“the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design”
There are different ways of outlining principles of universal design that can be put into practice in higher education learning environments. The basic idea is that if we design learning environments with a full and natural range of students in mind, we reduce the need for accommodation. On this page we will look at two different frameworks for understanding the principles of universal design as well as a list of online references.
Three basic practices can help educators implement principles of universal design when constructing learning experiences. If the means of representation, the means of engagement, and the means of expression are all examined critically during the design phase, and multiple options for each are built into the learning environment, then learners will benefit in significant ways.
Multiple means of Representation
Multiple means of Engagement
Multiple means of Expression
Looking outside of disability it is possible for factors like learning style, or personal life circumstances to play a part in how well different types of assessment will reflect a learners true knowledge. In order to allow student to “show what they know” educators should supply a variety of avenues for expression. Examinations, papers, projects, hands-on demonstrations, all can give learners a chance to express how they have met the learning objectives, but some of these methods are going to be more effective for some learners than others. When educators can identify several different avenues for expression that would be equally viable in terms of establishing that learning outcomes have been met, then learners can be given a choice. This is not always possible though. Sometimes a given measure is truly the most effective, and in those cases, the best measure should be employed.
The Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability at the University of Connecticut promotes nine principles of UDI that include seven principles identified by the Center for Universal Design at the NCSU College of Design as well as two additional principles that speak specifically to the learning environment as opposed to the design of products and environments more generally.
Principle One – Equitable Use
Automatic doors and curb cuts are both examples of design features that allow for equitable use. A person in a wheelchair benefits but so does an individual with a stroller or delivery trolley.
The idea that good design allows for equitable use is vital. Students can successfully compete in academic environments only if they receive equal access to all course materials and activities. The use of assistive technology and adaptive computing can provide students with disabilities with the tools and techniques they need for full access but only if the design of the learning experience affords such use.
Consider a distance delivery course that relies on CDs to deliver instructional material. All students receive the same CDs. The material could be accessed on a standard computer or on a computer that has been modified with adaptive computing hardware/software to make it more accessible. It is possible for the same design to work well whether or not students are using magnification, synthesized speech, or other assistive technology, assuming the proper adaptations are in place, and the design supports such means of access.
Principle Two – Flexibility in Use
Principle Three – Simple and Intuitive Use
As another example consider two different ways to design a website. One designer uses headings appropriately, designating the format of the content so that main ideas are coded as heading 1, subtopics receive a heading 2 designation, etc., then a blind user who relies on a screenreader such as JAWS to navigate on the web can use keyboard commands to bring up a list of all headings for a given page and have them read out loud, hitting the enter key when the topic that the user wants to read about is read. Because the information has been well organized and labeled appropriately, the user can skip from main ideas to main ideas, then from subtopic to subtopic, finding the information that is needed with ease.
In the second case, the designer has not used headings, simply changing the font size to display organization visually. For the blind user accessing this site there is no way to quickly identify the main ideas and navigate to subtopics of interest. Instead, the user has to listen to all the text, tabbing from section to section without knowing how the information is organized, a process that takes much more time and is much more difficult.
Principle Four – Perceptible Information
As a basic rule, anything that is not text should have a text equivalent, whenever possible. This means that sound should have captions or a transcript and images should have text labels or “alt tags”. More information on how to create appropriate alt tags can be found on the web. Contact DSS at email@example.com for tutorials.
Principle Five – Tolerance for Error
Another example is the standard dialogue box that pops up when a user goes to close a document before saving changes, or a guard rail that keeps someone who stumbles from falling off a ledge.
A last example that is tied to course design has to do with the frequency with which students receive feedback. If a student has to wait until the midterm exam to find out he or she has not been “getting” the information presented in class, it will be harder to correct the situation than if he or she had smaller stake quizzes or assignments all along that could serve as indicators that more study time was needed.
Principle Six – Low Physical Effort
For example, in an EMT program the ability to physically lift another individual or perform CPR is a requirement. The physical effort is essential. On the other hand, in a classroom setting, the effort of hand writing a paper rather than typing it with a word processor may not be essential.
Principle Seven – Size and Shape
More generally, having adjustable height tables, ergonomic chairs, a variety of laboratory and computer equipment, operating systems with built-in accessibility features and the ability to set up roaming profiles so users can set their preferences and find them intact at whatever computer they log onto in the network, buildings with automatic door openers, elevators that function well, fire alarms that use lights in conjunction with sound and Braille labeled doors are all important ideas.
Principle Eight – Community of Learners
Principle Nine –Instructional Environment
Center for Applied Special Technology: http://www.cast.org
Center for Universal Design at NC State University: http://www.design.ncsu.edu/cud
DO-IT Faculty Page: http://www.washington.edu/doit/Faculty/Strategies/Universal
Faculty Ware from University of Connecticut, Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability: http://www.facultyware.uconn.edu
University Course Design from Community Inclusion: http://www.communityinclusion.org/udl/