Improving Systems, Practices and Outcomes

Universal Design for Learning

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to teaching, learning, curriculum development and assessment that uses new technologies to respond to a variety of individual learner differences. IDEA 2004 defines Universal design using the same definition as the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, as amended, 29 U.S.C. 3002. ( WWW: 34CFR§ 300.44):

“The term 'universal design' means a concept or philosophy for designing and delivering products and services that are usable by people with the widest possible range of functional capabilities, which include products and services that are directly accessible (without requiring assistive technologies) and products and services that are interoperable with assistive technologies.”    
Section 3(19) WWW: Assistive Technology Act as amended in 2004

One central idea of UDL is that as new materials and technologies are developed, they should be designed from the beginning to be flexible enough to accommodate the unique learning styles of a wide range of individuals, including children with disabilities. Some examples of UDL include: accessible web pages; captioned and/or narrated videos; word processors with word prediction; speaking spell checkers; talking dialog boxes; voice recognition; and picture menus.

UDL does not eliminate the need for assistive technology. Children with disabilities will continue to need AT devices such as communication aids, visual aids, wheelchairs, orthoses and adapted toys in order to interact more fully with their environment. However, building accessibility into new technologies and curricular materials as they are developed helps to ensure the maximal inclusion of children with disabilities into the full array of learning opportunities that are available to all children.

Online Tool Kits, Articles, Books

Using Flexible Participation in Technology-Supported Universally Designed Preschool Activities

(January/February 2014) Parette, H.P., & Blum, C. Teaching Exceptional Children, 46: 60-67

The Accessibility of Learning Content for All Students, Including Students with Disabilities, Must Be Addressed in the Shift to Digital Instructional Materials (SETDA Policy Brief)

(June 2014) State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) in partnership with EducationCounsel LLC

This paper summarizes issues that education leaders should consider when examining the accessibility of digital content for all students, including students with disabilities. It provides recommendations regarding the development, use, and sharing of digital tools and resources to improve all students' learning experiences.

Integrating Principles of Universal Design into the Early Childhood Curriculum.

(2013) Dinnebeil, Laurie A.; Boat, Mary; Bae, Youlmi - Dimensions of Early Childhood, 41(1)

WWW: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines - Version 2

(2011). National Center on Universal Design for Learning.

These guidelines are aimed at helping teachers, curriculum developers, and publishers develop more inclusive curriculum.

PDF: Universal Design for Learning: Policy Challenges and Recommendations

(2009, April). Kim Sopko, Project Forum.

This document provides an introduction that includes federal education regulatory language for universal design for learning (UDL). It summarizes panel presentations from the higher education, state-level, local-level and national-level perspectives. Suggestions and proposed strategies to improve policy to impact implementation of UDL are summarized.

WWW: Tool Kit on Universal Design for Learning

(2008, August). Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

This new addition to the OSEP Tool Kit on Teaching and Assessing Students With Disabilities focuses on universal design for learning (UDL). It includes resources, strategies and practices to support the implementation of UDL and is useful for policymakers, education personnel and parents.

PDF: Universal Design for Learning: Implementation in Six Local Education Agencies

(2008, June). Kim Moherek Sopko, Project Forum.

Provides information about UDL practices, successes and challenges gathered from interviews with staff from six local educational agencies in five states.

WWW: Universal Design: Process, Principles, and Applications

(2005). Burgstahler, S.

This article discusses universal design principles and applications.

WWW: The Universally Designed Classroom: Accessible Curriculum and Digital Technologies

(2005). Rose, D. H., Hitchcock, C., & Meyer, A.

This book addresses crucial questions about how to create full access to the general education curriculum for children with disabilities. Based on years of research and innovation at CAST, the book provides a helpful overview of the digital solutions that are at the forefront of efforts to create universal access. It also looks closely at the major policy and practice issues connected to this initiative.

PDF: Universal Design for Learning: Four State Initiatives

(2003, April). Muller, E. & Tschantz, J. Alexandria VA: Project Forum.

Summarizes information from interviews with four states regarding their Universal Design for Learning (UDL) initiatives. The term UDL initiative is used to describe any state or regional level effort to promote the principles and practices of UDL via professional development or the production and/or dissemination of universally designed instructional materials.

National Centers

WWW: Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST)

CAST is an educational, not-for-profit organization that uses technology to expand opportunities for all people, especially those with disabilities. CAST was founded in 1984 with a mission to develop and apply technologies that would expand learning opportunities for individuals with disabilities. CAST believes that the most effective strategy for expanding educational opportunities for individuals with disabilities is through Universal Design for Learning.

WWW: National Center on Universal Design for Learning

The National UDL Center is a program of CAST. It supports the effective implementation of UDL by connecting stakeholders in the field and providing resources and information about:

  1. What is UDL?
  2. How can I demonstrate the value of UDL to others?
  3. Who is implementing UDL? And where?
  4. What research supports the framework?
  5. How can I connect to others in the UDL field?

See also, Videos from the National Center on Universal Design for Learning (last updated 12/01/2011).

WWW: National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP)

The National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP) promotes the effective use of technology to enhance educational outcomes for students with sensory, cognitive, physical and social/emotional disabilities. The NCIP Web Site includes a section entitled: NCIP Guided Tour: Early Childhood, which explores two exemplary early childhood classrooms, both of which employ a broad range of technology tools to optimize access to learning for students with disabilities.

WWW: Center for Implementing Technology in Education (CITEd)

CITEd, a technical assistance center funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, is a cooperative effort of the American Institutes for Research (AIR), the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), and the Education Development Center (EDC). CITEd supports leadership at state and local education agencies to integrate instructional technology for all students to achieve high educational standards. CITEd provides this support through identification of best practices, innovative online technical assistance tools, professional development, and communities of practice.

National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)

On July 27th, 2004, the U.S. Department of Education endorsed the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS). This standard guides the production and electronic distribution of flexible digital instructional materials, such as textbooks, so that they can be more easily converted to Braille, text-to-speech, and other accessible formats. The final NIMAS was published on July 19, 2006.

For information on statutory and final regulatory requirements, see OSEP's topical page on the WWW: National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard. In August 2010, OSEP released revised WWW: Questions and Answers On the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standards (NIMAS).

See also, WWW: National Center On Accessible Instructional Materials at CAST and the WWW: National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC).

  • IDEAs that Work: Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education

The ECTA Center is a program of the FPG Child Development Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, funded through cooperative agreement number H326P170001 from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the Department of Education's position or policy.

Project Officer: Julia Martin Eile     © 2012-2019 ECTA Center

  • UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute