Introduction to Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

by | Jun 2, 2021

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to designing the learning environment which considers the diverse needs of all individuals from the start. This approach specifically includes people of varying abilities, aptitudes, appearances, and ages, as well as those with temporary and permanent disabilities, disorders, and differences. The learning environment can be an in-person or online space, and it includes physical, temporal, and social aspects. UDL attempts to foresee any potential barriers and design around or beyond them, so all learners have choices from multiple means to access the learning materials, participate fully in the learning environment, and express what they have learned. Originally from the field of architecture, Universal Design was developed out of a desire to build homes in which elders can continue living independently.


How does it differ from the traditional approach?

The normalized educational approach first sets up learning environments for an imagined “typical” student, then adds in accommodations for people with diagnosed disabilities. With the inclusion model, learners who meet barriers and need accommodations may request them, provide them for themselves, do without, and/or go through an evaluation process in order to receive the support they need. These accommodations are often highly visible and can lead to stigmatization, and the result can be a learning experience which separates some students from others.


Examples of UDL in everyday life

In the physical space:

Curb cutouts, ramps, and automatic doors

They serve not only people who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices, but also people with strollers, suitcases, or carrying large/heavy items, people who are pregnant, and people who just happen to be tired that day.


In the digital space:

Closed captions and subtitles for videos

Anyone can choose to turn them on or off at any time, so they serve not only D/deaf and hard-of-hearing people, but also people in public places trying not to disturb others, people who speak a different language or are trying to learn one, and people who just prefer the added visual component for their watching experience.


UDL is the future!

Universal Design for Learning is a new approach to designing learning environments. It provides learners with choices of multiple ways to access materials, participate fully, and express what they learned. UDL plans for the full equitable inclusion of all learners of all abilities in the physical, temporal, and social aspects of the environment. The old model targeted the non-existent “typical” learner, then provided accommodations to help learners overcome inevitable barriers. UDL seeks to prevent as many barriers as possible from the get-go and to create opportunities for every learner to thrive.



Empire Caption Solutions has partnered with many institutions to help remove barriers and create inclusive experiences by providing video accessibility services, such as closed captions, transcription, sign language interpretation, and audio description (AD). Please visit the ECS Blog or website to learn more.

ECS Blog