1 Universal Design

Universal Design is the process of creating products (devices, environments, systems, and processes) that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations (environments, conditions, and circumstances). Universal Design emerged from the slightly earlier concept of being barrier-free, the broader accessibility movement, and adaptive technology and assistive technology. It also seeks to blend aesthetics into these core considerations.

Let’s review two common definitions of Universal Design.

Definition 1

Universal Design or Universal Instructional Design (UID)

an approach to teaching that consists of the proactive design and use of inclusive instructional and evaluation strategies. This approach provides academic access to a broad range of learners, including students with disabilities, while:

  • maintaining academic standards […]
  • reducing the need to having to retrofit after a course is already underway[1]

Definition 2

Universal Instructional Design (UID)

an approach to designing course instruction, materials and content to benefit people of all learning styles without adaptation or retrofitting. UID provides equal access to learning, not simply equal access to information. UID allows the student to control the method of accessing information while the instructor monitors the learning process and initiates any beneficial methods… It should be noted that UID does not remove academic challenges; it removes barriers to access.[2]

Why Universal Design?

For our purposes, we frame the practice of using Universal Design in a holistic and manageable way and begin by addressing the barriers that are easy to anticipate and proactively remediate. This toolkit, therefore, will provide guidance if the answer to any of the following questions is “yes.”

  • Do I have visual materials that present core concepts that not all students may be able to see or understand?
  • Do I have multimedia materials (e.g., audio, video) that present core concepts that not all students may be able to be hear, see, or otherwise access?
  • Do I have documents that present core concepts in a format that not all students may be able to access?

In the Accessibility Toolkit – 2nd Edition, we focus on an adjunct to Universal Design: Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a set of principles for curriculum development that gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn and provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone. Rather than a single, one-size-fits-all solution, it offers a flexible approach that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.[3]

  1. University of Victoria, "Universal Instructional Design (UID)," Centre for Accessible Learning, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.uvic.ca/services/cal/staff/universal-instructional-design/index.php.
  2. Ohio State University, "Universal Design for Learning," Partnership Grant: Fast Facts for Faculty, accessed March 27, 2018, https://ada.osu.edu/resources/fastfacts/Universal_Design.htm.
  3. "The UDL Guidelines," CAST, accessed August 21, 2018, http://udlguidelines.cast.org/.


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Accessibility Toolkit Copyright © 2015, 2018 by BCcampus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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