Universal Design for Learning

Use people first language

Throughout the past several decades, greater numbers of individuals have taken advantage of the educational opportunities available to them. As a result, it has become increasingly important to ensure that all people feel welcomed and at home within our educational communities. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use appropriate language when communicating with, or referring to, persons with disabilities.

The recommended manner in which to do this is called people first language. This approach describes what a person has, rather than what a person is. For example:

SayDo not say
People with disabilitiesThe handicapped or disabled
She has a cognitive disabilityShe is mentally retarded
He has autismHe's autistic
She has a learning disabilityShe is learning disabled
He is of short statureHe is a dwarf or midget
She uses a wheelchairShe is confined to a wheelchair

People first language, seen in the say column, references the person before the disability. It also excludes words that have derogatory origins or negative connotations or convey stereotypical attitudes.

Practice universal design

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that gives all individuals equal opportunity to learn. The purpose of UDL curricula is to to help students master learning itself—in short, to become expert learners. Designing curricula using UDL allows teachers to remove potential barriers that could prevent learners from meeting this important goal. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone. It is not a single, one-size-fits-all solution, but rather a collection of flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs. UDL focuses on the three brain networks that determine how individuals learn:

  • Recognition networks: The what of learning. How we gather facts and categorize what we see, hear, and read.
  • Strategic networks: The how of learning. How we organize and express our ideas.
  • Affective networks: The why of learning. How we get engaged and stay motivated.

UDL includes numerous strategies that help instructors to design learning experiences that appeal to each network:

  • Present information and content in different ways though multiple means of representation.
    • Provide the same information through different modalities (vision, hearing, touch).
    • Provide information in a format that will allow adjustability for the user (text enlargement, sound amplification).
    • Use a variety of representational methods during instruction, such as vocabulary, symbols, graphs, images.
    • Illustrate concepts through multiple media.
  • Provide multiple means of action and expression.
    • Vary the methods for response and navigation.
    • Optimize access to tools and assistive technologies.
    • Use multimedia for communication.
    • Guide appropriate goal-setting.
    • Support planning and strategy development.
    • Enhance capacity for monitoring progress.
  • Design instruction that allows for multiple means of engagement.
    • Optimize individual choices, relevance, value, and authenticity.
    • Minimize threats and distractions.
    • Heighten the relevance of goals and objectives.
    • Vary demands and resources.
    • Foster collaboration and communication.
    • Increase mastery-oriented feedback.
    • Promote reasonable expectations.
    • Assist students in developing personal coping skills and strategies.
    • Help students to develop self-assessment and reflection capabilities. 

Learn more about UDL