What are Accessibility and Universal Design Principles for Learning?
Accessibility and Universal Design are two important concepts for digital learning designers who are creating courses that are inclusive and accessible to all learners, regardless of their abilities, disabilities, or learning preferences.
- What is Accessibility in learning design?
- What are Universal Design Principles (UDL) for learning?
- What are the fundamentals of Accessibility and UDL?
- What are the benefits of using accessibility and UDL?
- What are the Universal Design Principles For Learning?
- Are there any legal requirements for the use of accessibility and Universal Design Principles?
- The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- Assistive Technology Tools
- Get Certified
What is Accessibility in learning design?
Within the context of learning design, accessibility refers to designing digital learning materials, such as multimedia resources, videos, or documents, in a way that makes them usable and accessible for everybody, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
This might include using alt-text for images, captions for videos, and providing transcripts for audio content, among other things. Accessibility is important because it ensures that learners with disabilities are able to access and participate in the learning experience on an equal basis with their peers.
To read more about what Universal Design for Learning is: Click Here
What are Universal Design Principles (UDL) for Learning?
Universal Design Principles for Learning is a framework based on a specific set of principles that aim to remove barriers within physical and digital learning environments, services and products so they can be used by the most amount of people regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
UDL guides learning designers in creating materials that are flexible, intuitive, and easy to use, and that can be adapted to meet the needs of different learners rather than retrospectively providing bespoke solutions for different individuals. It also looks at how the learning experience is designed and goes beyond pure “content” of learning, focusing on content, engagement and assessment.
Universal Design principles for digital learning include (among other principles):
- Providing multiple formats of content, such as text, audio, video, and images
- Using clear and concise language that is easy to understand
- Using accessible design features, such as contrasting colours and readable fonts
- Offering multiple ways for learners to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, such as written assignments, oral presentations, and group projects
- Providing opportunities for learners to interact with others through discussion forums, group activities, and peer review processes
- Ensuring that all course materials are compatible with assistive technologies, such as screen readers and magnifiers, for learners with disabilities.
As a digital learning designer, it is important to consider both accessibility and UDL when creating courses. By designing with accessibility in mind, designers can ensure that learners of all abilities are able to participate in the learning experience.
What are the fundamentals of Accessibility and UDL?
As a digital learning designer, it is important to keep accessibility and UDL in mind when creating a course to ensure that it is accessible to all learners, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Here are some fundamentals of accessibility and universal design to keep in mind:
- Use clear and concise language: Use simple and easy-to-understand language to ensure that the content is accessible to all learners, including those with reading difficulties, learning disabilities, or limited English proficiency.
- Provide alternative formats: Provide alternative formats of the content, such as documents, audio, video, or text-to-speech, to accommodate learners with visual or hearing impairments.
- Use descriptive links and headings: Use descriptive links and headings that clearly explain the content of the link or section to help learners navigate the course.
- Make sure your course is keyboard-accessible: Ensure that all course materials can be accessed using a keyboard, as some learners may not be able to use a mouse or other pointing device.
- Avoid flashing or blinking content: Avoid using flashing or blinking content that may trigger seizures or migraines in some learners.
- Provide captions and transcripts: Provide captions and transcripts for all audio and video content to make it accessible to learners with hearing impairments.
- Ensure colour contrast: Ensure that there is sufficient colour contrast between the text and background to make it easy to read for learners with visual impairments.
- Use inclusive images and videos: Use images and videos that are inclusive and represent a diverse range of people to make the course welcoming and inclusive for all learners.
By keeping these fundamentals of accessibility and UDL in mind, you can ensure that your course is accessible and inclusive for all learners.
What are the benefits of using accessibility and UDL?
Benefits for the digital learning designer
There are several benefits to using accessibility and UDL when creating a course as a digital learning designer:
- Increased Reach: By creating an accessible course, you are ensuring that learners with disabilities or impairments can also access and benefit from the course content. This increases the reach of the course and makes it available to a wider audience.
- Compliance with Legal Requirements: In many countries, including the United States, or the UK, digital content is required by law to be accessible. By creating an accessible course, you are ensuring compliance with legal requirements and reducing the risk of legal issues.
- Improved Learning Experience: Creating an accessible course improves the learning experience for all learners, not just those with disabilities. Clear and concise language, descriptive links and headings, and keyboard-accessible content all contribute to a better user experience.
- Enhanced Learning: Accessible courses are designed to be inclusive and cater to the needs of all learners. By using UDL, you are creating a course that is flexible, adaptable, and suitable for a diverse range of learners. This enhances the learning experience and increases the likelihood of successful learning outcomes.
- Positive Reputation: Creating an accessible course demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and diversity, which can enhance the reputation of the course creator and institution. This can lead to positive feedback, increased enrollment, and better student outcomes.
In summary, using accessibility and UDL when creating a course as a digital learning designer has numerous benefits, including increased reach, compliance with legal requirements, improved user experience, enhanced learning, and a positive reputation.
Benefits for the learner
There are several benefits to learners when a digital learning designer uses accessibility and UDL when creating a course:
- Inclusivity: Accessibility and Universal Design Principles ensure that the course is inclusive and accessible to all learners, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. This means that learners with visual, hearing, or motor impairments, as well as those with learning disabilities, can also access and benefit from the course content.
- Better User Experience: An accessible course is designed with the learner in mind, with clear and concise language, descriptive links and headings, and keyboard-accessible content. This results in a better user experience for all learners, making it easier to navigate the course and complete learning activities.
- Flexibility and Adaptability: Universal Design Principles result in a course that is flexible and adaptable to the needs of all learners. This means that learners can choose the format that works best for them, whether it is audio, video, or text, and adapt the course to their individual needs and preferences.
- Increased Engagement: An accessible course is more engaging for all learners, with inclusive images and videos, interactive learning activities, and diverse representation. This leads to increased engagement and motivation to learn, resulting in better learning outcomes.
- Enhanced Learning: An accessible course is designed to be inclusive and cater to the needs of all learners, resulting in enhanced learning outcomes. By using accessibility and Universal Design Principles, the course is more effective in helping learners achieve their learning goals and objectives.
In summary, learners benefit greatly when a digital learning designer uses accessibility and Universalesign Principles when creating a course. They experience inclusivity, better user experience, flexibility and adaptability, increased engagement, and enhanced learning outcomes.
What are the Universal Design Principles For Learning?
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that helps digital learning designers create courses that are accessible to all learners, regardless of their abilities or learning styles.
There are three core principles of UDL:
Multiple Means of Representation:
This principle suggests that digital learning designers should provide multiple ways of presenting information so that all learners can access it. For this principle, learning designers need to consider
- Perception – user interface, audio-visuals with captions and imagery
- Language and symbols – translations, glossary of terms and mathematical formulae
- Comprehension – relating to prior information, using text for emphasis and descriptive instructions to help learners navigate the course material.
Example of application:
Digital learning designers can use closed captions and transcripts for videos, infographics, and images with text descriptions. They can also provide text summaries and audio descriptions of visual materials.
Multiple Means of Action and Expression:
This principle suggests that digital learning designers should provide multiple ways for learners to interact with the course content and demonstrate their knowledge.
For this principle, learning designers need to consider
- Physical action – multiple ways to access the course material that is in a mix of formats
- Expression and communication – different methods of submission for assignments, methods of communication during the lessons and course, and fluencies in different media
- Executive function – goal setting to make progress and learning easier, and space for learners to showcase their own work
Example of application:
Digital learning designers can provide a range of activities, such as quizzes, discussions, group projects, and simulations, that allow learners to engage with the course content in different ways. They can also allow learners to use assistive technologies, such as speech recognition software, to complete assignments.
Multiple Means of Engagement:
This principle suggests that digital learning designers should provide multiple ways to engage learners and motivate them to learn.
For this principle, learning designers need to consider
- Recruiting interest – a variety of learning and assessment formats
- Sustaining effort and commitment – learning outcomes, social learning and feedback
- Self-regulation – access to coaching and mentoring outside of the course
Example of application:
Digital learning designers can provide a range of options for learners to choose from, such as selecting their own topics for assignments, choosing their own pace of learning, and selecting activities that align with their interests. They can also provide clear instructions and support materials, and offer feedback and encouragement throughout the course.
Are there any legal requirements for the use of accessibility and Universal Design Principles?
The short answer is “Yes”.
There are legal requirements for digital learning courses to be accessible and designed with universal design principles.
- In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act require that digital learning materials be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Under the ADA, digital learning designers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities to ensure that they have equal access to the learning materials. This might include providing accessible course materials, such as text transcripts or closed captions for videos, or ensuring that the learning management system is compatible with assistive technologies.
- In the EU, The European Accessibility Act, which was adopted in 2019 and will enter into force in 2025, requires that products and services, including digital content, be made accessible to people with disabilities. This includes digital learning courses.
- In addition to the European Accessibility Act, there are also national laws and regulations in EU member states that require digital learning courses to be accessible and designed with universal design principles in mind.
- In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 sets out requirements for accessibility in the UK, including for digital learning materials. Under the Equality Act, digital learning designers are required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not at a disadvantage in accessing learning materials. This might include providing materials in alternative formats, such as audio or Braille, or ensuring that websites and digital platforms are compatible with assistive technologies, such as screen readers or magnifiers.
- In Ireland, there are several legal requirements for digital learning courses to be accessible and designed with universal design principles. The main legislation governing this area is the Disability Act 2005 and the European Union (Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications) Regulations 2020.
- The Disability Act 2005 requires public bodies, including education providers, to promote accessibility for people with disabilities in the provision of their services, including digital services. This means that digital learning courses offered by public bodies must be accessible to people with disabilities.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is a set of standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. However, it can be also used when designing digital learning and help designers provide more accessible learning experiences.
The guidelines provide a framework for creating content for all users, including those with disabilities such as blindness, low vision, deafness, hearing loss, cognitive limitations, and mobility impairments.
WCAG is organized around four principles:
- Perceivable: Content must be presented in a way that is perceivable by all users, including those with disabilities. This includes providing text alternatives for non-text content such as images, videos, and audio.
- Operable: The content must be operable by users with different abilities. This includes making it easy for users to navigate and interact with the content using keyboard-only access, and ensuring that users have enough time to read and understand the content.
- Understandable: The content must be presented in a way that is easy to understand by all users. This includes using simple and clear language, providing clear and consistent navigation, and making sure that instructions and feedback are easy to understand.
- Robust: The content must be developed using standard and stable technologies, to ensure that it can be accessed by a wide range of users, including those who use assistive technologies.
WCAG is organized into three levels of conformance: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. Level A includes the most basic requirements, while Level AAA includes the most stringent requirements.
The guidelines are not a legal requirement, but they are widely adopted by organizations and governments around the world to ensure that their websites are accessible to everyone.
Assistive Technology Tools
Explore the links below for some useful assistive technology tools.
AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) devices:
We’ve put together a university credit-rated curriculum that covers everything you need to know to become a certified Universal Designer.
There are no scheduled learning activities and interventions. You will receive support from a learning tutor to guide you through the process. The learning experience also includes networking with your peers on a social learning platform and practical project work. There are live virtual classrooms every two weeks for students going through the certification programme.
Click here to find out more.