Universal Design of Learning

Universal Design of Learning (also referred to as Universal Design, UD or UDL) was originally applied to designing buildings and products in order to be used by the widest range of people. More recently, UD has been applied to education, learning and technology so that it can minimize barriers and maximize learning for all students. Recognizing that everyone learns differently, the Universal Design of Learning is an educational framework based on research that calls for the development of flexible learning environments in the classroom and on the web.

Designing a course has four parts: Instructional goals, methods, materials and assessments. Universal Design can be applied to all of these components. When a course is designed with flexibility and accessibility, there is less work and hassle later in the middle of the semester when asked to provide options to meet the needs of individual students. Universal Design is a way to be proactive instead of reactive.

Three Things to Keep in Mind While Creating a Course:

  1. Provide multiple means of representation to give students various ways of acquiring information and knowledge.
  2. Provide multiple means of engagement to tap into students’ interests, challenge them appropriately and motivate them to learn.
  3. Provide multiple means of expression to provide students alternatives for demonstrating what they know.

Top 10 Strategies for Universal Design of Curriculum

The first step to being inclusive is to recognize that people learn and access materials differently. Universal Design is the framework to help reduce barriers and maximize the learning of all. It's also an educational framework that incorporates flexibility into the curriculum from the outset in order to avoid time-consuming retrofitting after the fact.

Postsecondary Curriculum Strategies:

  1. Apply UD to course goals (or learning expectations) to articulate in a way that acknowledges learner variability and differentiates goals from outcomes.
  2. Provide multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge.
  3. Provide multiple means of engagement to tap into learners' interests, challenge them appropriately and motivate them to learn.
  4. Provide multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know.
  5. Check with the publisher and ensure textbooks and other materials are available in both print and electronic format, accessible to screen readers.
  6. Ensure all PDFs, slide presentations and other teaching tools are accessible.
  7. Ensure all videos have captions.
  8. Ensure all internet resources (e.g. websites, blogs, wikis, etc.) are accessible for students.
  9. Use the accessibility features with the Learning Management System (LMS).
  10. Provide educationally relevant descriptions, or alt text, for images and graphic layouts.

Curriculum Resources:

DO-IT: A checklist for inclusive teaching from the University of Washington.

CAST: National Center for Universal Design of Learning offers teacher-friendly examples and resources that illustrate each of the UDL checkpoints.

UDL Universe: Provides resources and examples to improve postsecondary education for all students, including guides to support various levels of UDL course redesign. 

Top 10 Strategies for Universal Design of Slide Presentations

Slide presentations can increase learning comprehension and memory for many students, for some it can be a barrier to the information. Remember some students will only be listening to your slides. These tips will help you design accessible slide presentations so the information is accessible for all learners.

Slide Presentation Strategies:  

  1. Use design templates, avoid text and art boxes.
  2. Use 32 point font or larger.
  3. Use a Sans-Serf font, such as Arial, Tahoma or Comic Sans.
  4. Avoid artwork or images that distract or flash. Describe all images or photos and use alt tags (Right Click > Format > Alt Tag).
  5. Ensure all slides have unique titles.
  6. Provide audio of slides and read exactly what is on the slide.
  7. Eliminate italicized words and bold or underline for emphasis.
  8. Use high contrast colors, and add white space to dense text.
  9. Use four to five bullet points per page, about seven words in each bullet.
  10. Use the Accessibility Checker (File > Info > Check for Issues > Accessibility).

Slide Presentation Resources:

Microsoft: This link takes you to an article offering additional guidance on ways to make Microsoft PowerPoint presentations more accessible and provides more information on the Accessibility Checker.

ACCESS: Colorado State University offers this link of additional information about creating an accessible slide presentation, delivery, use in note taking and conversion tips.


Multimedia instructional materials can add richness to the higher education learning experience, or be a barrier. Videos, podcasts and animations are popular with many students, who find them to be an engaging supplement to traditional lectures. These tips deal with the accessible use of computers to present text, graphics, video, animation and sound in an integrated way. Universal Design is not about limiting design but providing multiple methods of access or delivery.

Multimedia Strategies:  

  1. Ensure all videos have captions.
  2. Save everything in multiple formats (.rtf, .doc.).
  3. Use sharp contrasting colors and avoid things that flash.
  4. When using PDFs, save as text, not images.
  5. Use Sans Serif fonts or real fonts (Arial, Tahoma, Comic Sans, Gill Sans, etc.).
  6. Use the “Styles” and “Formatting” features for headings, fonts, footnotes, etc. Do not use the toolbar buttons.
  7. Ensure slide presentations have all relevant material typed as text.
  8. Use the Accessibility Checker in Microsoft Word and Adobe programs to identify and repair accessibility issues. To use the tool in Word, select File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility. In Adobe, select Edit > Accessibility > Setup Assistant.
  9. Ensure all images have alt. tags. When a mouse is held over an image, a small white box with text appears - this is the alt tag, the only information available to low vision and blind students who cannot see the image.
  10. Have full descriptions of all links and ensure that all links are routed to web pages that are accessible. A quick check for accessibility on a web page is to check for alt. tags and check if it's possible to tab through the pages or forms without using a mouse.

Universal Design of A Syllabus 

A clear and concise syllabus is often a critical tool for student success. It provides support and structure. Students rely on the syllabus as a guide or a roadmap for success. It defines what the essential elements are and establishes a framework for thinking about the subject matter.

Syllabus Strategies:  

Universal Design for Learning: A Rubric for Evaluating Your Course Syllabus (101KB) : Here is a rubric to help faculty members evaluate their courses for best approximate exposure to Universal Design teaching styles. 

UDL on Campus: This web page offers for more information and an example of a Universally Designed syllabus.

Resources on Universal Design and Effective Teaching:

The Center for Universal Design in Education (CUDE) develops and collects resources to help educators apply Universal Design to all aspects of the educational experience. 

Click here to visit the CUDE website.

The resources on this site focus on how UDL can be used to address learner variability in postsecondary education settings in order to help ensure that all students receive a high-quality learning experience and are able to succeed.

Click here to visit the UDL on Campus website. 

From Colorado State University, this link takes you to a large collection of technical tutorials and basic how-to topics for making media accessible.

Click here to visit the ACCESS website.

This resource provides digital case stories of faculty with real-life experiences of exemplary teaching strategies and the process of implementing them.

Click here to visit the UDL Universe website.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 offers a wide range of recommendations and guidelines for making web content more accessible.

Click here to visit the W3 website.

Legal Issues

There are several laws that have a direct bearing on teaching in higher education with respect to accessibility. These reinforce the need to afford equal access to students with disabilities to the whole curriculum and especially in the use of emerging technologies. Standards for accessibility and links to recent court cases are also included on this page.

Laws, Policies & Mandates

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

No one can be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance because of a disability.

Title II of the ADA (1990)

The Americans with Disabilities Act extended the benefits of Section 504 and included inclusionary language. Individuals with disabilities are allowed to participate in all programs and services, and they must be as integrated as possible. Eligibility standards cannot automatically rule out someone with a disability and cannot have fees for accessibility. Colleges and universities are required to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices and procedures that deny equal access and must provide effective communication.

ADA Amendments Act of 2008

The ADA Amendments Act was passed to restore the intent and protections of the ADA in 1990. It revised the definition of “disability” to encompass more people, including people with episodic impairments, without requiring extensive analysis or documentation. Other things clarified in the act are effective communication, service animals, power driven mobility devices, places of lodging, selling tickets and new construction.

Dear Colleague Letter by the Departments of Justice and Education

A “Dear Colleague Letter” (DCL) issued jointly by the Civil Rights Division (CRD) of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education addressed universities requiring the use of technology that is inaccessible to students with disabilities (electronic textbooks), stating hat this constitutes discrimination under Section 504 and the ADA - unless these students are provided accommodations or modifications that enable them to receive all the educational benefits afforded by the technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner. OCR followed up with a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document that is considered binding. This letter states that all emerging technology used in any classroom, with or without students with disabilities, must be accessible at all times unless an equally effective alternative is offered.

According to this definition, students with disabilities must be provided the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions and enjoy the same services as students without disabilities with “substantially equivalent ease of use."

Standards for Accessibility

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act   

Section 508 standards apply to electronic and information technology procured by the federal government, including computer hardware and software, websites, multimedia such as video, phone systems and copiers. The standards may soon apply to state and local governments as well, which includes public universities.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0   

Recognizing the tremendous value of the web, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets standards and provides step by step guides to make all web pages accessible. One of W3C's primary goals is to make these benefits available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability. Any programs purchased by SVSU that are web based should meet WCAG standards, minimally with an AA level, ideally an AAA level.

Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)  

A VPAT is a document prepared by vendors that describes the extent to which a particular product is accessible. It consists of eight sections, each designed to ensure that hardware and software products are usable by individuals with disabilities regardless of their ability to see, hear, manipulate a mouse or keyboard, or perform other tasks associated with the use of technology. Each section has criteria that must be met by the product or service in order for it to be considered Section 508 compliant. Before ordering any new electronic material that SVSU students will be using, request a VPAT.

TEACH Act   

The TEACH Act (pending legislation) will mandate guidelines be established for manufacturers of educational technology of higher education to ensure that textbooks and other materials are usable by all students. It is supported by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) and Association of Higher Education and Disabilities (AHEAD).

Recent Court Cases

UDL on Campus keeps a list of agreements involving postsecondary institutions.

Click here to review the agreements or cases involving postsecondary institutions. 

Law Office of Lainey Feingold provides a summary and links to court cases involving web accessibility. 

Click here to review a list of web and mobile accessibility settlements.

Office of Civil Rights maintains a web page with links to recent complaint resolutions and recent compliance reviews. 

Click here to review recent resolutions. 


Ann Coburn-Collins, Director of Academic Support Programs
Wickes 260
(989) 964-7000

Shawn Wilson, Associate Director of Accessibility Resources and Accommodations
Wickes 260
(989) 964-7000

Debbi Abeare-Jacobs, Administrative Secretary
Wickes 260
(989) 964-7000