Universal Design at ARC

Diverse group of students sitting around a table working on their mobile devices

Universal Design at ARC

Universal design is a curriculum development approach that focuses on removing structural barriers that are built into our classes to provide all students, regardless of ability, equal access to learn and succeed. There are many approaches to universal design, which are described further along on this page. Some of the models are more detailed, while others are more broad. One model focuses on 3 principles, while others focus on 7, 9, and 14 principles. Regardless of which model you use, they all share a common foundation of meeting the varied needs of our students through variation in practice.

Accessibility and More

One foundational element of universal design is access -the ability for all students to be able to utilize instructional content that we create. In these universal design pages you will learn helpful strategies about access, however if you are looking specifically for accessibility practices, you’ll need to visit our Making Content Accessible at ARC page.

If you are interested in a deeper understanding of the origins of universal design visit the UDL-Universe: A Comprehensive Faculty Development Guide for a wonderful background description.

The foundation of universal design is that you build variability from the beginning of the design process, however you will need to apply the universal lens when updating or revising existing instructional content as well. When you are designing and revising your class, you should take into consideration the variability of our students, who come to us with a variety of experiences and disabilities, beyond what we think of when we talk about accessibility.

According to the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Connecticut, here are some common disabilities our students bring to our classes:

Medical icons, representing different types of health information about disabilities
  • Hearing loss,
  • Low vision or blindness,
  • Learning disabilities, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or dyslexia,
  • Mobility disabilities,
  • Chronic health disorders, such as epilepsy, migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, or COVID-19-related sequelae
  • Psychological or psychiatric disabilities, such as anxiety, depressive disorders, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,
  • Asperger’s disorder and other Autism spectrum disorders, and
  • Traumatic Brain Injury

Disclosure Not Required

While we are aware of those students who come to us with a DSPS accommodation letter, it is safe to assume that there are students in your class that have unidentified disabilities, or have chosen not disclose that personal information with you or ARC. The goal of universal design is to create a course that is accessible for all students, without students having to disclose their health status. This does not mean that some students will not require additional accommodations, however; it just ensures that the most students have access to learning without needing them.

In addition to our students with disabilities, there are other students who will benefit from building universal design into your practice, including:

Multiethnic group of young students standing together.
  • Non-native English speakers
  • Students from diverse social and socioeconomic backgrounds
  • First-generation college students
  • Returning students

Building universal design into your practice can improve the learning experiences for all students by removing structural barriers that are unintentionally impacting our students with disabilities. There are several models that have arisen from this movement in higher education, and although they may appear different in presentation, they all embrace the fundamental need and value in designing learning experiences that allow for the variability of student experiences and needs.

Design Considerations for Varied Disabilities

If you would like to learn more about the types of barriers that our students with varied disabilities might encounter in our courses, below are a few helpful links that discuss the barriers as well as provide strategies to remove them.

Models of Universal Design

For those of you that are excited to learn more about universal design, you can explore several of the models using the page links below:

On these pages you will find a brief overview as well as a list of pros and cons to help guide you toward a model that works best for you. One tenet of universal design is to provide learning opportunities to meet the varied needs of students, so in presenting these different models to you, to build into your practice, we at the ITC encourage you to find a model that you best connect with it, and use that to guide your practice.

A robot sitting at a computer holding its hands to its head with many open tabs to do and an overwhelmed expression

There are many reasons why you might be thinking that universal design is too complicated, or too much work, or that you are just too busy right now to figure it out. If you are looking for some quick tips on how to build universal design into your practice, visit the Universal Design Checklist on our ITC pages.

Other Resources

Aside from the 3 main models presented above, there are other iterations of universal design that you may prefer to guide the practice of universal design in your courses. Again the most important step is to find a model that works best for you from the options available.

Universal Design: Places to Start (Wiki)

If you are looking for very specific actions you can implement across the many different skill set of teaching, Jay T. Dolmage, an associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo, started a wonderful Universal Design: Places to Start Wiki on putting universal design into practice in:

  • Lectures and presentations
  • Questions and discussions
  • Group-work, collaboration, and in-class activities
  • Large assignments
  • Tests and exams
  • Interaction one-on-one with students
  • Lab settings
  • General suggestions

What is great about a wiki is that you can add to it as well!

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