Lesson 03: Universal Design of Instruction
Lesson 02 | Lesson 03 | Lesson 04
Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities
Distance Learning Course
SUBJECT: Accommodations 3: UNIVERSAL DESIGN
The purpose of this lesson is to increase your awareness of principles
of UNIVERSAL DESIGN and their application in education.
By reflecting on YOUR own course while reading the CONTENT, you will
be guided to consider possible modifications to your course. By
sharing and discussing course modifications with other participants,
you will develop an awareness of additional strategies and
applications of the principles of UNIVERSAL DESIGN in education.
Question to REFLECT upon while reading the CONTENT
In what ways might your selected course apply the UNIVERSAL DESIGN
Students in academic 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,
including those who are primarily visual or auditory learners. In
addition, increasing numbers of students with disabilities are
pursuing postsecondary education. All of these students want to learn
and their instructors share this goal. How can instructors design
instruction to maximize the learning of all students?
The field of UNIVERSAL DESIGN can provide a starting point for
developing an appropriate model for instruction. This body of
knowledge can then be applied to instructional design in order to help
instructors create courses where lectures, discussions, visual aids,
videotapes, printed materials, Web resources, and field work are
accessible to all students.
WHAT is UNIVERSAL DESIGN?
Designing any product or service involves the consideration of many
factors including aesthetics, engineering options, environmental
issues, safety concerns, and cost. Often the design is created for the
"average" user. In contrast UNIVERSAL DESIGN is "the design of
products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest
extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized
Universal Design can be considered an APPROACH to designing the
environment and products that takes into consideration the changes
experienced by everyone during their lifetime. Rather than focus on
adapting things for an individual at a later time, an ACCESSIBLE
ENVIRONMENT is created from the beginning. When designers apply
universal design principles, their products and services meet the
needs of potential users with a wide variety of characteristics.
DISABILITY is just one of many characteristics that an individual
might possess. For example, one person could be five feet four inches
tall, female, forty years old, a poor reader, and deaf. All of these
characteristics, including her deafness, should be considered when
developing a product or service she might use.
Making a product or service accessible to people with disabilities
often Benefits others. For example, sidewalk curb cuts, designed to
make sidewalks and streets accessible to those using wheelchairs, are
today more often used by kids on skateboards, parents with baby
strollers, and delivery staff with rolling carts. (If television
displays in airports and restaurants were captioned, they would
benefit people who cannot hear the audio because of a noisy
environment as well as those who are deaf.)
PRINCIPLES of Universal Design
At the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University
a group of architects, product designers, engineers, and environmental
design researchers established the following set of PRINCIPLES of
UNIVERSAL DESIGN (see
provide guidance in the design of environments, communications, and
products. They can also be applied to academic programs and
1. EQUITABLE USE. The design is useful and marketable to people with
diverse abilities. For example, a Web site that is designed so that it
is accessible to everyone, including people who are blind, employs
2. FLEXIBILITY IN USE. The design accommodates a wide range of
individual preferences and abilities. An example is a museum that
allows a visitor to choose to read or listen to the description of the
contents of a display case.
3. SIMPLE AND INTUITIVE USE. Use of the design is easy to understand,
regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or
current concentration level. Science lab equipment with control
buttons that are clear and intuitive is a good example of an
application of this principle.
4. PERCEPTIBLE INFORMATION. The design communicates necessary
information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions
or the user's sensory abilities. An example of this principle not
being employed is when television programming is projected in noisy
public areas like academic conference exhibits without captioning.
5. TOLERANCE FOR ERROR. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse
consequences of accidental or unintended actions. An example of a
product applying this principle is an educational software program
that provides guidance when the user makes an inappropriate selection.
6. LOW PHYSICAL EFFORT. The design can be used efficiently and
comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue. For example, doors that
are easy to open by people with a wide variety of physical
characteristics demonstrate the application of this principle.
7. SIZE AND SPACE FOR APPROACH AND USE. Appropriate size and space is
provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the
user's body size, posture, or mobility. A science lab work area
designed for use by students with a wide variety of physical
characteristics and abilities is an example of employing this
UNIVERSAL DESIGN applied to EDUCATION
Universal design principles can be applied to many products and
services. The following paragraph is a DEFINITION of universal design
"In terms of learning, universal design means the design of
instructional materials and activities that makes the learning goals
achievable by individuals with wide differences in their abilities to
see, hear, speak, move, read, write, understand English, attend,
organize, engage, and remember. Universal design for learning is
achieved by means of flexible curricular materials and activities that
provide alternatives for students with differing abilities. These
alternatives are built into the instructional design and operating
systems of educational materials; they are not added on
after-the-fact" (Research Connections, No. 5, Fall 1999, p. 2, Council
for Exceptional Children).
When designing classroom instruction or a distance learning class,
strive to create a LEARNING ENVIRONMENT that allows all students,
including a person who happens to have a characteristic that is termed
"disability," to access the content of the course and fully
participate in class activities. UNIVERSAL DESIGN PRINCIPLES can apply
to lectures, classroom discussions, group work, handouts, Web-based
instruction, fieldwork, and other academic activities.
Below are examples of INSTRUCTIONAL METHODS that employ principles of
universal design. Applying these strategies can make your course
content accessible to people with a wide range of abilities and
disabilities, ethnic backgrounds, language skills, and learning
1. INCLUSIVENESS. Create a classroom environment that respects and
values diversity. Put a statement on your syllabus inviting students
to meet with you to discuss disability-related accommodations and
other special learning needs. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any
student. Respect the privacy of all students.
2. PHYSICAL ACCESS. Assure that classrooms, labs, and fieldwork are
accessible to individuals with a wide range of physical abilities and
disabilities. Make sure equipment and activities minimize sustained
physical effort, provide options for operation, and accommodate right-
and left-handed students and those with limited physical
abilities. Assure the safety of all students.
3. DELIVERY METHODS. Use multiple modes to deliver content. Alternate
delivery methods, including lecture, discussion, hands-on activities,
Internet-based interaction, and fieldwork. Make sure each is
accessible to students with a wide range of abilities, disabilities,
interests, and previous experiences. Face the class and speak
clearly. Provide printed materials that summarize content delivered
orally. Provide printed materials early to allow the student to
prepare ahead of time.
4. WEB PAGES. Provide printed materials in electronic format. Create
printed and Web-based materials in simple, intuitive, and consistent
formats. Provide text descriptions of graphics presented on Web
pages. Arrange content in order of importance.
5. INTERACTION. Encourage different ways for students to interact with
each other and with you. These methods may include in-class questions
and discussion, group work, and Internet-based communications.
6. FEEDBACK. Provide effective prompting during an activity and
feedback after the assignment is complete.
7. DEMONSTRATION OF KNOWLEDGE. Provide multiple ways for students to
demonstrate knowledge. For example, besides traditional tests and
papers, consider group work, demonstrations, portfolios, and
presentations as options for demonstrating knowledge.
Employing universal design principles in instruction does NOT
ELIMINATE the need for specific accommodations for students with
disabilities. There will always be the need for some specific
accommodations, such as sign language interpreters for students who
are deaf. However, applying universal design concepts in course
planning will assure full access to the content for most students and
MINIMIZE the need for specific accommodations. For example, designing
Web resources in accessible formats as they are developed means that
no re-development is necessary if a blind student enrolls in the
class; planning ahead can be less time-consuming in the long
run. Letting all students have access to your class notes and
assignments on an accessible Website can eliminate the need for
providing materials in alternative formats.
Employing universal design principles to fully include one group of
students can generate unanticipated benefits to others. Consider this
list of students who might benefit from CAPTIONING on your course
* Students for whom English is a second language. Often their reading
skills are better than their spoken English skills.
* Students who are deaf. By reading what they cannot hear, captioning
provides access to deaf students.
* Students with visual impairments. Captioning is generally not useful
for students with visual impairments, but there is one
exception. Students who are deaf and have low vision (i.e., they can
see large print) can benefit from captioning if the captions are large
enough for them to see.
* Students watching the videotape in a noisy environment. By reading
what they cannot hear, students watching the tape in a noisy
environment will benefit from captioning.
* Students who have learning disabilities. Some may comprehend
material better when they both see text and hear it spoken aloud.
Employing universal design principles when initially designing a
course using instructional strategies for inclusiveness, physical
access, delivery methods, Web pages, interaction, feedback, and
demonstration of knowledge creates an ACCESSIBLE ENVIRONMENT and can
minimize the need to alter it later for individuals with special
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
Send an email message to the group, including:
1. A very BRIEF DESCRIPTION of your selected course;
2. A SUMMARY of your REFLECTIONS on how YOUR course does (and/or
might be changed to) incorporate the principles and instructional
strategies presented in the CONTENT above.
Your email SUBJECT line should read: Accommodations 3: UNIVERSAL DESIGN.
You can read answers to frequently asked questions, explore case
studies, or access additional resources at
(c) 2001 DO-IT. Permission is granted to copy material in this email
for educational, non-commercial purposes provided the source is
acknowledged. Contact DO-IT at: 1-206-685-3648, or