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Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning

Below is a very brief introduction to the concepts of accessibility and universal design for learning. For more information (including tips, techniques, and strategies for faculty), see Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning at Boise State, a web site developed and maintained by the IDEA Shop.

What Do We Mean by “Accessibility”?

An accessible product or service is one which can be used by all its intended users, taking into account their differing capabilities. Accessibility begins with understanding that a user’s ability to make inputs and perceive outputs may be limited. The limitation can be either permanent or temporary and may be due to various physical, mental, or environmental conditions. A thoughtful, intentional approach to designing courses and learning materials attempts to remove barriers arising from such limitations.

In education, accessibility is primarily associated with the legal obligation to provide students with disabilities reasonable accommodations that affords equal access to course content, learning activities, assessment, and other aspects of the learning experience. For instance, a student with impaired hearing may be accommodated by supplying him or her with headphones that receive and amplify and instructor’s lecture. Or a student with dyslexia may be accommodated by being given additional time to take a test.

What is Universal Design?

Universal Design is an approach to the design of all products and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability, or situation.

Universal Design for Learning builds on these principles while seeking to provide:

  • Multiple means of representation—to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge.
  • Multiple means of action and expression—to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know.
  • Multiple means of engagement—to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.