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An Instructor's Guide to Accessibility

This guide provides the 'why' and 'how' of accessibility of instruction

Universal Design for Learning

This short YouTube video, provided by California State University - Northridge, illustrates the three principles of Universal Design for Learning:

Universal Design applied to Education

Universal design principles can be applied to many products and services. The following paragraph is a definition of universal design in education.

"In terms of learning, universal design means the design of instructional materials and activities that makes the learning goals achievable by individuals with wide differences in their abilities to see, hear, speak, move, read, write, understand English, attend, organize, engage, and remember. Universal design for learning is achieved by means of flexible curricular materials and activities that provide alternatives for students with differing abilities. These alternatives are built into the instructional design and operating systems of educational materials; they are not added on after-the-fact" (Research Connections, No. 5, Fall 1999, p. 2, Council for Exceptional Children).

When designing classroom instruction or a distance learning class, strive to create a LEARNING ENVIRONMENT that allows all students, including a person who happens to have a characteristic that is termed "disability," to access the content of the course and fully participate in class activities. UNIVERSAL DESIGN PRINCIPLES can apply to lectures, classroom discussions, group work, handouts, Web-based instruction, fieldwork, and other academic activities.

Below are examples of INSTRUCTIONAL METHODS that employ principles of universal design. Applying these strategies can make your course content accessible to people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities, ethnic backgrounds, language skills, and learning styles.

  1. INCLUSIVENESS. Create a classroom environment that respects and values diversity. Put a statement on your syllabus inviting students to meet with you to discuss disability-related accommodations and other special learning needs. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any student. Respect the privacy of all students.
  2. PHYSICAL ACCESS. Assure that classrooms, labs, and fieldwork are accessible to individuals with a wide range of physical abilities and disabilities. Make sure equipment and activities minimize sustained physical effort, provide options for operation, and accommodate right- and left-handed students and those with limited physical abilities. Assure the safety of all students.
  3. DELIVERY METHODS. Use multiple modes to deliver content. Alternate delivery methods, including lecture, discussion, hands-on activities, Internet-based interaction, and fieldwork. Make sure each is accessible to students with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, interests, and previous experiences. Face the class and speak clearly. Provide printed materials that summarize content delivered orally. Provide printed materials early to allow the student to prepare ahead of time.
  4. WEB PAGES. Provide printed materials in electronic format. Create printed and Web-based materials in simple, intuitive, and consistent formats. Provide text descriptions of graphics presented on Web pages. Arrange content in order of importance.
  5. INTERACTION. Encourage different ways for students to interact with each other and with you. These methods may include in-class questions and discussion, group work, and Internet-based communications.
  6. FEEDBACK. Provide effective prompting during an activity and feedback after the assignment is complete.
  7. DEMONSTRATION OF KNOWLEDGE. Provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate knowledge. For example, besides traditional tests and papers, consider group work, demonstrations, portfolios, and presentations as options for demonstrating knowledge.

Employing universal design principles in instruction does NOT ELIMINATE the need for specific accommodations for students with disabilities. There will always be the need for some specific accommodations, such as sign language interpreters for students who are deaf. However, applying universal design concepts in course planning will assure full access to the content for most students and MINIMIZE the need for specific accommodations.

For example, designing Web resources in accessible formats as they are developed means that no re-development is necessary if a blind student enrolls in the class; planning ahead can be less time-consuming in the long run. Letting all students have access to your class notes and assignments on an accessible Website can eliminate the need for providing materials in alternative formats.