Universal Design for Learning (UDL) means designing learning goals, materials, and activities in ways that make them accessible to learners with a variety of abilities. School administrators can support these aims by creating UDL policies in their school boards, colleges, or universities. Universal Design for Learning policies can also improve disability awareness.
Universal Design for Learning Policies
When school policy invites teachers to design lessons universally, teachers must think proactively about access for students with disabilities. In other words, teachers must create course content that students can interact with in various ways, such as:
- Lessons and course readings in diverse formats
- Different types of assignments or assessments
- Multiple ways to motivate students
When school policies encourage UDL, they help instructors use technologies and creative approaches to make learning more widely accessible.
School board members, or higher education administrators, can make choices that impact how easily teachers can implement UDL. For instance, administrators may choose online learning platforms, to host distance courses, on behalf of their organizations. When these officials choose platforms that are not compatible with accessible hardware and software, those choices create technology barriers. In other words, those choices make it difficult or impossible for students using assistive technology to access online courses. As a result, school staff will need new strategies to provide course resources to students who encounter technology barriers. For example, teachers may:
- Email each course reading to each student
- Create private YouTube accounts with duplicates of audio or video course content
Elements of Universal Design for Learning Policies
In contrast, if policy makers choose online learning platforms that are compatible with assistive technologies, more students can access them. Likewise, administrators should ensure that any apps they use to communicate with students, parents, or colleagues are accessible. Therefore, every student, parent, or staff member can use them.
Moreover, school policy makers can also create rules to support course developers in designing accessible lessons, resources, and assignments. For example, policies could require that all course readings be text-based, rather than image-based. Similarly, policies could require any videos in class to include captions and audio description. Likewise, policies could outline ways to maximize assignment accessibility. For instance, some instructors may create assignments that require students to use a specific visual or audio medium, such as:
- Drawing a picture of an idea
- Making an audio or video recording
In courses where these presentation methods are not essential requirements, instructors should not require an assignment format that relies on a specific sense. Instead, instructors could describe what skills learners are honing through the assignment, and provide a list of possible format options. In this way, students can achieve assignment objectives in formats that will be most accessible.
When school boards, colleges, and universities have UDL policies, they support educators in designing courses more students can access. In our next article, we will explore how universal design for learning policies can also improve disability awareness throughout school communities.