When schools implement a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach, school communities gain more disability awareness. Improved disability awareness will reduce the stigma that students and staff with disabilities face.
Universal Design for Learning and Disability Awareness
More and more students with disabilities are enrolling in schools, colleges, and universities. Universal Design for Learning can help school systems and campuses meet the growing need for accessible education. UDL can also help expand disability awareness among school communities and reduce the many myths surrounding disability that still restrict people’s lives today.
For instance, some non-disabled students may have no exposure to disability in their lives outside of school. As a result, they may come into class believing that someone with a disability could not study what they were studying. For example, they might think a student with a communication disability could not participate in classroom discussions. Similarly, they might believe a student who is blind could not keep up with readings because of the myth that Braille is difficult to read. Likewise, they might imagine that a student who is deaf would be a liability in group work because they expect that this student could not access course content or communicate with group members.
Without UDL, non-disabled classmates may never learn that students with disabilities can do well in school. Non-disabled students may also never realize that many accommodations can be easy to implement in advance. For instance, non-disabled classmates may observe students with disabilities struggling in school while they wait for accommodations. As a result of witnessing this struggle, these non-disabled classmates may come to believe that:
- Accommodations are burdensome and complex
- People with disabilities are less capable than people without disabilities
When non-disabled students absorb these ideas from their classrooms, their choices as adults will be based on these negative attitudes. For example, these former classmates might choose not to hire a qualified applicant with a disability.
How UDL Improves Disability Awareness
In contrast, UDL allows students with disabilities to succeed in school. In addition, UDL shows other students that this success is possible. For example, a non-disabled student may notice that their classmate with a speech disability has strong points to make in online discussions. Similarly, other students can watch how quickly a blind or visually impaired classmate reads course content in Braille or large print. Likewise, students can observe a classmate who is deaf reading captions or using Sign language to engage with group assignments.
All these discoveries help non-disabled students gain accurate knowledge about how capable people with disabilities are. Moreover, the decisions that these non-disabled classmates make as adults will reflect these accurate perceptions. For instance, these former classmates might choose to hire someone with a disability, and easily implement workplace accommodations.
Universal Design for Learning helps people discover the diverse ways that people with disabilities can co-exist and contribute to their communities.