Universal design solutions that address academic barriers for students with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD)
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) aims to ensure all individuals have equal opportunities to learn. As an approach, UDL minimises barriers and maximises inclusion for all learners. Quality innovative pedagogical approaches apply UDL in order to ensure all students are catered for within the mainstream learning environment (Blamires, 1999). This typically means that students with an SLD do not need to disclose their disability to academic staff as they are able to respond to teaching strategies that are best aligned with their processing preferences. UDL applies to the education context in a similar way that universal design for buildings ensures that the built environment includes access features for all, including people with a disability.
National Center on Universal Design for Learning (US) contains further information on Universal Design.
The US Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) defines Universal Design for Learning as:
“The term Universal Design For Learning means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that: (A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and (B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient."
The three principles of UDL focus on:
- Multiple formats of learning content
- Multiple means of expression
- Multiple modes of engagement
Tips for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to engage students with an SLD:
- Explicit teaching of new concepts and terminology in a variety of formats
- Reinforcement of new learning through provision of student resources in multiple formats such as hand-outs in dot point format and links to YouTube clips
- Use of practical examples or demonstrations to reinforce learning
- Provision of extended time for all students to complete in-class tasks
- Provision of hand-outs or other reading material in advance of the class
- Information on slides or hand-outs read out to the entire class
- Use of mainstream inclusive software for all students
- Assessment due dates outlined at the start of each semester
- Assessment tasks clearly written with explicit reference to marking criteria
- Students provided with multiple options for assessment tasks such as group presentation, written assignment, video presentation, poster, etc whilst ensuring a focus on the competencies being assessed
- All lectures audio recorded
- Opportunity to submit a draft of assessment tasks for feedback and guidance
- Provision of feedback in electronic format