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ADCET UDL Symposium: Breaking the Performative Façade - Genuine Universal Design in Higher Education

Due to the sensitive nature of this presentation, the recording will not be made available.

In-person workshop

Terra Starbird, Bruna Contro, Canberra Institute of Technology, Bhavani Kannan and Jen Xiang, University of New South Wales

In the ever-evolving landscape of higher education, Universal Design (UD) has emerged as a powerful concept, promising inclusivity and accessibility for all. However, beneath the glossy surface of institutional commitment lies a deeper challenge: performative UD. This phenomenon occurs when institutions merely pay lip service to UD without genuinely embedding it into their practices. Not only does this diminish UD to a superficial concept, but often it can harm the very students who rely on UDL practices for their learning. This interactive workshop aimed to tackle this issue head-on. It invited educators, administrators, management, and advocates to examine the shiny badge of inclusivity worn proudly by universities and vocational institutions alike and raise it beyond being a buzzword.

Participants investigated how to combat the facade of performative UD which continues to mask a host of deeper issues that undermine UD’s true implementation and impact across the sector. Participants worked together to develop actionable ideas, tools, and skills to challenge and dismantle performative UD in their organisations. By employing genuine participatory co-design, harnessing policy and legislation, securing executive buy-in, making strategic, incremental change, and, using the very tool of Universal Design, to bring about long-term, systemic change, this workshop explored strategies for enhancing faculty and executive understanding of UD in higher education settings to combat performative, superficial UDL.

Participants conspired together to shatter the inclusivity illusion with fellow UDL advocates and practitioners who know that UDL demands a deep, sustained commitment to addressing the needs and experiences of all students, regardless of their abilities, access requirements, backgrounds, or circumstances. Only by confronting the cracks in this facade can we build a higher education system that is truly accessible, equitable, and inclusive for all.


Terra Starbird has been a journalist, a teacher and teacher librarian across K-12, and an academic librarian, digital literacy trainer, and manager of the teaching arm of ANU Library. Known for being a pain in management’s backside when advocating for UDL, equity, and inclusion in the classroom and in learning environment design and the workplace, Terra now works at Canberra Institute of Technology in the staff equity, inclusion, and development space. She is passionate about digital and research literacies, designing inclusive, interactive, engaging, and experiential educational programs and resources, and championing diversity in the workplace.

Bhavani Kannan brings extensive pedagogical expertise with her background as an Educational Designer/Developer, Education Specialist, and Learning Adviser.  This experience positions Bhavani to provide educational insights from across the teaching and learning spectrum, ensuring student and staff needs are addressed.  Her leadership in university-wide education training programs and quality assurance and evaluation projects have informed policy and best practice across multiple higher education institutions.  Notably, her focus on inclusive teaching practices and pedagogy inform an agile and human-centred design approach that promote seamless multi-disciplinary engagement.

Jen Xiang is an experienced Education Designer, UX/UI Designer, and EdTech Developer. She works in the School of Clinical Medicine at UNSW, enhancing learning and teaching experiences across clinical campuses with a strong focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). Her ethos is "pedagogy first, enabled by technology, and grounded in human-centred design." As a creative who is passionate about science and technology, Jen excels at combining pedagogy with sound design and development processes to create engaging, fit-for-purpose solutions.

(June 2024)