Equity in Education: How UDL Fosters an Accessible Learning Environment for All

Posted in Development and Learning Disability Diversity, Equity, Inclusion  |  Tagged

by Jillian Archer (GU ’24), Rebecca Bullied (GU ’21), Caroline Fisher (GU ’21), Daniela Mateo (GU ’23), Megan McCrady (GU ’21), Quynh Pham (GU ’22), June 15, 2021

So, what is UDL?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that optimizes learning for all individuals based on scientific research into how humans learn. The way people learn is as unique as their fingerprints; curriculums must be designed with the diversity of the classroom in mind. UDL attempts to minimize barriers and maximize the learning of all students. To understand UDL further, let’s break down the three elements of UDL.

  1. The “Universal” component in UDL represents the idea that the curriculum accounts for the vast array of strengths, needs, backgrounds, and interests that students bring to the classroom.
  2. The “Learning” element of UDL recognizes that learning is not unary and that everyone learns differently. UDL emphasizes the three components of learning: recognition, the “what” of learning, skills and strategies, the “how” of learning, and caring and prioritizing, the “why” of learning.
  3. The “design” portion of UDL emphasizes that the curriculum design should accommodate all types of learners.

Broadly, the aim of UDL is to create goals, methods, materials, and assessments that function for all learners. Teachers employing UDL should first determine what their learning goals are: what do they want their students to know and care about? And then determine how to circumvent the barriers preventing students from achieving these goals using the three principles of UDL (UDL At a Glance, 2010).

How Does UDL Function in a Classroom?

UDL operates in a classroom by following three principles:

  1. The first is representation: individuals differ in the ways they perceive and understand content. Some learners may have sensory disabilities, learning disabilities, or cultural and lingual differences. To account for this, information should be presented in multiple different media, such as visual displays, recordings, or a customizable presentation of information (UDL, 2018).
  2. The second principle is engagement. Individuals bring different interests and backgrounds to the classroom; therefore, the ways in which they can be engaged to learn vary markedly. Offering multiple means for engagement will fuel student investment and autonomy, allowing them to grow into successful learners (UDL, 2018).
  3. The final principle is action and expression. Students differ in the ways they can best express information. Individuals who struggle with organizational abilities or students with a movement impairment may need to approach tasks differently to best demonstrate their knowledge (UDL, 2018). Providing multiple options for expression often promotes learning and deeper understanding of the content and encourages students to use different means of action and expression (Lombardi).

Who is UDL for?

Simply, UDL is for everyone. The accommodations some students may get in their Individualized Education Program (IEP) could be used for all students as needed. Universally available accommodations may reduce the stigma around accessing them (Understood, 2020). There is no one ‘typical’ student. Offering multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression is an advantage to all students. UDL creates solutions that address limitations in learning environments rather than in individuals, which may increase students’ confidence in their learning abilities. Addressing accommodation and access issues on a universal basis, while still providing for individual student’s needs, will benefit all students in the long-term (Rose et al, 2006).


Lombardi, P. (n.d.). Ch. 13 Universal Design for Learning. Instructional Methods Strategies and Technologies to Meet the Needs of All Learners. https://granite.pressbooks.pub/teachingdiverselearners/chapter/universal-design-for-learning- 2/.

Rose, D. H., Harbour, W. S., Johnston, C. S., Daley, S. G., & Abarbanell, L. (2006). Universal design for learning in postsecondary education: Reflections on principles and their application. Journal of postsecondary education and disability, 19(2), 135-151.

UDL. (2018, January 12).

https://udlguidelines.cast.org… mp;utm_campaign=none&utm_content=aboutudl .

Understood. (2020, April 17). The Difference Between Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Traditional Education. Understood.

YouTube. (2010). UDL At A Glance .