Comprehensive Accessibility Through Universal Design for Learning

Comprehensive Accessibility Through Universal Design for Learning

How shifting the perception of accessibility is creating equitable learning opportunities for all students.

Adopting the UDL Framework

To fully embrace accessibility, the college has adopted an innovative framework called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Developed by CAST, UDL leverages a scientific understanding of how humans learn to optimize teaching and learning by emphasizing the need for flexible, customizable content (assignments and activities) to accommodate all types of learners.

This framework encourages teachers and instructional designers to be more intentional in their content-building process – specifically as they’re building in flexibility and diversity from the very beginning.

With accessibility in mind from the start, it provides students – especially those who’ve been historically marginalized (such as those with disabilities or those from low-income households) – equal access to learning opportunities, and consideration of their unique academic needs.

Flexible pathways to success

Building flexibility into courses begins with creating multiple learning pathways. This can include a variety of teaching methods, such as in-person, blended, HyFlex, and adding in traditional accessibility aids like closed captioning.

And, as more roadways are mapped out, it creates a cascade of learning opportunities that complement each other in unanticipated ways.

For example, providing closed captioning doesn’t just help those with a hearing disability. It can also assist international students who struggle with English as their second language.

Furthermore, these extra tools may even help a student with a heavy course load who is suffering from a lack of focus – closed captioning could help the material sink in!

Messaging that reflects student's diversity

Equally as important as creating new methods of learning, is diversifying our messaging to make sure we’re able to impact every student where they’re at.

Our default position when teaching or planning learning activities, is to rely on our own background – our struggles, strengths and weaknesses – to communicate. That works exceptionally well for those like us.

Equally as important as creating new methods of learning, is diversifying our messaging to make sure we’re able to impact every student where they’re at.

By offering learning materials that better reflect the diversity of our students (such as names of characters within a course – or even course advertisements), we give learners the ability to see themselves in the college processes and tools. This helps dissolve learning barriers and foster an environment where all types of learners can feel accepted – and like they belong.

Growing to become better advocates of accessibility and UDL

Accessibility means going beyond our own stories to embrace the histories and experiences of each learner who comes through our doors. This is a major challenge – especially with the big beautiful mosaic of students we work with every day, every month, every year.

To successfully meet this unique crowd wherever they’re at means continually checking in and asking ourselves questions like:

  • Will this current method work for students?
  • Have we provided alternatives?
  • How can we make this more accessible?

The formation of the College's UDL Task Team

While their efforts to build awareness are a work in progress, the team is gaining traction throughout the college, such as in the adoption of more UDL-centric language.

To help ask these questions and raise awareness of UDL, a small group from various departments in CTLI and Marketing and Communications at the college formed the UDL Task Team.

With the continued efforts of the UDL Task Team, et al., we’re confident that accessibility will eventually be fully embedded into every process, not as an after-thought, but as a driving force in design.

Pursuing a future that is accessible to all

Looking forward, we aim to create tailored learning plans based on the unique needs of each student to offer everyone at the college an atmosphere where they can truly excel – whether it’s the more classic definition of accessibility, or expanded to inclusivity, diversity, equality and more!

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