Printer Friendly

An Introduction to Universal Design.

An Introduction to Universal Design Universal Design, a concept that was initiated in the field of architecture (Shapiro, 1993; Silver, Bourke, & Strehorn, 1998), has numerous implications for educators at all levels, from preschool through postsecondary and graduate and professional schools. Within architecture, the basic tenets of Universal Design are to determine all potential users of a facility or building and then design the space to meet the needs of all. Universal Design eliminates the necessity to make individual accommodations because the building is universally accessible. In the 1970s, following the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, many communities introduced "curb cuts" at intersections to accommodate citizens with mobility impairments. However, curb cuts also make life easier for cyclists, roller bladers, skate boarders, and people pushing small children in strollers. What began as an accommodation for a specific population has since gained much wider appeal. Other examples from the fields of architecture and design include elevators, ramps, railings, automatic doors, levered door handles, drinking fountains at multiple heights, and signs in various formats. Delivery persons, the elderly, and people with small children are among those who benefit from these conveniences. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA; 1990) requires that buildings be physically accessible.

In the past decade the implementation of Universal Design has increasingly had implications beyond architectural modifications. For example, many movie theaters, amusement parks, libraries, zoos, and museums provide captioning for those with hearing impairments and audiotaped descriptive tours in addition to signs in Braille for people with visual impairments, services that were not widely available prior to the passage of the ADA. Audiotaped library tours can be used by many consumers, and reduce the need for staff to respond to basic questions regarding the use of resources. This is but one more situation in which Universal Design can benefit all. Another example is the sports bar in which patrons are glued to the captions on the video screen, their means of access to the color commentary that cannot be heard above the din in the noisy bar environment. Obviously, this was not the application originally intended by those who developed the technology that now provides this option on all new televisions.

Educators have been among the first to apply the concept of Universal Design to their own profession. Some typical accommodations for students with specific disabilities can benefit all students. For example, providing handouts in advance of lecture overheads or power point presentations, or providing this information via a course web site, can be helpful to students with learning disabilities (LD), acquired brain injuries (ABI), and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The handouts can be provided in alternative formats, such as enlarged print or Braille, for students with visual impairments, or accessed from the web via a screen reader. But other students, with or without disabilities, may also learn more effectively if they have access to this information prior to lecture. For the student who is not an aural learner (Higbee, Ginter, & Taylor, 1991), providing an alternative to learning by means of lecture alone can enhance learning, especially if the lectures do not follow the textbook. Some students have difficulty becoming engaged in the learning process when expected to sit passively and listen for an entire class period, as is commonly the case in postsecondary education. Consider also how a course web site can assist a student who must be absent for an extended period due to illness or a family emergency.

There are many ways in which educators can improve the classroom climate for all students, while also enabling students with disabilities to feel included rather than accommodated. The next column in this series will specifically address Universal Instructional Design (UID). Future columns will provide information regarding new technologies that assist both students and faculty in making classroom materials more accessible, and will also discuss the implementation of UID in specific disciplines.


Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Public Law 101-336, 42 US CA 12, 101-12, 213 West Supp., 1991).

Higbee, J. H., Ginter, E. J., & Taylor, W. D. (1991). Enhancing academic performance: Seven perceptual styles of learning. Research & Teaching in Developmental Education, (2), 5-10.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Public Law 193-112. Section 504.

Shapiro, J. (1993). No pity: People with disabilities, A new civil rights movement. New York: Times Books, Random House.

Silver, P. Bourke, A., & Strehorn, K.C. (1998). Universal Instructional Design in higher education: An approach for inclusion. Equity & Excellence in Education, 31 (2), 47-51.

Jeanne L. Higbee University of Minnesota E-mail:

Dr. Jeanne L. Higbee is an associate professor and founding chair of the Center for Research on developmental Education and Urban Literacy in the General College, University of Minnesota. She is on the curriculum planning and dissemination teams for a U.S. Department of Education grant titled "Curriculum Transformation and Disability."
COPYRIGHT 2000 Rapid Intellect Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Higbee, Jeanne L.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 22, 2000
Previous Article:Critical Thinking, Scientific Thinking, and Everyday Thinking: Metacognition about Cognition.
Next Article:Clinical Scenarios for Critical Thinking.

Related Articles
The Magic Flute.
Christianity and evolutionary psychology: Introduction to special issue--part 1.
Encyclopedia Americana 3.0.
Information for authors.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters