Universal Design

There are often special considerations when instructing students with disabilities. Generally, however, these instructional considerations involve good teaching practices and may benefit other students in the class.

Universal design is a method by which something is created so that it will be useful for all populations. A good example of universal design is a curb cut. Curb cuts were placed into sidewalks so that individuals who use wheelchairs could gain access to the sidewalk. It was quickly realized that these curb cuts were also beneficial for people pushing strollers, bikers, roller skaters, and scooters, just to name a few. Studies have even shown that walkers will go out of there path of travel to use a curb cut rather than step up onto the sidewalk. This same principal of universal design can be used in the classroom. By designing instruction that allows students with disabilities access to the classroom, you may also be designing instruction that works better for everyone in the class. Classes designed with this concept in mind offer a variety of methods of content presentation, flexible teaching strategies, and options for demonstrating mastery of course content.

Some examples are:

  • Create exams that are not designed to take the entire class period to complete.
  • Guided notes on Canvas or the web.
  • Create a clearly organized comprehensive syllabus with statements about expectations (due dates, policies, etc.).
  • Break readings down into manageable portions, with deadlines assigned.
  • If you use pop quizzes, make them an optional way to earn extra points.
  • If you use classroom handouts, post them on Canvas. Make sure that PDF documents are text selectable. Please contact our office if you need assistance.
  • Schedule varying office hours. Having a combination of morning, mid-day, and evening hours makes you more accessible to your students.
  • On your handouts and syllabi use san-serif fonts with a reasonable font size. We favor Arial, size 14.

This is a short list of techniques to incorporate universal design into your classroom. Be creative. The idea is to ask, How can I serve my students best? Then add, How will this decision affect diverse populations, like students with disabilities? Often, there is a simple way to create better access for everyone through the principals of universal design.

Director's Note: Universal Design is a method used to create a classroom environment that is accessible for the greatest percentage of students with or without disabilities. However, there are cases where the universal design structure does not meet the needs of an individual with a disability. Please consult with Disability Access staff regarding these individual situations.