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Creating Universal Design Pedagogy for Disability Studies Courses: A Collaborative, Cross-Disciplinary Project. Jay Dolmage, M.A., Kathleen Hutchinson, Ph.D., Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, Ph.D., Jean Lynch, Ph.D., Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Introduction.

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Creating Universal Design Pedagogy for Disability Studies Courses: A Collaborative, Cross-Disciplinary Project

Jay Dolmage, M.A., Kathleen Hutchinson, Ph.D., Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, Ph.D., Jean Lynch, Ph.D.,

Miami University, Oxford, Ohio

  • University and college students come from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. For some, English is not their first language. Most classes include many types of learning styles, including visual and auditory learners.
  • Increasing numbers of students with disabilities are included in regular postsecondary education courses without support services. These disabilities include blindness, low vision, hearing loss, mobility impairments, learning disabilities and health impairments.
  • While most instructors intend to accommodate learning styles, the modification and creation of pedagogy based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning allow for teaching strategies aimed at maximizing student usability and learning for all types of learners.
universal design for learning
Universal Design for Learning

Universal design means the design of instructional materials and activities that allows the learning goals to be achievable by individuals with wide differences in their abilities to see, hear, speak, move, read, write, understand English, attend, organize, engage, and remember. Universal design for learning is achieved by means of flexible curricular materials and activities that provide alternatives for students with disparities in abilities and backgrounds. These alternatives should be built into the instructional design and operating systems of educational materials—they should not have to be added on later.

Universal design is intended to be inclusive, not solely for students who have disabilities. A curriculum that incorporates universal design features should do more than accommodate physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities; it should include students with differing abilities, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and approaches to learning.


UDL principles will be incorporated into 3 courses that focus on disability. Students will be asked about the usability of UDL to:

  • Promote students’ awareness and role in this experimental teaching and learning experience;
  • provide useful insights into ways in which future classes can replicate, modify, or create new pedagogical practices in future classes using the UDL approach; and
  • evaluate whether using UDL as an approach and as a philosophy can aid in teaching students about (dis) ability as well as maximizing learning for all students.


The present study included 3 classes which focus on disability. Classes which utilized and tested the pedagogy included the following: Honors 101G: “(Dis)Ability and the American Imagination”; SPA 211 “Deaf Community and Culture”; Honors 180 “Women and Disability: Fictions of Identity”.


A doctoral student (J.D.) served as the UDL moderator and evaluated student response to UDL using triangulated methods:

1) on line qualitative questions or prompts designed to determine how well the class adhered to UDL elements;

2) focus group; and

3) an end of year online survey following the focus group.

Throughout the project, the input and feedback of students comprised an iterative process for UDL principle development.

student questions online
Student Questions Online

To determine student understanding and effectiveness of UDL Pedagogy, the students were initially asked to evaluate the following online:

  • Has the course consistently employed UDL strategies in teaching course materials?
  • What types of access, teaching modes, assignments, or other strategies were used that employ UDL principles?
  • In your opinion, how effective were the strategies?
  • Are there any other suggestions you have for utilization of UDL pedagogies in this course? Please explain.
focus group discussion questions
Focus Group Discussion Questions

Students met with the UDL moderator in an informal group and were asked the following questions:

  • What is your understanding of UDL?
  • Do you think UDL can work for all types of learners?
  • How is UDL working as a teaching tool in your class?
  • What are some of the specific UDL strategies used?
  • Identify different styles of presentation or different avenues for accessing materials.

Student responses were coded for confidentiality and given to instructors mid-semester.

online survey following focus group
Online Survey following Focus Group

The UDL Moderator posed the online questionnaire at the end of the semester:

  • How well do you understand UDL?
  • Do you have any suggestions for professors to improve their explanation of UDL?
  • Do you think UDL was not utilized in this class in any particular area?
  • Can you suggest a particular UDL tool or strategy that could have been used?
  • What did you like best about UDL as a teaching/learning method?

All survey results were given to instructors after grades were submitted.

student responses
Student Responses

Themes that emerged from the 3 assessment approaches were:

  • All three classes reported positive experiences with UDL.
  • Experiential learning activities were most powerful to impress UDL principles (simulations, social action, field trips).
  • Teaching modes should vary (small groups vs large group vs lecture).
  • Instructors need to organize materials and presentations and “stack” assignments to meet established goals. Clarity was a central theme as students stated the benefits of organizational techniques used by professors such as discussion questions, lecture outlines, and study guides
  • Online websites should specify what the information is to be used for – tests, papers, curiosity.
  • Assessment and testing should also incorporate UDL principles by providing a variety of test forms.
instructor reflections
Instructor Reflections

Course instructors met with the UDL moderator to discuss student responses and provided reactions to student comments:

  • Instructors felt they did not adequately explain UDL principles at the beginning of the semester.
  • Instructors sensed they did not connect UDL applications as they related to students with disability (how UDL can enable all).
  • A necessary component of UDL is ongoing assessment and student feedback.
  • Different forms of evaluation should have been solicited from students and implemented in course.
  • Students should be given opportunity to self-disclose information about their own disabilities and need for accommodations.

Connell, B.R., Jones, M., Mace, R., Mueller, J., Mullick, A., Ostroff, E., Sanford, J., Steinfeld, E., Story, M., & Vanderheiden, G. (1997). The principles of universal design. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University, Center for Universal Design. Available at

DO-IT. University of Washington.

Council for Exceptional Children.

IDEA Center.

National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM).