Picture of two students looking at a computer screen. Picture of a professor with a computer teaching a small group of students. Picture of a student working at a laptop.

Introduction to Universal Design for Instruction


Applying Universal Design to Instruction

Professor in front talking in front of class with projected image of web site behind her.
Source: Professor in Classroom with Students by F. J. Gaylor
( http://mediashare.uconn.edu/res/sites/public/ )

The concept of Universal Design is increasingly being applied to instruction and learning. Many people can understand that physical barriers such as curbs, stairs, and narrow spaces create access issues for some students with physical or sensory disabilities. But most students with disabilities on college campuses have “hidden” or non-visible disabilities. These include learning disabilities, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and psychiatric disabilities such as depression and anxiety. These students also can experience barriers to access – typically what is known as cognitive access. For example, being able to access information presented in lectures, textbooks, or on course websites may be challenging for these students. Other students with non-visible disabilities may understand the concepts or material being taught, but they may not be able to demonstrate their knowledge because of the impact of their disability. This is where the concept of Universal Design can be applied.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut have developed the Principles of Universal Design for Instruction©, or UDI, defined as “the proactive design and use of inclusive instructional strategies that benefit a broad range of learners including students with disabilities” (Scott, McGuire, & Embry, 2002). UDI is comprised of nine principles including an adaptation of the seven principles of Universal Design from North Carolina State University. Two additional principles are based on a comprehensive review of several literature bases including effective approaches to instruction for students with learning disabilities in both secondary and postsecondary settings and effective instructional methods in higher education including the seminal work of Chickering and Gamson (1987). More information on the development of the Principles of UDI© is available in the Universal Design for Instruction Module.

The nine Principles of UDI©

Principle 1: Equitable Use – Instruction is designed to be useful and accessible by people with diverse abilities. Provide the same means of use for all students; identical whenever possible, equivalent when not.

Principle 2: Flexibility in Use – Instruction is designed to accommodate a wide range of individual abilities. Provide choice in method of use.

Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive – Instruction is designed in a straightforward and predictable manner, regardless of the student’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.

Principle 4: Perceptible Information – Instruction is designed so that necessary information is communicated effectively to the student, regardless of ambient conditions or the student’s sensory abilities.

Principle 5: Tolerance for Error – Instruction anticipates variation in individual student learning pace and prerequisite skills.

Principle 6: Low Physical Effort – Instruction is designed to minimize nonessential physical effort in order to allow maximum attention to learning. Note: This principle does not apply when physical effort is integral to essential requirements of a course.

Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use – Instruction is designed with consideration for appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulations, and use regardless of a student’s body size, posture, mobility, and communication needs.

Principle 8: A Community of Learners – The instructional environment promotes interaction and communication among students and between students and faculty.

Principle 9: Instructional Climate – Instruction is designed to be welcoming and inclusive. High expectations are espoused for all students.

(Scott, McGuire, & Shaw, 2001).

Permission is granted to copy this document for educational purposes; however, please acknowledge your source using the following citation:

UDI Online Project. (2010). Introduction to UDI Module. Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability, University of Connecticut, Storrs. http://www.udi.uconn.edu/index.php?q=content/introduction-universal-design-instruction.