20 Universal Design for Learning and Accessibility

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn. [1]Accessibility is a federal requirement, not a guideline. However, we include information about accessibility here in order to provide guidance in how to accomplish it in your online course.

University Policies:  Originally adopted in 2002 and recently revised, the University’s Accessibility of Information Technology Policy specifies the extent to which accessibility must be a consideration in design and development, procurement, implementation and use of information technology and related resources.  In addition, the Policy on Disability Services provides high-level guidance on U of M attitude toward the development of curricula and educational materials, physical spaces, and products and services to meet the needs of all students, faculty, and staff, “consistent with the concepts of universal design.”

The University of Minnesota serves a diverse population of students, who have different ways of acquiring and expressing knowledge. The University values disability as an important aspect of diversity and is committed to providing equitable access to learning opportunities for all students. Both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Postsecondary institutions must provide reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and must strive to make the digital learning environment accessible from the start. Accessibility in online teaching is one significant way to create an inclusive learning environment where all students can contribute and engage in the learning process. Accessibility is vital for the full participation of students with disabilities and broadly benefits all learners.

Instructors should ensure that all content, media, and activities in their class are accessible from the design phase to reduce the lag time that students experience when getting started with the course, as well as the need for retrofitting or last-minute changes. While some online platforms and tools are more or less accessible, instructors must take steps to choose and create materials (e.g. accessible documents), content (e.g. properly captioned videos), and course sites that are designed with accessibility in mind to ensure an accessible end product. Therefore, ensuring accessibility is not just the responsibility of one individual, it must be a regular consideration and practice of everyone involved in the development, implementation, and instruction of an online course.

Here are a few ways to make your courses more accessible and inclusive:

The UMN has a Digital Accessibility Badge Program to help you improve how to create emails, slide decks, documents, and more in an accessible way, without using code.  In each self-paced online workshop, you will learn skills and apply them to your everyday work. You may choose to take as many workshops as you like. You will receive a digital badge highlighting the skills you demonstrated in the final project for each training.

Responding to Accommodation Letters

The Disabilities Resource Center (DRC) may still contact you when specific accommodations are required for a student enrolled in your course. Some examples of frequent accommodation requests are:

  1. additional time needed to complete online exams
  2. document conversion (to another format, usually digital)
  3. transcripts or captions needed for online media.

You can work with college or central academic technology staff to determine how to make these adjustments or add these resources in your course site.


  1. UDL in Higher Ed. http://udloncampus.cast.org/page/udl_about

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Guidelines for Online Teaching and Design by TeachingSupport@UMN.edu and Faculty Development for Online Teaching task group is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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