Universal Design of InstructionInformation and Content Written By Paul Matsumoto

Universal design is a term adopted from architectural designers. They began using it when they switched from designing for the average user to designing buildings that are easily accessible to every user. In this case, a lot of the focus was on making building more handicap accessible. It changed the way they designed buildings and the theory behind design. Today the term also applies to education courses and the way that teachers and professors design the curricula for their classrooms. Many colleges are implementing committees focused on making their entire college, and curriculum follow the universal design model.

Educators often have the opportunity to instruct students who have needs that differ from the needs of the average student. Some common special needs that may require additional accommodations include: learning disabilities, non-native English speakers and deaf or blindness in students. Universal design allows for you to plan your curriculum with the adaptations and adjustments already in place, so that you do not need to look for further accommodations while you are teaching.

The process of switching from traditional education to a curriculum based on Universal Design can be overwhelming, but if you take it one step at time you will be able to make the changes. From this point on, as you design a new curriculum you should keep in mind the different types of adaptations and include them when you are planning out the semester. For example make sure that every film you order is available with subtitles. Also when you use a PowerPoint presentation, be sure that you tell the students the most important facts, and describe the slides if you have a visually impaired student. You may also make your PowerPoint presentations available online for the students to review.

Become aware of the problems that some learners face in your classroom so you can adjust your curriculum and instruction to be accessible to them. A nonnative English speaker may have a more difficult time following a quick debate or discussion, and may need you to enunciate your words more clearly. Although a deaf person may have a sign language interpreter with him in class, you may need to offer information visually as well. A set syllabus with due dates and listed reading assignments in advance can help the dyslexic student prepare for class and stay on top of the reading assignments.

Technology may make it easier for you to make the accommodations in class, but you should also be sure that the students have access to computers. This may be as simple as listing where the computer labs on campus are, so that students realize they can go there to complete the specific assignments you have assigned. Another accommodation is having students work in groups where the different roles needed for each group vary. This allows people to step up to their strengths, and may make it easier for the student who needs accommodations to pull his weight in the project. For example, a dyslexic student may be an excellent designer or presenter, but not as great at the researching aspect of the project.

As an educator, you are the leader of your class, and you can make your classroom environment welcoming to all students. A positive classroom environment that welcomes many different backgrounds and experiences will help. Encouraging students to come to you to discuss concerns, necessary accommodations or areas where they are struggling will also help. Additionally, you may offer to critique projects before they are due so that students have the chance to correct any problems you found with their work.

If your university is focusing on switching to the Universal Design, they may provide you with resources and committees you can turn to for help when you face a problem. The school's student services center can also provide you information about specific learning disabilities and the appropriate accommodations when it comes to taking tests. Referring students to student services is also a good idea, because they can help the student negotiate every aspect of their education.

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