Universal Design Podcast

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Universal design in instruction grew out of the universal design movement in architecture that endeavored to make buildings more accessible to people with disabilities. According to Mary Ellen McGuire-Schwartz and Janet Arndt in their article, Transforming Universal Design for Learning in Early Childhood Teacher Education from College Classroom to Early Childhood Classroom, universal design for learning can assist many learners in accessing education. These learners include: students with diverse learning skills, students with cultural differences including ESL (English as a Second Language) students, students with learning disabilities, students that are visually impaired, students with hearing deficiencies, and students with physical limitations and disabilities. Universal design starts with the identification of an individual student’s needs and the obstacles that may prevent the learner from fully accessing educational opportunities and therefore hindering the student in meeting their full potential. When considering students with special needs, it is important to realize that each category encapsulates a number of concerns. When considering visual impairments, these learners can include those that are totally blind, have low vision or color blindness. 

Identifying individual needs can be difficult. Some school districts provide individualized education programs, but if a learner is not part of a special education program or the instruction is taking place outside of a school setting, the instructor must make every effort to determine the learner’s needs. Additionally there are laws in place to ensure that some level of universal design is present. Section 508 law requires covered on-line training to include elements of universal design such as real-time text captioning for audio and video. I personally believe that needs identification can create the most difficulties for a designer since there are a number of remedies available once the problem is recognized. Every day more solutions to universal design are being developed as more research on the subject is completed. Increasingly, there are a number of agencies equipped to offer recommendations, approaches and answers to instructors with universal design concerns.

 One of the best strategies for universal design is to make sure that universality is part of the initial design. In Learning through Multimedia: Speech Recognition Enhancing Accessibility and Interaction, Mike Wald states “since there is no ‘average’ user it is important for technology to suit abilities, preferences, situations, and environments.” This can incorporate a number of processes, which include designing and building schools with better classroom acoustics, ensuring readability when creating on-line text, providing meaningful alt tags for on-line images and providing assistive technologies for students.