Universal Design started in architecture with Ron Mace, a designer who became disabled and subsequently created seven principals to consider when designing physical spaces for inclusiveness. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) modified Mace's seven principles to include three overarching ideals for instruction which they termed, Universal Design for Learning. Another framework, University Design for Instruction (UDI), comes from Scott, McGuire, & Embry's 2002 modification of Chickering and Gamson's "Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education". It is important to note that Universal Design is not a “dumbing” down of your course. Universal Design for Learning is not about making the course unnecessarily easy, it is about making it accessible.
Developed by Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), Universal Design for Learning emphasizes flexibility in engagement, representation, and action & expression in the classroom. CAST is the authority on UDL.
Universal Design for Learning emphasizes equity. Instead of providing only one way to participate in a course, several options to access content, participate in class and demonstrate competency should be created with a variety of students in mind. For example, a mid term exam in a history course could take the form of an oral exam, a written paper, a digital project or a community interview/service learning experience. In this case, a student who is blind would not need an accommodation because an acceptable option for him is already built into the course. UDI can reduce the need for special accommodations by provided the means for more students participate from the outset of the class.
In another example, some faculty members plan their exams so that the average student would take only about 70% of class time to complete it. In this scenario, students who need extra time can still take the exam with their classmates, rather than having to arrange an out of class meeting.
Creating an accessible course does not mean sacrificing quality. In fact, UDL can improve student learning across the board. These principles provide a framework for thinking about course design, however, they do not provide exact steps that should be taken.
Reference: Boyd, R., & Moulton, B. (2004). Universal Design for online education: Access for all. In D. Monolescu, C. Schifter, & L. Greenwood (Eds.), The distance education evolution: Issues and case studies (pp. 67-115). Hershey, PA: Information Science Publications.