Universal Design – An effective tool for Inclusion

Universal Design is the design and creation of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used by all people irrespective of their age, size, ability or disability. An environment should be designed to meet the needs of all people who need it. This is the core condition of a good design. By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples’ needs. The term “universal design” was coined by the architect Ronald Mace. However, it was the work of Selwyn Goldsmith, who really pioneered the concept of free access for people with disabilities.

Principles of Universal Design
Equitable use
The design is equally useful and appealing to people with diverse abilities.
Flexibility in use
The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities like left handed vs right handed.
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.
Perceptible information
The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of the surroundings or user’s sensory abilities.
Tolerance For Error
The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
Low Physical Effort
The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of physical effort or fatigue.
Size and shape 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.
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Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to teaching and learning that gives all students equal opportunity to succeed. The goal of UDL is to use a variety of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning. It’s about building in flexibility that can be adjusted for every person’s strengths and needs.

The three main principles of UDL are as follows:

Representation
UDL recommends presenting information in more than one format. For example, providing text, audio, video and hands-on learning gives all kids a chance to engage with the material in whichever way is best suited to their learning styles.
Action and expression
UDL recommends giving kids more than one ways to showcase what they have learnt. For example, students can choose between taking a pencil-and-paper test, giving an oral presentation, preparing a model or doing a group project.
Engagement
UDL encourages teachers to look for creative ways to motivate students. It allows kids to make choices on assignments. Teachers can sustain interest by giving them assignments that feel relevant to their lives or making skill-building feel like a game and giving opportunities for students to get up and move around the classroom.
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Universal Design learning also involves curricular adaptations which can be achieved using one of the following:

  • Size: Reduce the number of items that the student is expected to learn or master
  • Time: Increase or decrease the time allotted for learning, task completion or testing based on student ability
  • Input: Use different visual aids, provide hands-on activities, place students in cooperative groups.
  • Difficulty: Allow the use of technology to overcome some challenges. E.g. use of calculators
  • Output: Allow students to use different methods to showcase understanding. E.g oral assessment, group activity
  • Participation: Involving students in the teaching learning process
  • Alternate: Adaptation of goals or outcome. E.g. Some students may be expected to only provide answers while others are expected to draw diagrams as well
  • Substitute curriculum: Allowing students to opt for alternate subjects. E.g. drop maths and opt for environmental studies
Role of teacher in implementing UDL
  • Identify early warning signs in students and be aware of their needs 
  • Communicate observations with everyone concerned including parents, principals and with other students
  • Seek inputs and consent from parents with the counsellor or the special education coordinator
  • Collect all relevant information, performance tests, and school records for planning the lessons
  • Modify teaching techniques in the classroom
Conclusion

Universal design for learning (UDL) is a thus a methodology that aims to accommodate the needs and abilities of all learners by eliminating hurdles in the learning process. This involves creating a flexible learning environment in which the same information is presented in different ways.  Students not only engage in learning in a variety of ways but are also provided options when demonstrating their learning.

— Pravda Nair
Sunderji Early Intervention Centre, India
August 2021

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