Introduction to Universal Design
What is Universal Design?
Universal design is a concept that has emerged from the architectural field
and is now being applied in other arenas. Many of us recognize that architectural features designed to benefit people with disabilities
are advantageous to everyone. Lowered water fountains, for example, allow children
to get a drink without assistance. Ramps are more convenient when we are pulling
luggage or moving equipment. The same phenomenon has occurred with newer technology.
Cell phones equipped to send digital messages provide accessibility for people
who are deaf, but are also convenient if you are in a meeting or in a noisy
The principles of universal design can be used to guide course organization
and development of course materials in a way that is accessible to a broader range
of individuals. Many educators have embraced the concept of universal design because
the application of it benefits all of the students in their class. Here are a
few examples of the students who benefit:
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- Students for whom English is a second language.
- Students who have older computer technology or browsers.
- International students.
- Nontraditional students.
- Students with disabilities.
- Students with a learning style that differs from that of his or her instructor's
Universal Design as a Philosophical Framework
The concept of universal design stems from a broader philosophy that views
disability as "the systemic mismatch between physical and mental attributes of
individuals and the present (but not the potential) ability of social institutions
to accommodate these attributes" (Schriner & Scotch, 2001). Historically, society
has instead viewed the "problem" as existing within the person with a disability.
This paradigm is often referred to as the medical or pathological model of disability.
A newer paradigm, one that values the concept of universal design, is referred
to as the human variation or interactional model. As institutions of higher
education begin to make the shift from the older paradigm to the new, we will
likely see changes in policy and practice that reflect this new perspective.
Adopting universal design as a philosophical framework within which to design
course curricula and organize academic programs will likely result in new and
improved techniques for the instruction and inclusion of all students.
We do not intend to imply through the creation of this website that the concept
of universal design can be reduced to a list of ideas or even to a process. The
process outlined on this site should be viewed as "the first layer of varnish"
in the transformation of instruction toward the vision that universal design
offers. It is our hope that as you view these examples of ways that universal
design can be implemented, you will begin to gain a vision of other ways of
incorporating the principles and that you will be able to adopt it as a framework
for designing your courses, and making your program more inclusive.
Continue to Next Section - Principles
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