Principles of Universal Design

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.

Brief Overview of Disability Theories

Why use Universal Design for Learning? One reason is because students with disabilities can be consciously or unconscious labeled as inferior learners. Examine the quote below and keep it in mind as you read about some common theories on disability.

I feel so bad for my student, being born blind is a complete tragedy.

Throughout Western history, people have viewed disability through a number of lenses. For example, in biblical times, people with disabilities were considered forsaken by God. Disability theory names several patterns of thought including:

  • Medical model- people with disabilities should live under the confines of medical professionals, they perhaps do not belong in the classroom
  • Functional limitation- disability is a limitation that must be overcome, disability is at best a nuisance and at worst, a tragedy
  • Minority group paradigm- people with disabilities are thought of as an oppressed minority group, they are only victims in society
  • Social justice perspective-disability is socially constructed, society needs to reinterpret "normal" so that disability is no longer considered abnormal.

Consider the quotation above. What underlying ideas about disability might the person who made this statement have?

Educators are encouraged to take a social justice perspective on disability. A strengths model empowers students to focus on what they can bring to the classroom, rather than on any limitations. Courses should be designed to incorporate a variety of ways to participate so that everyone is included, instead of pitied. Read more about the theoretical foundations for Universal Design for learning in this brief summary by Nancy J. Evans.

Faith and Universal Design for Learning

Seattle Pacific University's faithful heritage allows us to embrace Universal Design for Learning as a part of our Christian practice. Pam Christensen, a former SPU student and staff member, and current Associate Director of the Kids & Family Ministry at Quest Church in Seattle shares some of her thoughts on faith and ability.

Student Experience

Here are a variety of student perspectives on disability, accommodations and Universal Design for Learning in the classroom. It is always good to remember that the choices we make in course design have real impacts on real students.

TechSmith Captions

Note: Captioning on a Mac in Chrome will not work, you must use IE or Firefox.

Adding captions to a screen cast is a simple 5 step process.

First, prior to creating your video you must select the Video with Captions option from the dropdown menu (email to request this option if you don't have it already).

Presentation details

Step two, use the TechSmith Relay Desktop Recorder to create your video as you normally would. Once you have finished your recording, the preview should open up in the Desktop Recorder. Here you can give your video a title, a description, and do any of the trimming at the beginning or end of the video you may need to do. Once you are satisfied with your video, click Submit.

Step 2

As usual, you will receive a notification letting you know your video has been successfully submitted to TechSmith Relay for processing. Your video will not be published, however, until you edit your captions and publish your video.

Step three, check your email (the one you used to create your TechSmith account). You should have and email from TechSmith letting you know your video has been held for captioning. To edit your captions,  click on the link within the email message to be taken to the TechSmith Relay Caption Editor.

step 3

After logging in, you should notice your video listed as Held for Captioning under the Presentations list. On the right-hand side of the page, select Edit Captions.

Step 4

Step four, your video should now be open in the Caption Editor. If you recorded your audio narration, there should be captions already on the timeline. You may need to edit these captions, however, as they may not be 100% accurate.
**Please Note: The more you utilize the caption editor, the better the voice recognition becomes.

When you are done editing your captions, click Save in the lower right-hand corner of the window. Next, click Preview and Submit, in the upper left-hand corner of the window.

Step five, you should now be able preview your video with the captions. Select Publish, in the lower right-hand corner of the screen when you’re satisfied with your video.

Step 5

Your video should now resume processing. Once your video has fully processed and published, you will receive an email confirmation letting you know your video is ready for viewing.

Step 6

Vimeo Captions

Access the Captions & Subtitles editor

1.Log into

Vimeo home page

2. Click on the “My Videos” tab

Adding captions to Vimeo

3. Select the “Settings” icon in the upper right hand corner of the video you want to edit

4. Click the “Advanced” tab

5. Select the “Settings” icon in the upper right hand corner of the video you want to edit

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6. Select “Launch Editor” under “Upload or create your own files”

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7. Select the language of your video and the language of the captions or subtitles you are creating

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Edit Captions and Subtitles


Confirm and type captions in the space below as you hear them

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  1. Once you’ve reach the end of the video this button will become clickable.

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9. Now using the up and down arrow keys, sync the captions with the video. Once everything has been synced click “Start review”

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10. You can use the mouse to finely tune the length of time each caption is visible. Select “Publish” once you have finished.

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Enable Captions & Subtitles

11. Return to the “Advanced” setting tab and turn captions on

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12. Scroll to the bottom of the page and select “Save Changes”

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13. Your video will now have captions.

YouTube Captions

Here is the help page for adding Captions for your YouTube video.

Log into


Click on the upper right hand corner on the profile icon, and then click on Creator Studio


Once inside of the Creator Studio, go into the Videos section, and select the video you wish to transcribe


Once you are taken to the video, click on the CC icon, which will take you to a new page.


Set the language of the video to the desired option


Click on English again


Choose Transcribe and set timings


Listen to the video and input the words as you hear them. Save as you go, and once you have completed this, hit Set Timings


Processing the timings make take a while. Once they are done, make sure to double check, and then submit.


Your video will now have captions.

Accessible Email

Avoid sending emails as images, rather, type your messages in Outlook, MS Word or another text editor using the appropriate headings and formatting. This is beneficial for all students, as emails that are sent as images cannot be enlarged and are difficult to navigate on most devices. While beneficial for all, it is imperative students who use assertive reading devices (screenreaders) because those computer programs will not recognize text that is saved as an image. Likewise, avoid using email signatures with images, as they are not accessible.

You can work with Computer Information Systems (CIS) for internal communications, or University Communications (UC) for external communications to get help making an accessible email template. Alternatively, you can attach a transcript of digital postcards to email messages to make them more accessible. Lastly, you can add alternative text to images in emails (desktop version of Outlook, not Webmail), however, be advised that lengthy messages in the "Alt text" box are not ideal. Instead, try adding an image in your email, then writing your text, and then adding another image at the bottom of your message. In this way you can "sandwich" readable text in between two images.

Make the objectives for each course clear to students before each class

Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction – #2 Inform Learners of Objectives
After gaining the attention of your students the next event is walking your students through your course’s learning objectives. Gagne, along with others, suggest taking time early on in a course to review the learning objectives to continue creating your course’s narrative arc and to begin to create meta-cognitive hooks on which students can hang the information to start creating denser knowledge structures out of the information. See more on the CSFD website.