Universal Design for eLearning

Universal Design is “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)

With respect to eLearning, Accessible Design refers to the planning, development and implementation of courses to be inherently accessible to students with a wide range of abilities, including students with disabilities.

From Universal to Accessible Design

Universal Design consists of seven principles, illustrated below. When we apply the principles of Universal Design to course design and development, the result is Universal Access.

Course Development + Universal Design = Universal Access

A course that has Universal Access is considered to be Accessibly Designed.

Universal Access = Accessible Design

Information on this site and on the Office of Mediated Education's Universal Design site will assist you in creating Universally Accessible eLearning. The OME site also provides more information on Universal Design history and levels of usage.

Seven Principles of Universal Design

Universal Design consists of seven principles: Equitable Use, Flexibility in Use, Simple and Intuitive, Perceptible Use, Tolerance for Error, Low Physical Effort, and Size and Space for Approach and Use. These principles are illustrated below.

1. Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

Shoppers exiting a grocery store through the automatic doors.  One shopper walks, pushing a shopping cart; the other uses a wheelchair.

As you can see, the universally-designed automatic doors are helpful to the wheelchair user and to the shopper walking and pushing a cart. How many times have you chosen to use the automatic doors because they are convenient - when your hands are full of bags, boxes, or children? This design benefits a universal audience.

2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

Alternate scissor design made to function equally well for both right and left- handed people.

The scissors shown in this picture are neither left- or right- hand specific; they can be used by either.

3. Simple and Intuitive: The use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.

A good example is the Google Search Engine. Google's interface page is simple and uncluttered; it is easy to discern how to use the page and where to find the links. Advanced links are readily available but do not compete for a user's attention.

4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.

Screen capture of a web page with text links allowing the user to skip navigation, navigate to the site map, or search the web site.

These text links are visible to a screen reader user, who can then skip repetative navigation or link to a site map, where site content will be easier to peruse. This is accomplished without taking a lot of screen real estate.

5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

Screen capture of the Undo Typing option in Micrsoft Word.

Most programs offer the user a way to "undo" mistakes, whether that mistake was the result of accidentally hitting the delete key due to a mobility impairment or spilling one's coffee. It's quite likely that anyone using a computer uses this option on a fairly regular basis.

6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with a minimum of fatigue.

Closeup of a person using a closed fist pressing down on an accessible, lever door handle.

This door handle is accessible to persons with mobility impairments who cannot grasp and turn a knob-type handle. It does not interfere with door opening for others and in fact, may be useful to persons who simply have their hands full.

7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user's body size, posture, or mobility.

Person in a wheelchair going through turnstile.  The ticket slot is at a level comfortable for the wheelchair user to reach.

Not only is the turnstile wide enough, in this image, for the person in the wheelchair to easily navigate through it, the ticket slot is low enough to be comfortable for the wheelchair user to reach, but also comfortable for standing users as well.