Universal Design (UD)
The concept of Universal Design for Learning was inspired by the universal design movement in architecture and product development, originally formulated by Ronald L. Mace at North Carolina State University. According to the Center for Universal Design (CUD), UD is “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” (Connell et al., 1997).
To narrow the scope, this definition can be modified. For example, to apply UD to teaching and learning activities, this basic definition can be modified to “the design of teaching and learning products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”
Product developers, architects, and engineers at CUD established seven UD principles to consider in the design of any product or environment (Connell et al., 1997, cit in. Crow, 2007):
1. Equitable Use
The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. Provide an equal way for the users to access features and information. Avoid segregating any group of people because of personal restrictions and/or device capabilities. Must considerate all users, instead of only the target users. When designing for everyone, the experience will be improved seamlessly for the target audience.
- Provide the same means and quantity of information for all users: identical whenever possible, equivalent when not. (e.g.: use alt texts, captioned images, and graphs)
- Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users (e.g.: do not use mouse-only interactions or hide elements behind mouse hovers or specific interactions)
- Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available
- Make the design appealing to all users (e.g.: you can use high contrast so that sight limited users can have the equivalent product experience)
- Rethink lessons if they are dependent on a single mode or lesson;
- Consider multiple assessment types: projects, presentations, role and play, debates, discussion forums;
- Provide alternative text and titles for photos and graphics.
- Name hyperlinks descriptively – not just “click here” text;
- Provide video captions and audio transcriptions;
- Provide audio descriptions of important visuals.
2. Flexibility in Use
The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. This is about giving users a choice on how and when they access features, rather than forcing them into places they don’t necessarily want or need to be. Use flexible, adaptable and/or customizable design. It is important to consider possible individual preferences and let the users choose how they will use a product or space. When choices are provided, the users will feel free and in control of their own experience.
- Provide choice in methods of use and accommodate right or left-handed access and use (e.g.: allow customization / ask for user preference to position particular elements of the application / for mobile, optimize for the thumb zone);
- Provide choices in features and ways that tasks can be accomplished to facilitate the user’s accuracy and precision;
- Provide adaptability to the user’s pace. (e.g.: do not take away the user’s ability to navigate at their own speed).