Just as a curb cut in the sidewalk helps not only people who use wheelchairs, but also people with strollers, bicycles, or suitcases, a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach - in which we anticipate, and proactively design for, variability in learners - has the potential to benefit all students.

UDL is a teaching framework based on research about how we learn. Inspired by the accessible architecture movement, UDL identifies barriers in the learning environment rather than “deficiencies” in the student.

Throughout 2023, the Center for Teaching & Learning and the Office of Digital Learning & Innovation are co-sponsoring a year-long Learning Community on Universal Design for Learning, comprised of 12 participants from departments such as Occupational Therapy, Anatomy and Neurobiology, and Romance Studies, as well as staff committed to supporting faculty foster accessibility.  

We launched the Learning Community in January with a keynote address, open to the entire BU community and delivered by Luis Perez, a consultant for CAST. CAST is a nonprofit organization that created the UDL framework and guidelines, which offer concrete ways faculty from any discipline may enhance accessibility in their classrooms. 

Led by Perez, Learning Community participants met three times in the spring semester and will reconvene for three more sessions in the fall semester. Having gained a foundation in UDL principles in the spring, participants will spend this fall exploring components of a UDL-informed lesson or module, including goals, assessments, methods, and resources, and applying what they are learning to design more inclusive learning experiences.

Participant Perspectives

Amy Bennett-Zendzian, instructor in the CAS Writing Program, was similarly excited to learn about tools to customize the display of information on a website. For instance, switching to Reader view allowed her to adjust the font size and create a version of any webpage uncluttered with ads and multiple columns, which posed fewer distractions for students and for her, and was printable as a PDF.

According to Josh Mackler, Digital Learning Designer with the Shipley Center:

“As a Learning Designer working with a wide variety of subject matter and audiences, I am always seeking new tools that improve learner access and usability. I have been leveraging the guidance that CAST provides about customizing the display of information, as well as finding opportunities for giving Wise feedback.”

Mackler also appreciated that Perez was joined in facilitation by a faculty member who chimes in with anecdotes about her challenges and triumphs in applying UDL, and thus offers practical guidance for their work.

About the Author:

Jean Otsuki Headshot Dr. Jean Otsuki was Associate Director for the Center for Teaching & Learning and helped faculty and graduate student instructors to grow as teachers. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Yale University and has taught literature and writing at the college and high school levels.