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Creating an Inclusive Environment

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles that can be incorporated into curricular design to create inclusive learning environments. 

UDL allows all students equal opportunities to learn. The primary goal of UDL is to maximize student learning by increasing access and participation and minimizing the need for individual accommodations.  

The UDL resources on this page provide a "toolkit" to help faculty recognize and remove barriers in their courses and reduce or even eliminate, the need to facilitate accommodations for individual students. Incorporating seamless access into classrooms, curriculum, physical spaces, technology and events will increase sustainability. For example, individual accommodations must be determined for each student, each class and each semester. However, when the curriculum is designed to be inclusive, the need to facilitate individual accommodations each semester is reduced.

 The general UDL principles are:

  • Provide multiple means of representation
  • Provide multiple means of action and expression
  • Provide multiple means of engagement

Principles for Universal Design

Principle Definition Example
1. Equitable use Instruction is designed to be useful to and accessible by people with diverse abilities. Provide the same means of use for all students; identical whenever possible, equivalent when not. Providing students with multiple options to demonstrate mastery of the subject (web design, oral presentations, research papers); using alternate sources to explain complex concepts (easier reading levels).
2. Flexibility in use Instruction is designed to accommodate a wide range of individual abilities. Provide choice in method of use. Using varied instructional methods (mind/concept maps, group activities, outlines) to provide different ways of learning and experiencing knowledge.
3. Simple and intuitive Instruction is designed in a straightforward and predicable manner, regardless of the student’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Eliminate unnecessary complexity. Providing grading rubrics that clearly lay out expectations for exam performance, papers, or projects; a syllabus with links to reading materials; adding animated icons to the course website that pop up to remind students of deadlines.
4. Perceptible Information Instruction is designed so that necessary information is communicated effectively to the student, regardless of ambient conditions or the students’ sensory abilities. Selecting reading material and other instructional supports, including websites that are accessible via screen readers, text formatting, zoom text.
5. Tolerance for Error Instruction anticipates variation in individual student learning and prerequisite skills. Capturing logs of threaded discussions for students to reference over the course of the semester; providing the option of turning in multiple drafts of an assignment in order for the student to demonstrate his/her learning progress; provisioning of “practice” exercises or tests.
6. Low physical effort Instruction is designed to minimize nonessential physical effort in order to allow maximum attention to learning. NOTE: This principle does not apply when physical effort is integral to essential requirements of a course. Fostering maximum attention to learning by being aware of screen structure and layout of website features (breaking down a construct into multiple pages with headings).
7. Size and space for approach and use Instruction is designed and consideration for appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulations, and use regardless of a student’s body size, posture, mobility, and communication needs. Being aware of diverse communication needs in deciding to incorporate examples and graphics (moderately combine visuals with text).
8. A community of learners The instructional environment promotes interaction and communication among students and faculty. Fostering communication among students in and out of class by structuring study groups, discussion groups, project groups, chat rooms; making a personal connection with students through video or phone (Skype, Adobe Connect).
9. Instructional climate Instruction is designed to be welcoming and inclusive. High expectations are espoused for all students. Including a statement in the class syllabus affirming the need for class members to respect diversity in order to establish the expectation of tolerance as well as encourage students to discuss any special learning needs; highlight diverse thinkers who have made significant contributions to the field; provided direct feedback on and share innovative approaches developed by students in the class.


National Center on Universal Design for Learning

UDI Online Project. (2009). Examples of UDI in Online and Blended Courses. Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability, University of Connecticut, Storrs.