Universal Design and Accessibility
Universal design is "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." That definition is according to the Center for Universal Design at N.C. State University. (Check out the Center's very cool universal design principles) When designers apply universal design principles, their products and services meet the needs of many users with a wide variety of characteristics.
For example, a standard door is not accessible to everyone. If a large switch is installed, that's easy for anyone to push so the door automatically opens, the door becomes accessible to more people. While originally designed for people who use wheelchairs, this design can also provide easier accessibility to those pushing a baby stroller, those carrying large items, travelers loaded down with suitcases, and many others. Universal design principles can be applied to many products, environments, and services, including instruction.
Universal Design for Learning
According to the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, the term Universal Design for Learning means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that:
(A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and
(B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient (20 U.S.C. § 1003(24)).
Often interchanged, the goal of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) or Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) is to maximize the learning of students with a wide range of characteristics by applying UD principles to all aspects of instruction (e.g., delivery methods, physical spaces, information resources, technology, personal interactions, assessments).
The National Center on Universal Design for Learning offers multiple resources geared toward postsecondary institutions
CAST, a nonprofit education research and development organization, has launched a web site called UDL On Campus: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education. This web site offers resources geared toward multiple stakeholders in postsecondary institutions to help them use the UDL principles to address learner variability in order to improve learning opportunities, retention and outcomes. The web site focuses on the application of UDL across five areas: (1) Assessment, (2) Improving Institutional Policies and Practices, (3) Selecting Media and Technology, (4) Planning Your Course, and (5) Teaching Approaches.