Looking back, 2018 may well be remembered as the year accessibility entered the higher education zeitgeist. A range of factors – from the Section 508 Refresh, to escalating legal actions against postsecondary institutions related to the inaccessibility of digital content, to fresh data on student perceptions and use of closed captions – have energized conversations with faculty around accessible course design principles, practice, and policy.

In the instructional design setting, accessibility training can not only spark faculty awareness of the barriers to access that many students face, but it can lead to deeper pedagogical exploration of persistent classroom challenges. Issues such as lack of lecture comprehension, inability to understand how theory translates to practice, or lack of student feedback are common concerns across all variations of learner. In the accessibility training space, discussion can quickly move beyond the nitty-gritty of alternative text and heading styles to a closer examination of how instructors might more effectively represent information, create engaging digital experiences, and empower learning for all of their students – not just those with disabilities. And so it is through the portal of accessibility that many faculty first encounter Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

UDL is a curriculum development framework that operates on a set of research-based and time-tested principles for introducing flexibility and choice into the learning environment across the three dimensions of engagement, representation, and expression. Are you an instructor who is tired of reading lackluster reflection papers? Then it is likely that your students are just as tired of writing them. Some UDL approaches to enlivening this assignment might be to set up blogs or chats online instead of the paper; to allow drawings, poetry, photos, mind maps, or other alternatives to entries in paragraph form; to ask students to grade each other’s reflections; and to allow entries that are typed or handwritten.

With its emphasis on variety, options, and inclusivity, UDL is in many ways the Swiss Army knife of the modern educator’s toolkit. It can help instructors take small steps toward designing courses in which all materials, activities, and assessments are accessible to all students.

Faculty who would like to learn more about how Universal Design for Learning relates to accessibility can download the Accessibility and UDL Fact Sheet or visit online.umkc.edu/accessibility/ for training and resources.

Further Reading on UDL

Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., and Gordon, D. (2014). Universal Design for Learning: Theory and practice. Wakefield, MA. CAST Professional Publishing.

Novak, K. (2014). UDL now! Wakefield, MA. CAST Professional Publishing.


CAST. (n.d.). About UDL. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/.

LaGrow, M. (2017). The Section 508 Refresh and What It Means for Higher Education. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2017/12/the-section-508-refresh-and-what-it-means-for-higher-education

Linder, K. (2016). Student uses and perceptions of closed captions and transcripts: Results from a national study. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University. Retrieved from http://info.3playmedia.com/rs/744-UDO-697/images/Student-Survey-Report-10-25-16-Final.pdf

Morin, A. (n.d.). Universal Design for Learning (UDL): What you need to know. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/treatments-approaches/educational-strategies/universal-design-for-learning-what-it-is-and-how-it-works

University of Cincinnati. (2018). UDL vs accessibility. Retrieved from https://www.uc.edu/ucit/community/accessibility/community/articles/udl-vs-accessibility.html

University of Minnesota Duluth. (n.d.). Higher ed accessibility lawsuits, complaints, and settlements. Retrieved from http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/atteam/lawsuits.html