How can universal design be applied to instruction?

Date Updated

Excerpt from Universal Design of Instruction: Definition, Principles, and Examples by Sheryl Burgstahler:

Universal design principals can apply to lectures, classroom discussions, group work, handouts, web-based instruction, labs, field work, and other academic activities and materials. They give each student meaningful access to the curriculum by assuring access to the environment as well as multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement (Center for Applied Special Technology). Listed below are examples of instructional methods that employ principles of universal design. They make course content and activities accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, ethnic backgrounds, language skills, and learning styles.

  1. Class Climate. Create a classroom environment that values both diversity and inclusiveness. 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, Usability, and Safety. Assure that classrooms, labs, and field work are accessible to individuals with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Make sure equipment and activities minimize sustained physical effort, provide options for operation, and accommodate right- and left-handed students as well as those with limited physical abilities. Assure the physical safety of all students.
  3. Delivery Methods. Alternate delivery methods, including lecture, discussion, hands-on activities, Internet-based interaction, and field work. Make sure each is accessible to students with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, interests, and previous experiences. Face the class and speak clearly in an environment that is comfortable and free from distractions. Use multiple modes to deliver content. Provide printed materials that summarize content that is delivered orally.
  4. Information Resources. Use captioned videotapes. Make printed materials available in electronic format. Provide text descriptions of graphics presented on web pages. Provide printed materials early to allow students to prepare for the topic to be presented. Create printed and web-based materials in simple, intuitive, and consistent formats. 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. Strive to make them accessible to everyone, without accommodations.
  6. Feedback. Provide effective prompting during an activity and feedback after the assignment is complete.
  7. Assessment. 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.

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

You may also wish to consult You may also wish to consult the book Creating Inclusive Learning Opportunities in Higher Education: A Universal Design Toolkit and/or view the video Quality Education Is Accessible, in which students with a variety of disabilities share strategies for making instruction more accessible to them.