What is Universal Design for Learning?

UDL can benefit all students, not just those with disabilities.

Accessible instruction is most often referred to as Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is based on the principles of universal design pioneered by architect Ronald Mace in the 1980s. Mace advocated for the design of buildings to be as accessible to as many people as possible. This has led to wider doorways, standardized heights for electrical outlets and switches, door handles that don't require gripping and twisting. These principles expanded beyond the built environment to design in other fields. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a push to provide students with disabilities with access to education, in particular, post-secondary education. Much research and work was completed to adapt the student to the learning environment by providing accommodations for the student after the learning process was set.

Researchers determined that when principles of universal design were applied to the learning environment, it improved opportunities for learning for all students. When UDL principles are incorporated into the course during its design and development, they lay the foundation with learning outcomes, activities, assessments, and teaching methods that improve accessibility for all learners (Rose & Meyer, 2002). A course designed using UDL principles is more flexible and student-centred, enabling the students to make choices or be more involved in the learning process by providing multiple ways to access content and express their learning. 

Not only does UDL support the Ontario government's mandate under the AODA legislation, it also supports the strategic direction of Durham College for more learner-centric, enriching and innovative learning environments.


Examples of Universal Design


Handles that don't require gripping or twisting.


Laundry that is front loading and raised for easier reach.


Faucets that turn on with just a touch.


Curb cuts improve mobility on city streets.



UDL in the Classroom

The Centre for Academic and Faculty Enrichment (CAFE) interviews Professor Kari Kumar about her use of UDL in her classes (4 minutes)




What are the benefits of using UDL?


UDL is based on three main principles:

  1. Multiple Means of Representation
  2. Multiple Means of Expression
  3. Multiple Means of Engagement

View this graphic organizer from the Centre for Applied Special Technology (CAST) for a detailed look at the guidelines used with Universal Design for Learning (UDL).


Additional Resources:

Book: Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age by David H. Rose, Anne Meyer, Nicole Strangman and Gabrielle Rappolt. Alexandra, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2002.

E-book: How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School - by the Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, eds. John D.Bransford, Ann L.Brown, and Rodney R.Cocking. (2000). Available at http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368

Video: Why Universal Design for Learning, CAST co-founder David Rose

Video: TED Talk: Jill Bolte Taylor's stroke of insight