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Considering the sensory and social needs of disabled students in higher education: A call to return to the roots of universal design

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-04-08, 08:13 authored by ANN-MARIE CREAVENANN-MARIE CREAVEN

Universal Design for Learning is a pedagogical approach that aims ‘to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn’ (CAST website, n.d.). Originating in the context of K12 education in the United States, the core principles involve the provision of multiple means of representation, engagement, and action/expression. Despite high instructor satisfaction with UDL, evidence of effectiveness for students’ learning is insufficient. Effectiveness aside, the purpose of this policy research note is to describe additional issues in UDL specifically relating to disabled students. First, I argue that the core tenet of UDL to meet all learners’ needs by emphasizing variability in approaches to learning (and consequently avoiding reference to ‘disability’) may inadvertently marginalize disabled students. Second, I argue that the focus on instructional design as a panacea to meet the needs of ‘all people’, including disabled students, is insufficient. This potentially distracts well-intentioned educators from more substantive challenges experienced by disabled students, relating to the built environment. Until the sensory and social needs of disabled students are met, instructional approaches like UDL cannot provide an equitable learning experience for many disabled students. Therefore, I argue that higher education leaders should attend to the sensory and social environments of university campuses before retrofitting inclusive pedagogies to the current typical university campus.



Policy Futures in Education pp.1-8



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Science Foundation Ireland.

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