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Universal Design for Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the many barriers that already exist in the Ontario education system for students with disabilities. AODA education standards could prevent and remove these barriers, and ensure that all Ontarians receive a high-quality education. For instance, education standards could require policies of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in school boards, colleges, and universities. UDL policies can help teachers and other classroom professionals make lessons accessible for learners with disabilities while also enhancing the learning experience for their whole class.

Universal Design

Universal design means creating products, services, and places that people with a wide variety of abilities and circumstances can use. When something is universally designed, creators are thinking about people’s accessibility needs during the design process. Some people may still need assistance to use products and spaces that are universally designed. For instance, a person might navigate wide hallways and paths with an assistive device or service animal. However, the design of the space or product should make it easy for people to use with such accommodations. Some examples of designing products and events to include accommodations are:

  • Websites and apps designed to be compatible with accessible hardware and software, such as:
    • Screen readers or screen magnification
    • Keyboard or voice commands, instead of a mouse
    • Braille displays, instead of monitors
  • Live events designed to include the addition of communication supports, such as:
    • Sign language interpretation
    • Captions
    • Assistive listening devices

Thinking about accessibility at the design stage often saves time and money. In contrast, making something accessible at a later stage of development often takes longer and is more expensive. For example, public-sector organizations, and large private-sector organizations, must now have websites that comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Organizations with non-compliant websites must now make changes to all their existing webpages in order to follow these guidelines. On the other hand, websites already designed to comply with these guidelines should not need to make such changes.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) means finding ways to teach that benefit the widest variety of learners. UDL means designing learning goals, materials, and activities in ways that make them accessible to learners with a variety of abilities. There are three UDL principles to guide educators in creating lesson content that learners with differing abilities and circumstances can access.

The three principles of UDL are Multiple Means of:

  • Representation
  • Action or Expression
  • Engagement

Our next series of articles will explore how teachers and other educators can create accessible lessons using these principles.