Learn About UDL

History of UDL

A Brief Overview

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) emerged from the architectural concept of universal design. Ron Mace, North Carolina State University, envisioned universal design as a means to promote the design of products and environments that would appeal to all people, yet meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide access for individuals with disabilities. These principles established a framework for developing design standards that permit the greatest degree of access and usability for the widest range of individuals.

Physical access to classrooms and other educational facilities was an important first step toward accessibility within the educational process. Many schools began to embrace the philosophy of inclusion by physically including students with disabilities in the classroom. However, this did not ensure equal access to the general curriculum or opportunities for students with disabilities to benefit from what the school curriculum offered.

Founded in 1984 as the Center for Applied Special Technology, CAST has earned international recognition for its development of innovative, technology-based educational resources and strategies. CAST applied the concept of universal design to a framework for curriculum reform in education. Based on the work of developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1962, 1996), CAST has identified three brain networks that coincide with Vygotsky's prerequisites for learning:

  • Affective network: engagement with the learning task.
  • Recognition network: recognition of the information to be learned.
  • Strategic network: application of strategies to process information.

Although all brains share these affective, recognition, and strategic, network operations, individual brains receive and process information very differently. As a result, curriculum must then be designed to accommodate these differences.

In keeping with the basics of UDL, products and services must be designed to be flexible in order to be usable by the widest range of individuals. As a result, students do not need to adapt themselves to the curriculum because the curriculum can accommodate their individual differences. Teachers must understand the variability of students in the classroom and plan accordingly. This flexibility of design must encompass all aspects of curriculum, including instructional methods and materials, classroom environment, and assessment and evaluation.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) refers to the definition of Universal Design that was used in the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, which states: "The term 'universal design' means a concept or philosophy for designing and delivering products and services that are usable by people with the widest range of functional capabilities, which include products and services that are directly accessible (without requiring assistive technologies) and products and services that are made usable with assistive technologies." (Section 3 of the Assistive Technology Act of 1998).

Within IDEA 2004, the law states that "state educational agencies (or local agencies in the case of district assessments) shall to the extent feasible use universal design principles in developing and administering any statewide assessment." (IDEA, Section 614).

With an increased emphasis on the universal design of products and services, some students with disabilities may be able to access and use educational materials without the addition of special assistive technologies.