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Universal Design for Learning


UDL has its roots in Universal Design, a term coined by Ronald L. Mace (North Carolina State University) in 1972, as a way to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.

The average lifespan has increased to 76, largely due to healthier living, better medicine, and vaccines and sanitation that have virtually eliminated many killer infectious diseases (Los Angeles Times, 2010). Nearly 80% of the population now lives past the age of 65. Projections based on U.S. Census Bureau estimates indicate that the number of persons ages 65 and over will grow to almost 40 million by the year 2010 (Jones and Sanford, 1996). Last year, 4 million people in the United States were over the age of 85 and about 60,000 topped age 100. By 2020, the Census Bureau estimates that 7 million to 8 million people will be over age 85 and 214,000 will be over age 100. By contrast, at the end of World War II, only 1 in 500 made it to age 100 (Los Angeles Times, 2010).

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s inspired the subsequent Disability Rights Movement that greatly influenced the legislation of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. These new laws prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities and provided access to education, places of public accommodation, telecommunications, and transportation.

Advocates of barrier-free design and architectural accessibility recognized the legal, economic, and social power of a concept that addressed the common needs of people with and without disabilities. As architects began to wrestle with the implementation of standards, it became apparent that segregated accessible features were “special,” more expensive, and usually ugly. It also became apparent that many of the environmental changes needed to accommodate people with disabilities actually benefited everyone. Recognition that many such proactive design features yielded an inexpensive solution, increased attractiveness, and even increased marketability ultimately laid the foundation for the universal design movement.


Overview and Principles

The following seven design principles were developed in relation to environments, products, and communications. Much of the principles and guidelines can be applied to the teaching and learning processes.  The following was developed by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

PRINCIPLE ONE: Equitable Use
The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.


1a. Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
1b. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
1c. Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.
1d. Make the design appealing to all users.

PRINCIPLE TWO: Flexibility in Use
The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.


2a. Provide choice in methods of use.
2b. Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
2c. Facilitate the user’s accuracy and precision.
2d. Provide adaptability to the user’s pace.

PRINCIPLE THREE: Simple and Intuitive Use
Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.


3a. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
3b. Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
3c. Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
3d. Arrange information consistent with its importance.
3e. Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

PRINCIPLE FOUR: Perceptible Information
The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.


4a. Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
4b. Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
4c. Maximize “legibility” of essential information.
4d. Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
4e. Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

PRINCIPLE FIVE: Tolerance for Error
The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.


5a. Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
5b. Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
5c. Provide fail safe features.
5d. Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

PRINCIPLE SIX: Low Physical Effort
The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.


6a. Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
6b. Use reasonable operating forces.
6c. Minimize repetitive actions.

6d. Minimize sustained physical effort.

PRINCIPLE SEVEN: Size and Space for Approach and Use
Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.


7a. Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
7b. Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
7c. Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
7d. Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.


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