Make Your Course Accessible

Universal Design and Accessibility

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) draws on an architectural framework for accessibility called "Universal Design," the practice of making architectural spaces and physical objects as accessible to as many people as possible, without calling for special kinds of accommodations. For instance, a sidewalk ramp is essential for people in wheelchairs, but also helpful for parents wheeling strollers, travelers rolling suitcases, and bikers. We can apply the same approach to learning, by designing our courses so that they are as accessible to as many students as possible. 

Please note that the Office for Disability Services (ODS) ensures that students receive appropriate accommodations regarding their specific needs. UDL does not serve that function. 

Why use UDL?

UDL expands the idea of accessibility beyond the boundaries of any one specific diagnosed disability to assert two things that we know about learning from neuroscience. Everyone learns in different ways and these differences fall into common patterns for which we can plan. We can create options regarding the how of learning (the ways that students express themselves and demonstrate understanding), the what of learning (how we make content accessible), and the why of learning (how we elicit students’ feelings of motivation and connection to learning). 

By designing your course to be as accessible as possible to as many students as possible, you help not just students with specific diagnosed disabilities, but all students. For instance, including closed captions in videos is essential for hearing-impaired students, but it also helps students who speak English as a foreign language or students who may be watching in louder, busy places such as the gym.

Not just in offering content, but also when designing an assignment, we encourage you to think strategically about what requirements will meet your specific learning goal(s) and where flexibility may lie: do students need to write an essay, or would making a podcast or blog post accomplish your learning goals? Do they need to work on a specific topic, or could they choose their topic of focus?

Best practices for Content Accessibility

Here are some general best practices regarding making content accessible more broadly, following UDL practices.