How can universal design be applied in educational settings?

Date Updated

Originally applied in the field of architecture and later to information technology, applications of universal design in education (UDE) are relatively new. UDE provides a philosophical framework for the design of a broad range of educational products and environments. These include:

  • websites,
  • educational software,
  • meetings,
  • instruction,
  • curriculum,
  • libraries,
  • professional organizations,
  • computer labs,
  • science labs,
  • registration options,
  • student housing and residential life, and
  • other student services.

Experts working with the Center for Universal Design established seven principles for the universal design of any product or environment. Listed below are the seven principles of universal design, each matched with a guideline and an example of its application to an educational product or environment.

  • Equitable use. The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. An example of this principle being applied is museum information provided in several languages commonly used in the community.
  • Flexibility in use. The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. An instructor who provides multiple ways for gaining knowledge is applying this principle.
  • Simple and intuitive. Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Software that gives clear, intuitive directions for use employs this principle.
  • Perceptible information. The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities. Captions provided on videos provide an example.
  • Tolerance for error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. Software that gives guidance when an error is made is an application of this principle.
  • Low physical effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue. Lab equipment that is easy to operate applies this principle.
  • 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. Lab equipment that is usable by students with a wide range of physical characteristics uses this principle.

These examples and further explanations about how universal design can be applied in educational products and environments can be found in the DO-IT publication Universal Design in Education: Principles and Applications. You may also wish to consult the book Creating Inclusive Learning Opportunities in Higher Education: A Universal Design Toolkit

For more information on universal design, explore The Center for Universal Design in Education.