Frequently Asked Questions

What is universal design?

Are there some examples of how instructors have used universal design in their courses?

Who benefits from universal design?

Does universal design eliminate the need for accommodation?

What is the difference between universal design and assistive technology?

How can I determine if my website is accessible?

What is universal design?

Ron Mace defined universal design as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” Universal design is not a lowering of standards or a “one size fits all” model. Instead, universal design is about increasing learning accessibility by providing options. Within an educational context, universal design has several synonymous terms: universal instructional design, universal design for learning, and universal design for instruction.


Are there some examples of how instructors have used universal design in their courses?

Yes. Instructors from many disciplines have utilized universal design. The following are some examples from the Ivy Access Initiative:A law faculty member developed a website that is " Bobby -approved. “

  • A math/statistics faculty member began providing handouts of overheads to the entire class so that students could use them for reference and review. He also began to deliver his lectures more carefully, by replacing general terms like "this" or "that" with more specific descriptions, by pausing where appropriate, and by making eye contact with his students.
  • A composition faculty member began audio taping his class so students could review class discussion and the professor's instructions about completing assignments.
  • A psychology professor allowed students the choice of writing the final exam as a take-home or a 3-hour in-class final.
  • A sociology professor revised her syllabus to specify the objectives more clearly, and added a research project in addition to the midterm and final exam in order to diversify the types of work that affected the final grade in the course.
  • A geology professor developed computer animation modules to illustrate some of the key concepts in a course on physical hydrology. These are shown in class and available out of class as well.
  • A computer science professor started to begin each class with a forecast of the key concepts to be discussed that day and why they are important in the course material (after students complained that they had no context for his lectures).
  • An introductory physics course administers the midterm exams in the evening, allowing all students up to 2 ½ hours for a one-hour exam.
  • A biology professor began using two overhead projectors in his lectures so he can leave the old slide on the screen longer.

Who benefits from universal design?

Because universal design maximizes accessibility to learning, it benefits all students, including students with identified disabilities, students with unidentified disabilities, culturally diverse students, linguistically diverse students, and nontraditional-aged students.


Does universal design eliminate the need for accommodation?

No. Universal design does not eliminate the need for accommodation. However, because universal design eliminates many barriers, some students will not need any additional accommodation.


What is the difference between universal design and assistive technology?

Both universal design and assistive technology increase accessibility for students who have disabilities. However, universal design differs from assistive technology in several ways. Universal design alters the environment and information, while assistive technology lets the individual adjust to an unaltered environment or information source. With universal design, the burden of changing things rests with the designers. With assistive technology, the burden of changing things rests with the users. Universal design serves many people at once, and assistive technology is individualized. Lastly, assistive technology is usually more costly than using universal design. Keep in mind that universal design will not entirely eliminate the need for assistive technology.
Sources:Bowe, F. (2000). Universal design in education: Teaching nontraditional students. Westport , CT : Bergin & Garvey.
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How can I determine if my website is accessible?

There are some resources that can assist you in determining the accessibility of your website.

  • Bobby: Bobby tests web pages using the World Wide Web Consortium's (WC3) Web Access Initiative guidelines for web accessibility.
  • Home Page Reader: Home Page Reader speaks text, frames, image and text links, alternate text for images and image maps, form elements including JavaScript, graphics descriptions, text in column format, and data input fields.
  • UsableNet: UsableNet provides software tools that allow web designers to automate website accessibility and usability testing, repair and delivery.
  • Vischeck: Vischeck allows the website to be seen as a colorblind person would see it.
  • WAVE: WAVE is similar to Bobby, but is also Section 508 compliant. WAVE performs an analysis of tables to insure that table elements are logically presented.