What Is Accessibility

Accessibility refers to the ability of a device, product, service, or environment to be usable by everyone, regardless of disability. Some disabilities include blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, neurodiversity, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photo-sensitivity and combinations of these.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an important aspect of Accessibility and they often go together. Often accessibility is considered when integrating technology into the learning environment. Universal Design involves the usability of that technology and extends to how the technology is integrated into the learning plan, along with the other elements of the course.

UDL refers to the process of making learning effective and usable for everyone without the need to request specific accommodations. Universal design considerations can extend beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act to addressing a wide range of learner preferences, removing barriers for students with various forms of neurodiversity, and implementing other inclusive practices that meet diverse student needs. UDL empowers students to control the means by which they access information, ensuring greater equity and self-efficacy in the learning environment. 

Who Benefits From Universal Design?

The short answer is that everyone benefits, but consider some examples:

  • English language learners can use captions and transcripts to augment and speed up their processing of spoken language in videos and podcasts. 
  • Adult learners, including learners with family obligations and extensive work obligations, benefit from audio formatting of text so they can listen to course readings while commuting or rocking a baby back to sleep in the middle of the night.
  • Students with disabilities, neurodiversity or mental health issues who have not yet registered with Disability Services, who are undiagnosed, or who do not wish to disclose these personal details with the institution or their instructors benefit from having materials accessible from day one of the class without ever needing to ask. 
  • Both teachers and students benefit from improved lines of communication when students have multiple ways to hear, view, or read the instructor’s materials before they ask questions about the course.