Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning

Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning

We expect and rely on educators to help children become academically and socially successful. But let’s face it. Engaging, motivating, and teaching all students in a classroom of diverse learners can be a tall order. In a single group, you might find students with visual or hearing impairments, attention difficulties, motor handicaps, emotional disturbances, and economic disadvantages, as well as students with no learning challenges at all.

How do we make curricula accessible for everyone? Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational approach that helps teachers differentiate instruction and provide all students with an equal opportunity for success. The UDL framework calls for multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression. The idea is to offer students variety and choices in the way they access material and present what they know. When teachers use the UDL approach, they give students flexibility, autonomy, and power over their own learning so that they can learn in the way they learn best.

Main Principles

  • Engagement:Teachers make lesson goals clear and offer options to empower students and keep them interested. For example, teachers might allow students to decide on the strategies they will use to solve a problem or select the topic they want to research within the target subject.
  • Representation:Teachers present information in multiple formats, such as by text, video, audio, or hands-on activity. Any digital materials are made accessible for those with disabilities.
  • Action and Expression:Students use a variety of methods to showcase their knowledge and achievement. For instance, students may be assessed not only through written tests, but also through projects, group work, or oral presentations.


UDL is particularly useful for those with disabilities, but it benefits all students. Not only do learners become more knowledgeable about specific subjects, but they also become more strategic, determined, and goal-oriented. In addition, UDL helps decrease the stigma attached to learning disabilities. If all students are given options, and lessons are taught using a variety of methods, students with learning challenges are less likely to feel singled out based on how they learn.

Whether you are a teacher, curriculum developer, or parent, understanding the UDL principles can be helpful. To learn more about UDL and creating an accessible curriculum, sign up for our professional development course, The Accessibility Imperative. This online course teaches K-12 educators how to deliver more accessible learning experiences and features a section on Universal Design for Learning.

To read more about UDL guidelines, visit the National Center for Universal Design for Learning.