The origins of UDL

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) emerged from the architectural concept of universal design. Ron Mace, North Carolina State University, envisioned universal design as a means to promote the design of products and environments that would appeal to all people, yet meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide access for individuals with disabilities. These principles established a framework for developing design standards that permit the greatest degree of access and usability for the widest range of individuals.

It’s based on the idea that the “design of products and environments should be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible - without the need for adaptation or specialized design”.

If you want a practical example, big box stores were among the first establishments to implement electronic sliding doors. The idea was that their patrons were making large purchases (appliances, lawn mowers, home repair and building materials), and they would have their hands full leaving the store. While this architectural feature was designed for this purpose, it also benefits those who may be pushing a stroller, using a wheelchair, holding hands with little ones, and those who may wish to avoid touching door handles during cold and flu season.

Podcast: Discover the origins of Universal Design - It’s all around us

Universal Design is all around us. It makes sure that products and environments are usable to all people, by design. In this podcast episode, we take a look at the origin of universal design and how the principles have evolved from beginnings in the built environment to all parts of society. We’ll be hearing from different perspectives how inclusivity by design can be applied in different settings, both physical and digital.

Physical access to classrooms and other educational facilities was an important first step toward accessibility within the educational process. Many schools began to embrace the philosophy of inclusion by physically including students with disabilities in the classroom. However, this did not ensure equal access to the general curriculum or opportunities for students with disabilities to benefit from what the school curriculum offered.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) began in 1984 when Dr. David Rose and Dr. Anne Meyer, two researchers from the Harvard School of Graduate Education, incorporated CAST, Inc., The Center for Applied Specialized Technology. The goal of CAST was to revolutionize the way that students with special needs were taught by introducing technology that would allow teachers and learners to customize their learning experiences.  By 1990, this goal evolved to address the “disabilities of schools” instead of the “disabilities of the individual”.  This change mirrored what was happening in architecture, with buildings designed so that all people could access them regardless of their disabilities. 

Webinar: Setting a UDL Vision

Sign up for this on-demand session featuring Allison Posey, Senior Content Editor & Producer at CAST and Loui Lord Nelson, President and Technical Assistance Provider at The UDL Approach.

Through storytelling, Allison Posey and Loui Lord Nelson weave together the concepts of universal design for learning, design, and learner outcomes and ask you to consider what rocks are present and how every learner is a pearl.

Universal Design is everywhere

Universal Design can be found just about anywhere you look — both inside and outside your school. The most common examples used to describe this change are: 

A “universally designed” building is accessible to everyone. Disability access is always well considered as part of the building design phase — not retrofitted. Yet, when you think about who can benefit from a wheelchair ramp installed at a hotel entrance, it is not only people in wheelchairs, but also travelers with luggage, delivery people with carts, families with strollers, and others. 

Curb cuts share the same premise - they change sidewalks so that they’re accessible to the greatest range of users, a person on a bike or a skateboard, a person pushing a stroller, or riding a bike can all benefit from the design.  

Closed captions support users who are deaf or who have hearing loss, as well as those who may be in a noisy restaurant or on their daily commute to work. 

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) focuses on designing the learning goals, materials, methods, and assessments so that from the start to ensure any individual can access, build skills, and internalize the learning. Thoughtful, inclusive design makes the world easier for everyone.

When UDL is applied, the barriers to learning disappear.

Keep Reading

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has an enormous potential to positively impact the learning experience of all learners. Learn more about building the case for applying universal design for learning at your institution.

The UDL Guidelines

Take a look at the UDL Guidelines, developed by CAST and how they were conceived.

Implementing UDL

Discover how to start implementing UDL principles today and create inclusive learning environments for all.

Technology and UDL

Explore how providing access to technology can help all learners to succeed.