, and Evaluation

Consider diversity issues as you plan and evaluate services.

Information Resources and Technology

If career services uses computers as information resources, ensure these systems employ accessible design, that staff members are aware of accessibility options, and systems are in place to make accommodations.

For more information, consult Creating Video and Multimedia Products That Are Accessible to People with Sensory Impairments at www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Technology/vid_sensory.html and the Working Together videos and publications at www.uw.edu/doit/Resources/at.html. For making distance learning accessible, consult Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone video presentation and publication at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/real_con.html.

Project and Activity Facilities

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

Consult the ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal at www.ada.gov/checkweb.htm for more suggestions. For computing facilities, consult the Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs video and publication at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/equal.html.


Make sure staff are prepared to work with all program participants.

Checklist Updates

This checklist was field tested at more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide (see www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/admin.html). A nationwide survey to test face-validity of checklist items led to further refinement of the checklist. To increase the usefulness of this working document, send suggestions to sherylb@uw.edu.

Additional Resources

For further information about applications of universal design consult www.uw.edu/doit/Resources/udesign.html or The Center for Universal Design in Education at www.uw.edu/doit/CUDE/. The book Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice published by Harvard Education Press shares perspectives of UD leaders nationwide.. To receive a 20% discount on your order of this book through DO-IT, visit www.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:

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Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners


This publication is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Education (FIPSE Grant # P116D990138-01) and the National Science Foundation (Cooperative Agreement # 0227995). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Copyright © 2012, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.