Getting Started

Table of Contents


Building a course with Universal Design in mind means including flexible means for representation, action and expression and engagement. This design addresses the "what", "why" and "how" of learning. The Nine Principles of Universal Design are a good place to start to consider ways to increase accessibility. These nine principles are not methods of instruction, they are over arching guidelines to consider.

How to Get Started

Jorge Preciado, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education shares his tips for designing an accessible course.

Instructor Strategies

This section offers some tips on planning and designing instruction for the variability present in today's postsecondary classrooms. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework incorporates flexibility into the curriculum from the outset in order to avoid time-consuming retrofitting after the fact.  Using UDL concepts faculty members and instructional designers plan their curriculum in ways that reduce barriers to learning and facilitate meaningful participation by all students.

In class strategies

  • Use and recommend resources that reflect different reading levels, interests, and approaches to learning.
  • Use essential questions in daily teaching that align with assessments and learning activities.
  • Provide vocabulary lists if this doesn’t interfere with the purpose of the exam/question.
  • Employ adequate wait time when asking questions to allow for processing.
  • Include multiple means of expression when possible. Examples:
    • Include both visual and auditory examples of important concepts.
    • Direct instruction, facilitation/constructivist methods, and coaching.
    • Repeat and review key concepts in at least two different points within the course.
    • Explore content both individually and in groups (jigsaw, interest groups, expert groups, or think-pair-share groups).

Social Etiquette for Meetings and Advising

Advising services are an important aspect of the educational experience. There are many different kinds of advisors—faculty advisors, advisors in a specific academic department, general advisors. Advisors should be aware of unique issues of people with disabilities and other groups so that they can communicate effectively and provide sound advice as students plan their studies.

Practice effective communication

  • Use people-first, positive language (e.g. “My student, Suzie has autism..” instead of “I have a student who is autistic, named Suzie…”  or  “a person who uses a wheelchair” not “a person confined to a wheelchair).
  • Speak directly to the person with a disability, not through the person's companion or interpreter.
  • Ask before assuming a student needs mobility assistance.
  • Ask before petting a service animal.


Universal Design for Learning framework also considers the physical, social, and intellectual classroom environment. Creating a warm, welcoming learning environment removes many barriers to learning. Communicating respect, articulating clear goals and expectations, and accounting for physical barriers ahead of time will enhance the campus environment for all members of the community. It is important to ensure that facilities, activities, materials, and equipment are physically accessible to, and usable by, all students for both in class and for required off campus activities (site visits, service projects etc.), safety considerations should address all potential student characteristics.

Ensure safety and access

  • Develop lab safety procedures for all students, including those who with visual, hearing, or mobility disabilities.
  • Allow for multiple room arrangements; provide alternative seating in rooms with small or fixed desks
  • Does the student have the ability to choose where to sit (or stand)? (e.g.  students with PTSD may prefer to sit with their back to a wall; some students may need to stand for a portion of the class session.)
  • Cultivate an awareness of the room lighting (e.g. glare, low-light etc.)
  • Are there barriers to get to the location (stairs, narrow doorways, narrow hallways, lack of access to private meeting space)

Technology Tips

Technology Tips for Universal Design for Learning fall under three main categories: web, documents and video. Fortunately, many of these practices are applicable across several categories, so once you understand one, you can apply those same design principles to several different areas. For example using fonts and high contrast background colors is advantageous for both web and print documents.

Improve web accessibility

1. Add alternative text to images

When uploading a photo or picture into a document or website, you have the opportunity to add alternative text so that people who have a visual impairment can still understand what is happening in your presentation, website etc. When you add an image in most electronic documents, there is a "description" box. The text in this box can be read by screen reading software such as JAWS. If there is no place to add a description to the image, it is still possible to add a caption to the photo that describes what is taking place in the image.

2. Use a sans serif font and use high contrast colors

Serifs are the small extensions on the ends of some letters. A sans serif font is cleaner and crisper, and is easier to read on a digital device. You don't always have the choice to change your font. Depending on your writing platform, there may be a default font set, however, if you have a choice, choose a sans serif font, such as Veranda, for your digital documents. Try to avoid a dark backgrounds with dark text, it is difficult to read. In addition, try to include white space and headers in your documents, rather than creating a document that is an large block of text.

3. Format tables using the appropriate headers

It is best to use tables only to display information that must be displayed in a table format, such as a bank statement. In order words, avoid using tables simply for formatting. Screen readers often present the information in tables in awkward and confusing chunks. Information that can be displayed in a simple numbered or bulleted list is preferable. When tables are necessary, be sure to include appropriate column and row heads to make the information easier to decipher.

Follow this link to the Computer Information Systems (CIS) wiki for step-by-step instructions on improving web accessibility.

Improve video accessibility

iPad with an image of smiley face on screenRead how Andrew Ryder, Professor of Theater at Seattle Pacific University uses the iPad as a Catalyst for Universal Design for Learning