Universal Design for Learning

The Student AccessAbility Centre and Universal Design

Under the heading of the Student AccessAbility Centre you are probably expecting to find a very short and concise description of some of the disabilities that the students in your class may present, the unique needs these students may have and how you as the teacher can be of assistance to them. Sorry to disappoint you, but we are moving away the medical model of disability in an effort to focus our efforts on the social model of disability and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

What’s the difference between the medical model and the social model?

The medical model

The medical model views disability as a deficiency or abnormality that resides in the individual and is best addressed in the educational setting through individual accommodations for the student.  Historically, the medical model has guided our approach to integrating students with disabilities in the post-secondary milieu through the use of specific accommodations to palliate an individual’s disability.

The social model

The social model considers disability as the interaction between the individual and his environment. In the social model the approach to disability related problems is to change the interaction between the individual and the environment; in other words, to design the educational environment to be as inclusive as possible. That’s where UDL comes in!

UDL is a teaching approach that values diversity through:

  1. Proactively designing an inclusive curriculum, thereby eliminating or reducing barriers to academic success.
  2. Considering how curriculum, instruction and assessment can meet the learning needs of the greatest number of students, while maintaining academic rigour.
  3. Encouraging multiple means of representation, expression and engagement at all levels of the course, be it instruction, resources or evaluation.

What does this mean in practical terms?

It means that when you are designing your course you can assume that there will be great diversity among the students in your class; many of them not associated with the Student AccessAbility Centre. For example, learning activities designed with a UDL approach are beneficial to many students, including students whose mother tongue is not the language of instruction, students who have been away from the educational milieu for some time, students with a variety of learning styles, etc. The objective is to reduce barriers and enhance access through curriculum, instruction and assessment strategies designed to facilitate inclusion.

At the Student AccessAbility Centre, we are also working hard at implementing the social model and UDL within our own practices. We are re-examining our role in helping to create a usable, equitable, sustainable, and inclusive college environment. We have already implemented some changes to the way in which students inform teachers about their specific needs for accommodations in the Accommodation Checklist (you’ve probably noticed that we’ve eliminated all references to diagnosis on those white sheets). We will be making more changes in the near future and we promise to keep you updated as they are implemented.

So, are you looking for some concrete suggestions to consider?

We say ‘suggestions’ because we also realize that teachers are a diverse group and “one size does not fit all”. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Posting PowerPoint slides, class notes, and course assignments on your course management system (LEA) (Suggest they use Creative Commons license.)
  • Allocating sufficient time for all students to complete quizzes, tests and exams within class-time would permit the greatest number of students to remain in the classroom for evaluation activities.
  • Providing options for students to demonstrate mastery of concepts. These may include group projects, papers, presentations, take-home exams, portfolios, etc.
  • Providing reading materials in accessible, electronic format and whenever possible, using audio-visual material that is captioned.

External resources:

Last Modified: December 20, 2019