Good Design Is Universal: Improving Accessibility for All

Concurrent Session 8

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Accessibility is about more than just making accommodations for learners with disabilities. By applying Universal Design principles to the development and delivery of online courses, instructors can increase the effectiveness and usability of the learning experience for all of their students, in addition to meeting the ADA requirements for accessibility.

Extended Abstract

Importance of Accommodation and Access for All 

Accessibility is discussed as an important and timely topic, but often applied as an afterthought or response to a request for accommodation. Like dental flossing or checking tire pressure, course designers may know they should pay more attention to it sooner, before it becomes a crisis, yet leave the attention to accessibility issues to a later development stage. 

But what if accessibility concepts were seen as more integral and essential to the instructional design process? What if a more universal approach from the beginning would benefit all learners, in addition to those with particular needs? Accessibility is about more than just making accommodation for learners with disabilities.   

 The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) gave the force of federal law to reasonable accommodation of people challenged by physical and sensory impairment. This opened the door to wider access to employment opportunities, information services, education, public spaces, and business sites. By defining such access as a civil right, the ADA has become a powerful tool creating awareness of obstacles to equal mobility, participation, and contribution for everyone. 

The goal of barrier removal is also the central concept of Universal Design, which was initially developed to address such issues as the usability of consumer products, mobility in public spaces, and access to public transportation. The Center for Universal Design (CUD) at North Carolina State University states the seven basic principles as:

  1. Equitable use
  2. Flexibility in use
  3. Simple and intuitive
  4. Perceptible information 
  5. Tolerance for error 
  6. Low physical effort 
  7. Size and space for approach and use 

Sheryl Burgstahler and Rebecca Cory (2007) apply these principles to education and instruction, describing the Universal Design for Instruction (UDI). By applying UDI principles to the development and delivery of online courses, instructors can increase the effectiveness and usability of the learning experience for all of their students, in addition to meeting the ADA requirements for accessibility. 

During the course of our presentation, we will discuss the seven principles of Universal Design for Instruction, with practical examples of each as they directly apply to the development and delivery of online course content. The presentation will also include a demonstration of building an accessible syllabus based on UDI principles. Using basic aspects of HTML tagging, style definition, and hyperlinking the traditional, static syllabus can be transformed into a course guide that is flexible, accommodating, and easily navigated.  

 

Sources

Burgstahler, S. , & Coy, R. (Eds.). (2008). Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. Boston: Harvard Education Press.

Center for Universal Design. (2010). The principles of universal design. Retrieved from http://www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/pubs_p/docs/poster.pdf

Kohl, J. P., & Greenlaw, P. S. (1992). The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: Its Impact on Business and Education. Journal Of Education For Business, 67(4), 214-17.