Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has many followers with much academic writing and conferences about the topic. Indeed, Google searches on “universal design” usually bring up more items on UDL than any other topic.
Matt Capp provides an Australian perspective in “Is your planning inclusive? The universal design for learning framework for an Australian context”. The paper published in Australian Educational Leader can be downloaded from Informit, but it will require institutional access for a free view. UDL can be applied across all learning situations and people of any age.
Capp’s key message is similar to that when designing the built environment: design at the beginning – don’t try to add it in later. It’s too messy and time consuming.
In June 1994 the Salamanca Statement called for inclusion to be the norm for students with disability. Goal one of the Melbourne Declaration aims to provide all students, including students with disability, access to high-quality schooling. The Declaration also seeks to reduce the effect of disadvantage, such as disability, on students. Unfortunately, this is not always the reality in Australian schools.
Long standing schooling practices are ineffective for some groups of students, and continuing to do what we have always done will perpetuate rather than eliminate the achievement gap (Edyburn, 2006). One solution to addressing the needs of diverse learners, such as students with disability, is the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.
UDL as a set of principles allows teachers to develop inclusive lessons by planning to the edges of a class, rather than to a core group of learners. Supports and scaffolds are proactively built into the instructional methods and learning materials enabling all learners’ full participation in the curriculum (Hitchcock, 2001).
Retrospectively fitting lesson plans with adjustments based on flawed assumptions about the homogeneity of a core group of students consumes much time, and money, with only modest effectiveness. These retrospective adjustments are only the first step towards inclusion (Edyburn, 2006; Hitchcock, Meyer, Rose, Jackson, 2002). By being ‘smart from the start,’ UDL allows classroom teachers to develop lesson plans that are inclusive for all students.