How can universal design be applied in postsecondary education?
Universal design is an approach that strives to make products and environments welcoming, accessible, and usable for everyone. Universal design principles were developed at the Center for Universal Design. They can be tailored to specific applications such as curriculum, instruction, career service offices, multimedia, tutoring and learning centers, museums, computer labs, and web pages.
The short publication Universal Design in Postsecondary Education: Process, Principles, and Applications and the book Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice present the following process for applying universal design in a postsecondary setting:
- Identify the application. Specify the product or environment to which you wish to apply universal design.
- Define the universe. Describe the overall population (e.g., users of service), and then describe the diverse characteristics of potential members of the population for which the application is designed (e.g., students, faculty, and staff with diverse characteristics with respect to gender; age; size; ethnicity and race; native language; learning style; and abilities to see, hear, manipulate objects, read, and communicate).
- Involve consumers. Consider and involve people with diverse characteristics (as identified in Step 2) in all phases of the development, implementation, and evaluation of the application. Also gain perspectives through diversity programs, such as the campus disability services office.
- Adopt guidelines or standards. Create or select existing universal design guidelines or standards. Integrate them with other best practices within the field of the specific application.
- Apply guidelines or standards. Apply universal design in concert with best practices within the field (as identified in Step 4) to the overall design of the application, all subcomponents of the application, and all ongoing operations (e.g., procurement processes, staff training) to maximize the benefit of the application to individuals with the wide variety of characteristics identified in Step 2.
- Plan for accommodations. Develop processes to address accommodation requests (e.g., purchase of assistive technology, arrangement for sign language interpreters) from individuals for whom the design of the application does not automatically provide access.
- Train and support. Tailor and deliver ongoing training and support to stakeholders (e.g., instructors, computer support staff, procurement officers, volunteers). Share institutional goals with respect to diversity and inclusion and practices for ensuring welcoming, accessible, and inclusive experiences for everyone.
- Evaluate. Include universal design measures in periodic evaluations of the application; evaluate the application with a diverse group of users, and make modifications based on feedback. Provide ways to collect input from users (e.g., through online and printed instruments and communications with staff).
For additional information on this topic may wish to consult the book Creating Inclusive Learning Opportunities in Higher Education: A Universal Design Toolkit.