Universal Design for Learning: The Case for UDL Lesson on Knowledge Production around 9/11

A little boy is playing with a busy board. Developming toy for children from one year old. Developming toy for children from one year old. Focus on the busy board

Posted in Development and Learning Disability International Intervention  |  Tagged

by Jinseul Jun (SFS ’20) February 04, 2020

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

UDL is a framework that “guides the shift from designing learning environments and lessons with potential barriers to designing barrier-free, instructionally rich learning environments and lessons that provide access to all students.” Ronald Mace, an architect, wheelchair user, and the founder of the Center coined the phrase, Universal Design, for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Mace and the Center for Universal Design developed seven elements of Universal Design. Universal Design is applied to the built environment.

According to Mace a universally designed environment is:

  1. Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
  4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

From: Rossetti, R. (2006). The Seven Principles of Universal Design. Action Magazine. Available at: https://www.udll.com/media-roo…

Based on the elements of universal design, UDL is used in educational settings and is based on three main principles:

  • Engagement: multiple ways to prime the students to learn and sustain their interest.
  • Action and Expression: multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned beyond a pencil-and-paper test.
  • Representation: multiple ways to offer information including text, audio, video and hands-on learning materials.

Why use UDL as opposed to other teaching frameworks?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is considered a framework as opposed to curriculum thus teachers are in full control of designing the learning environment and lessons accessible to all students. UDL is an invitation for educators to get “creative” with their teaching and learning approaches within existing systems. Inherent to designing lessons that are universally accessible is a commitment to flexibility. Flexibility encompasses flexible goals, methods, materials, assessments and evaluations. Educational lessons and materials designed with UDL assist all learners (disabled or not) to access learning activities, educational products, and environments. Creating learning that considers all learners requires us to consider all characteristics such as those related to gender, race and ethnicity, age, stature, disability, and learning styles. Children with and without disabilities benefit from applying the Universal Design for Learning in education curriculum as UDL seeks to meet the needs of all students.

UDL is increasingly incorporated into the classroom. The application of UDL in a classroom entails ensuring a space that is welcoming, comfortable, accessible, and functional to all students. A universally designed classroom furniture, for example, should be adjustable in height and can be easily arranged to accommodate different learning styles, activities, and groupings. A simple yet important example would be the type of door handle. An accessible door should feature a level door handle, rather than a doorknob, as the latter requires tight grasping and turning to operate – which may be inaccessible to some students. In addition to such features, the following aspects should also be considered for a UDL-applied classroom: class climate, interaction (not just between students, but also between students, instructors, and staff), information resources and technology, feedback, and delivery methods.

9/11: A Case for Implementing a UDL Framework

9/11 is perceived as one of the seminal moments in history to have affected both U.S. domestic and foreign policy, but teaching the events and aftermath of 9/11 may be challenging in a traditional classroom. Teachers often face a dilemma as 1) what to do when the anniversary of 9/11 comes around every year and 2) how to address the 9/11 events in a classroom in a meaningful way for all students. In addition, teachers do not have a set curriculum mandated by the Department of Education; and a majority of states’ standards do not mention 9/11 in their high school standards. To complicate matters even further, the events of 9/11 continue to be compounded with more issues, adding more complexities to the existing issues at hand. In other words, our knowledge of 9/11 evolves with time and space. So, how can we meaningfully make sense of 9/11 and its subsequent events and sustain engagement in classrooms? How can students, with or without disabilities, make sense of this?

In response to this challenge, there is a plethora of resources related to 9/11 both in print and on the web for educators to use to discuss this complex subject. The Department of Education has a selected list of lesson plans including Positive School Climate and 9/11 and 9/11 and the Constitution. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum also provides lesson plans for grades 9-12 on a wide range of topics such as The Women of 9/11The Dogs of 9/11, and musical tributes. If all these resources are already available, then why use UDL?

Universal Design for Learning is not to replace the curriculum nor disregard newly developed materials. The call for UDL lessons is to encourage educators to recognize and understand that these resources are part of the larger knowledge production processes and continue to think about the ways in which we intentionally and effectively engage all students with various learning styles on the topic of 9/11. It is an open invitation for educators to explore options and opportunities available to design their environment and lesson on this topic so all students have access to learning. UDL is a framework that allows for the time and space for both educators and students to intentionally and comprehensively engage with knowledge that continuously gets produced regarding complex issues like 9/11.

Much of discussion on 9/11 in- and outside the classrooms falls into two categories: 1) public service and remembrance and 2) global terrorism. And much of discussion about 9/11 is obscured by the failure to distinguish between the events of 9/11 and the produced knowledge about the events. What is important, then, is to remember that the event itself is not controversial. What is at the center of debate is not the events that took place on 9/11, but rather the subsequent events, policies implemented by centralized government institutions, and the effect these had on different groups in our society. By applying UDL in a lesson, shifting our attention from what to teach to both how and what to engage, educators can go beyond teaching about the facts of 9/11 and can address the ways in which we produce knowledge about this particular event.

Applying UDL in a classroom is in no way to serve as a panacea to addressing challenges involved in teaching complex issues, but is rather an approach that welcomes teachers to utilize principles of flexibility and choice embedded in UDL to engage with difficult topics such as 9/11 in a meaningful way. In applying the UDL framework to a classroom, educators partake in the knowledge production processes by 1) understanding how structure of the class (e.g. physical space and curriculum) impacts the ways in which students interact with idea(s) and 2) designing a curriculum unit accordingly. Incorporating a creative twist to traditional course content and foregoing a strict commitment to chronological frames may be helpful in classroom discussions.

The goal of UDL based curriculum unit is not to reach a sound conclusion about this complex topic that students can walk away with by the end of the lesson. It is rather to welcome students to realize that there is no one “right” way to make sense of the events of 9/11, and to recognize that not every perspective on 9/11 has an equal value!


About UDL. CAST. Available from: castprofessionallearning.org/about-udl/ .

Balakit, M, et al. (2006). Teaching 9/11: To Them, It’s History, Just like Pearl Harbor. USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network. Available from: www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/09/08/how-schools-teach-911/89675850/ .

Hartley, M. (2015). Shifting the conversation: Improving Access with Universal Design. Exhibitionist, 34(2), 42-45.

Hulette, E. (2011). Teaching 9/11: Attacks Prominent in History Textbooks. Pilot. Available from: pilotonline.com/news/local/education/article_9dafb332-7f5c-5582-b435-336a010b6106.html .

Robelen, E. (2019). Majority of States’ Standards Don’t Mention 9/11. Education Week, 21 Feb. Available from: www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/08/31/02sept11_ep.h31.html .

The Traditional Classroom Works so Why Change It? ESchool News, 22 Feb. 2017. Available from: www.eschoolnews.com/2017/02/23…

United in Remembrance, Divided over Policies. (2018). Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 24 Sept. 2018, Available from:  www.people-press.org/2011/09/01/united-in-remembrance-divided-over-policies/

Universal Design in Education: Principles and Applications. Universal Design in Education: Principles and Applications | DO-I. Available fromwww.washington.edu/doit/universal-design-education-principles-and-applications .



Your UDL Lesson Planner by Patti Ralabate

Design and Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using Universal Design for Learning by Loui Lord Nelson

UDL Now! by Katie Novak

A wide selection of books are found at CAST Publishing

Free Resources:

UDL in 15 Minutes: A podcast where educators are interviewed about their implementation of UDL. There is a straight podcast or you can use YouTube and hear the same information with pictures (www.theudlapproach.com/media )

Go to www.understood.org  and use the search feature (the magnifying glass in the upper right hand corner) to search for UDL. There are some great pieces in there. Two of them include a comparison table about traditional classrooms and classrooms implementing UDL and a video of a teacher about his use of the framework and why he uses it.

CAST designed resources can be obtained at www.castprofressionallearning….

www.learningdesigned.org : A platform built by the UDL-IRN (affiliated with CAST) where people in the field submit resources for dissemination.

Jinseul Jun (GU Global Health Fellow, SFS ’20)