Universal Design - Classroom Tips

Universal Design refers to “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” (The Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University). In other words, design for the margins (the widest range of people) rather than the middle (the typical person). Universal Design principles can be applied to classroom instruction, materials, and assignments to improve access and provide options that make it easier to accommodate individual needs.

Below are some general tips for classroom instruction that are especially helpful for students with disabilities while being beneficial for many other students.

  • Clearly describe course expectations in your syllabus so students know what to expect and what is expected of them.
  • Include a schedule of assignments and exams with dates in your syllabus. This will help students plan and anticipate, which will reduce anxiety.
  • Point students to resources in the library and the Center for Academic Success.
  • Start each class with an agenda or outline (visual as well as spoken) and end with a brief summary of key points.
  • Face the class when speaking (rather than the board or visual aids) so students can see your face (especially for those with hearing problems).
  • Repeat keywords or important concepts, and write key words and phrases on the board.
  • Use lots of visual support: visual aids, graphics, slides, videos, 3D models, demonstrations, etc. to help explain concepts. Students develop conceptual understanding by integrating information from different sensory modalities.
  • Use a variety of instructional methods – lecture, discussion, group work, fieldwork, etc. – to keep the class engaged and to reach students with different preferred ways of learning.
  • Check for understanding frequently (trial problems, asking for examples, etc.) and allow time for questions and answers or discussion at intervals throughout the class.
Assignments and Assessments
  • Announce reading assignments well in advance. Students who need material in a special format or need text-to-speech software require a lot of lead time.
  • Set up readings with a brief lecture, preview of key ideas, or guiding questions. Anticipate difficulties and clarify them in advance.
  • Give students options for how to learn content (various readings, TED talks, web pages, etc.) and how to demonstrate learning (tests, papers, projects, presentations, etc.).
  • Provide discussion options--a study group with notes, an online forum, a reflective journal, etc.
  • Encourage students to use tutoring services at the Center for Academic Success.
  • Take the class on a tour of the lab in the start of the course. Explain expectations and discuss safety concerns.
  • Arrange lab equipment so that it is accessible to everyone.
  • Give both oral and written lab instructions.
  • Assign group lab projects in which all students contribute according to their abilities or interests.
In General
  • Offer choices or options rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.