Learning Shorts: Understanding Universal Design for Learning

Why Design Matters

by Melanie Thornton –

Imagine if each time you attended a meeting you had to request a chair as an accommodation. On occasion, you arrive at a meeting and, though you have made the request, the organizers have forgotten to provide you with a chair. Sometimes you are met with comments about what an inconvenience it is for the person assisting to find and bring the chair.

Other times you are met with a joyful response from someone who seems to take pleasure in helping you and acts as if she has done her good deed for the month by simply providing you with a chair. Sometimes you simply forgo the chair and stand during the entire meeting. It would, no doubt, after a while get old.

This is often the experience of many people with disabilities. Because we have not, as a society, made the shift from accommodating to thinking about how to design environments and events to be more inclusive, we place an unnecessary burden on people with disabilities.

Universal Design UserAmanda Kraus, Assistant Director, University of Arizona, in an interview about universal design says, “It is somehow OK for disabled people to be inconvenienced, for them to tolerate an individual accommodation or separate process? If we are working toward more socially just communities, then we must design our environments with everyone in mind, not just the dominant group.” (From: UA News Blog)

If we get in the habit of designing well, it will become a part of the process of design, we will find easy and sustainable ways to accomplish this improved design. And there will be benefits for all of us.


Melanie Thornton works at the University of Arkansas where she is the Leadership Development Facilitator for UA CURRENTS. She provides professional development on topics related to leadership, disability, diversity, and design. Melanie previously worked at UALR as the Associate Director of the Disability Resource Center and the Director of Project PACE at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.


Understanding Universal Design for Learning is part of a semester-long Learning Shorts series on Accessibility and Universal Design in conjunction with the Department of Educational Leadership, the Disability Resource Center, and Scholarly Technology and Resources (STaR).

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