Metropolitan State University's Center for Accessibility Resources (CAR) uses concepts from disability studies to inform practice. Disability scholars argue that disability is a sociopolitical and cultural construct created and perpetuated by an environment whose barriers exclude people with disabilities from access and participation. This concept minimizes the impact of an individual's impairment and locates the "problem," or burden of responsibility, to the environment. When considering curricular environments, shifting the focus from the individual student to the environment yields many exciting opportunities to design inclusive, accessible and sustainable learning experiences.
Universal Design (UD) concepts are useful in operationalizing this philosophy. Using UD principles, faculty and instructors can design learning assessments, activities, and course materials that are accessible and inclusive of a diverse range of students. The primary goal of inclusive course design is to maximize student learning by increasing access and participation. Planful curricular design can reduce the need for individual accommodations and create more engaging learning experiences for all students. If you are interested in learning more about Universal design, you can contact CAR, Center for Faculty Development or Center for Online Learning.
Inclusive classroom practices
CAR works in collaboration with faculty members to remove curricular barriers that exclude students with disabilities from full participation. Access can be achieved through sustainable curricular change and/or individual accommodation. The following should be a part of all instructors' teaching practices:
- Never deny an accommodation request without first consulting with CAR.
- Include an accessibility statement on all syllabi.
- Ensure that recommended testing accommodations are available to students and that all student assessment activities are accessible.
- Effective test accommodations may be implemented by faculty or arrangements may be made with CAR to administer exams with accommodations.
- Assist students in receiving lecture notes by posting notes/PP slides online or locating a volunteer note-taker from within the class.
- Identify course readings early to allow time for the creation of accessible materials.
- Ensure all posted readings are accessible to screen reading technology.
- Ensure Sign Language interpreters and CART writers have appropriate seating.
- Select only captioned videos; contact CAR or COL early to discuss uncaptioned materials.
- Ensure class activities, including field trips, are accessible. In addition to designing class activities, assessments, materials and exams that are accessible, it is also important to consider the location, accessibility features and lay-out of the classroom.
- If furniture is locked into place, take that into consideration should you require students to move about the room for activities or to speak with you. The lay-out may present barriers to wheelchair-users or students with other mobility or sensory impairments.
- If you have the opportunity to move furniture in the classroom, try to integrate accessible seating throughout the room.
- Room and Course Scheduling has information on location, accessibility features, and technology for all classrooms.
Instruction and activities
- It is good practice to email any course materials in advance to all students. This gives students the opportunity to be read along with you, manipulate size or color, or print, should they desire.
- If you refer to photos or images in your teachings, describe those images for anyone who may not be able to see.
- Read the essential content from any slides you reference, as some will not be able to see the slides or screen.
- All videos, films, etc. should be captioned and captions should be turned on, regardless of request for accommodation. Not only will this make the content accessible to deaf or hard of hearing students, but many students benefit from reading along.
Universal Design for Learning
UDL is a set of curricular design principles for creating more inclusive learning environments giving all students equal opportunities to learn. The primary goal of UDL is to maximize student learning by increasing access and participation, and minimizing the need for individual accommodations.
The UDL resources on this page provide a "toolkit" to help faculty recognize and remove barriers in their courses, and reduce, or even eliminate, the need to facilitate accommodations for individual students. Incorporating seamless access into classrooms and curriculum will increase sustainability, as accommodations that are individual and consumable. For example, individual accommodations must be determined for each student, each class, each semester. However, when the curriculum is designed to be inclusive, the need to facilitate individual accommodations each semester is reduced.
Major UDL principles
- Provide multiple means of representation
- Provide multiple means of action and expression
- Provide multiple means of engagement
Steps to an inclusive learning environment
- Focus on essential course elements
- Establish clear expectations and learning objectives
- Design activities specific to the learning objectives
- Encourage self-directed learning and active learning
- Provide information using multiple methods
- Incorporate diverse assessment strategies
- Build in opportunities for feedback
- Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education
- Center for Universal Design
- National Center on Universal Design for Learning
Peer-reviewed articles and books
- Block, L. (2006). Universal Design in Higher Education (Special issue). Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 19(2).
- Burgstahler, S.E., & Cory, R.C. (2008). Universal design in higher education: From principles to practice. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press
- Funckes, C., & Kroeger, S. (2003). Implementing Universal Design in Higher Education: Moving Beyond the Built Environment. Journal on Postsecondary Education and Disability, 16(2), 78-89.
- Gradel, K. and Edson, A. J. (2010). Putting Universal Design for Learning on the higher ed agenda. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 38(2).
- Higbee, J.L. (ed.) (2003). Curriculum transformation and disability: Implementing universal design in higher education. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Roberts, K.D. et al. (2011). Universal Design for Instruction in postsecondary education: A systematic review of empirically based articles. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(1).
- Rose, D. H. & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
- Rowland, C., et al. (2010). Universal design for the digital environment: Transforming the institution. Educause Review Online, 45(6).
- Schelley, C.L., et al. (2011). Student perceptions of faculty implementation of Universal Design for Learning. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(1).
- Williams, G. (2010). Academic Resources and Universal Design. Chronicle of Higher Education.
- CAST: What is Universal Design: Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.
- CAST Universal Design online modules: This site provides two online modules introducing the theory, principles and application of Universal Design for Learning. They are designed to provide faculty information on universal design through a multimedia, interactive online-learning environment. An interactive group can be set up to practice using a blog, wiki or other types of interactive web media.
- EnAct Ensuring Access Through Collaboration and Technology: UDL-U provides a comprehensive faculty development guide.
- Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction: This web page is a product of the University of Washington Do-It Grant and provides a checklist on Universal Design for Teaching along with other resources.
- Equity and Excellence in Higher Education: Universal Course Design: This website has been designed by faculty for other faculty who are interested in building Universal Design Features into their course design.
- San Francisco State University, The Center for Teaching and Faculty Development: Universal Design for Learning Online Training Module
- Universal Design for Learning in Postsecondary Education: Reflections on principles and their applications.
- Albrecht, G.L., Seelman, K.D., Bury, M. (Eds.) (2001). Handbook of disability studies. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage Publications.
- Longmore, P. K. (2003). Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
- Swain, J., French, S., & Cameron, C. (2005). Controversial Issues in a Disabling Society. New York: Open University Press.