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Working with Students with Disabilities: A Faculty/Staff Guide

Universal Design for Instruction

Universal Design for Instruction, also known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL), is a framework instructors may find useful in designing courses to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student body. The goal of UDL is to make learning more accessible for all learners, and it minimizes the need to alter it for anyone. The UDL framework can be applied to the overall design of course curriculum, as well as to specific materials, strategies and environment, including lectures, classroom discussions, group work, web-based instruction, demonstrations, labs and field work.

UDL provides students with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, ethnic backgrounds, language skills and learning styles multiple ways to learn and demonstrate mastery of course material.  It is not a single, one-size-fits all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.  Although UDL minimizes the need for specific accommodations for students with disabilities, it will not eliminate them altogether. 

The 9 Principles of Universal Design for Instruction:

Principle 1: Equitable use

DEFINITION: Instruction is designed to be useful to and accessible by people with diverse abilities.  Provide the same means of use for all students; identical whenever possible, equivalent when not.

EXAMPLE: Provision of class notes on-line.  Comprehensive notes can be accessed in the same manner by all students, regardless of hearing ability, English proficiency, learning or attention disorders, or note-taking skill level.  In an electronic format, students can utilize whatever individual assistive technology is needed to read, hear, or study the class notes.

Principle 2: Flexibility in use

DEFINITION: Instruction is designed to accommodate a wide range of individual abilities.  Provide choice in methods of use.

EXAMPLE: Use of varied instructional methods (lecture with a visual outline, group activities, use of stories, or web board-based discussions) to provide different ways of learning and experiencing knowledge.

Principle 3: Simple and intuitive

DEFINITION: Instruction is designed in a straightforward and predictable manner, regardless of the student's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.  Eliminate unnecessary complexity.

EXAMPLE: Provision of a grading rubric that clearly lays out expectations for exam performance, papers, or projects; a syllabus with comprehensive and accurate information; a handbook guiding students through difficult homework assignments.

Principle 4: Perceptible information

DEFINITION: Instruction is designed so that necessary information is communicated effectively to the student, regardless of ambient conditions or the student's sensory abilities.

EXAMPLE: Selection of text books, reading material, and other instructional supports in digital format, or on-line so students with diverse learning needs (e.g., vision, learning, attention, English Language Learners) can access materials through traditional hard copy or with the use of various technological supports (e.g. screen reader, text enlarger, on-line dictionary).

Principle 5: Tolerance for error

DEFINITION: Instruction anticipates variation in individual student learning pace and prerequisite skills.

EXAMPLE: Structuring a long-term course project so that students have the option of turning in individual project components separately for constructive feedback and for integration into the final product; provision of on-line "practice" exercises that supplement classroom instruction.

Principle 6: Low physical effort

DEFINITION: Instruction is designed to minimize nonessential physical effort in order to allow maximum attention to learning.

Note: This principle does not apply when physical effort is integral to essential requirements of a course.

EXAMPLE: Allowing students to use a word processor for writing and editing papers or essay exams.  This facilitate editing of the document without the additional physical exertion of writing portions of text (helpful for students with fine motor or handwriting difficulties or extreme organization weaknesses while providing options for those who are more adept and comfortable composing on the computer).

Principle 7: Size and space for approach and use

DEFINITION: Instruction is designed with consideration for appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of a student's body size, posture, mobility, and communication needs.

EXAMPLE: In small class settings, use of a circular seating arrangement to allow students to see and face speakers during discussion--important for students with attention deficit disorder or who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Principle 8: A community of learners

DEFINITION: The instructional environment promotes interaction and communication among students between students and faculty.

EXAMPLE: Fostering communication among students in and out of class by structuring study groups, discussion groups, e-mail lists, or chat rooms; making a personal connection with students and incorporating motivational strategies to encourage student performance through learning students' names or individually acknowledging excellent performance.

Principle 9: Instructional climate

DEFINITION: Instruction is designed to be welcoming and inclusive.  High expectations are espoused for all students.

EXAMPLE: A statement in the class syllabus affirming the need for class members to respect diversity in order to establish the expectation of tolerance as well as to encourage students to discuss any special learning needs with the instructor; highlight diverse thinkers who have made significant contributions to the field or share innovative approaches developed by students in the class.

Note: From Principles of Universal Design for Instruction by S. S. Scott, J. M. McGuire, and S. F. Shaw, 2001, Storrs: University of Connecticut, Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability. Copyright 2001 by Scott, McGuire, and Shaw.  Reprinted with permission.







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