Universal Design for Learning: What is it and why should you care?

Clip art showing people with different access needs in sillhouette. Left to right: a person on crutches, a person in a wheelchair, a person with a cane, a person pushing a pram

At the end of this past summer, I was invited to address instructors in the University of TexasDepartment of Rhetoric & Writing (DRW) on the theme of ‘Accessibility’. The invitation arose from some work I’d done for the DRW to make their syllabus boilerplate more accessible — reformatting the existing Word doc with styles to increase navigability, and providing descriptive hyperlinks to web-based references — and reflected a need to better acquaint new instructors with accessibility resources on campus, including within the Digital Writing & Research Lab.

As the talk took place shortly before the start of classes, when instructors were doing last-minute preparation for their fall courses, I elected to speak on Universal Design for Learning, arguing that instructors and students alike are best served when instructors build affordances for diverse learners into their curricula from the outset, rather than adapting only as required by institutional and legal structures. Behind the cut, you’ll find information about the need for universal design, and resources and strategies for universal design in your own classroom.

For example, if you are giving a lecture and you circulate a transcript for those who need or prefer to follow written text, you benefit the following people in your audience: People who are Deaf or hard of hearing; ASL translators or CART transcribers, who don’t know your jargon; people who process read information more readily than heard information; people who are experiencing temporary hearing loss (earache, for example); people with loud or distracting neighbours.

You also benefit yourself: more of your audience can fully engage with the material you’re presenting — and if nothing else, you’re prepared a little earlier.

My slides are embedded below — or you can download the PowerPoint file — and provide an outline of my presentation, including links to resources for universal design and improved accessibility both on the University of Texas campus and on the Internet at large (also copied below the embed). An audio file is in the works, but in the meantime here is the transcript of the speech I gave on August 19, 2016.

Selected Resources

On the University of Texas Campus

On the Internet

This post is adapted from material from my August 19 2016 talk to the Department of Rhetoric & Writing, and a blog post on my own website. Image: Madison Area Technical College.

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