Accessibility and Universal Design

What is Accessibility?

Federal law and CSU policy provides that no qualified individual with a disability be denied access to or participation in services, programs, and activities at San Diego State University. Instructional materials that are not accessible can actually impede student learning. Instructional materials in electronic form such as Microsoft Office documents, PDF documents, videos, online tutorials, and podcasts can be made accessible to students with disabilities.

Accessible Technology Initiative (ATI)

The CSU ATI, established in 2006, identifies three priority areas for campuses to deliver accessible websites and instructional materials, and procure technologies that meet accessibility requirements in order to ensure all students have equal access to education free from discrimination. SDSU is taking actions that significantly and expediently improve our capabilities and performance in delivering equally effective access to all students, including those with disabilities. For more information on ATI and Accessibility at SDSU please visit our Accessibility website.

What is Universal Design for Learning?

“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based framework for designing curricula—that is, educational goals, methods, materials, and assessments—that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. This is accomplished by simultaneously providing rich supports for learning and reducing barriers to the curriculum, while maintaining high achievement standards for all students.” (source: Center for Applied Special Technology -

Thus, UDL is not about altering standards, but rather providing multiple paths by which learners may acquire and demonstrate mastery of learning outcomes. For example, a student for whom English is a second language would benefit from the ability to both hear and read lecture content through podcasts with transcripts, and from the option of presenting projects orally or in written form.

CAST’s website provides a large body of empirical evidence that supports UDL principles.

From the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008...

The term Universal Design for Learning (UDL) means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that:

(A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and

(B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited in their English language proficiency.

Universal Design of Instruction

Sheryl Burgstaller, Director of the University of Washington's Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) Program, offers pragmatic steps and examples for the Universal Design of Instruction. These steps and examples are based on the following seven principles:

  1. Class climate. Adopt practices that reflect high values with respect to both diversity and inclusiveness. Example: Put a statement on your syllabus inviting students to meet with you to discuss disability-related accommodations and other special learning needs.
  2. Interaction. Encourage regular and effective interactions between students and the instructor and ensure that communication methods are accessible to all participants. Example: Assign group work for which learners must support each other and that places a high value on different skills and roles.
  3. Physical environments and products. Ensure that facilities, activities, materials, and equipment are physically accessible to and usable by all students, and that all potential student characteristics are addressed in safety considerations. Example: Develop safety procedures for all students, including those who are blind, deaf, or wheelchair users.
  4. Delivery methods. Use multiple, accessible instructional methods that are accessible to all learners. Example: Use multiple modes to deliver content; when possible allow students to choose from multiple options for learning; and motivate and engage students-consider lectures, collaborative learning options, hands-on activities, Internet-based communications, educational software, field work, and so forth.
  5. Information resources and technology. Ensure that course materials, notes, and other information resources are engaging, flexible, and accessible for all students. Example: Choose printed materials and prepare a syllabus early to allow students the option of beginning to read materials and work on assignments before the course begins. Allow adequate time to arrange for alternate formats, such as books in audio format.
  6. Feedback. Provide specific feedback on a regular basis. Example: Allow students to turn in parts of large projects for feedback before the final project is due.
  7. Assessment. Regularly assess student progress using multiple accessible methods and tools, and adjust instruction accordingly. Example: Assess group and cooperative performance, as well as individual achievement.
  8. Accommodation. Plan for accommodations for students whose needs are not met by the instructional design. Example: Know campus protocols for getting materials in alternate formats, rescheduling classroom locations, and arranging for other accommodations for students with disabilities.

What assistance does ITS provide?

  • Evaluation of course materials and media
  • Training on creation of accessible documents
  • Assistance finding accessible media
  • Recommendations for infusing UDL principles in your course
  • Assistance working with video and audio materials that need transcripts or captioning
  • Techniques for working with diverse learners and diverse learning styles

How do I get started?

Instructional Technology Services
Adams Humanities, 1st Floor
San Diego State University
5500 Campanile Dr.
San Diego, CA 92182-8114