UD2021 Conference update

People are gathered for morning tea outside the seminar rooms.
Break time at the 2018 UD conference in Brisbane.

The UD2021 conference is only a five weeks away. So let’s take a closer look at the diversity of speakers and their topics. They might be diverse, but they all have one thing in common – a passion for universal design. That’s why this UD2021 conference is considered a must for anyone interested in universal design and inclusive practice.

Keynote speakers

James Thurston from G3ict will be talking about inclusive smart cities. Philip Taylor will discuss the myths of older people and work; and Fiona Morrison will take us through her experiences of inclusive playspaces and open space.

The conference will be opened by Stefano Scalzo, Victorian Health and Building Authority executive general manager. He is an architect with more than 20 years’ experience in public sector projects, with particular expertise in the design of  healthcare projects. In 2015, he was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to investigate high-amenity mental health units designed over multiple levels.

Conference topics include:

    • The latest research on mobility scooters and  barriers to inclusion
    • Tackling housing design from policy and practice perspectives
    • Design of play spaces and the design process
    • Teaching and learning about universal design.
    • Design of transportation infrastructure and services

Cross cultural awareness, cognition, public toilets, communication and accessible events will also be covered in the program.

‘Table Topics’ lunchtime discussions provide a great opportunity for networking, This session is always popular with delegates as it takes place during the extended lunchtime on the first day. Topics include communication, public toilets, and good design.

There will be three workshops: childhood education and universal design for learning, creating short videos on universal design, and knowing your users and what they need. Tourism will also be the subject of a panel session and a case study on accessible holiday parks, Visit the conference website to register.

Dates: 17-18 May, Melbourne Showgrounds. Remember, CUDA members get a discount on registration. The ATSA Independent Living Expo is being held at the same venue 18-19 May – registration for the Expo is free. 


Universal Design Conference: Something for Everyone


Banner showing the title of the venue the Victoria Pavilion.

The theme for the 2021 Universal Design Conference ‘Thriving with Universal Design: Everyone, Everywhere, Everyday’ is reflected in the speaker program with topics relevant to government policy makers at all levels from built environment practitioners to designers and academics working in this field. Presenters at the conference come from academia, state and local government, architecture, education and community services. Overseas speakers originally scheduled for the 2020 date will be live-streamed to the venue.

Victorian Health and Building Authority executive general manager, Stefano Scalzo will open the conference. The Authority is responsible for planning and delivery of the Victorian Government’s multibillion-dollar health infrastructure program including $16.6 billion in managed assets and $7.84 billion in planning and delivery.

“Our work includes planning and building new hospitals and ambulance stations, aged care and mental health facilities, redeveloping existing hospital facilities, as well as replacing and upgrading engineering infrastructure and medical equipment,” Scalzo said.

Conference topics include:

    • The latest research on mobility scooters and how the built environment creates barriers to inclusion
    • Tackling housing design from policy and practice perspectives
    • Design of play spaces and the design process
    • Teaching and learning about universal design.

Cross cultural awareness, cognition, public toilets, communication and accessible events will also be covered in the speaker program.

‘Table Topics’ lunchtime discussions will provide a great opportunity for networking, Centre for Universal Design Australia chair, Dr Jane Bringolf told F2L. “This session is always popular with delegates as it takes place during the extended lunchtime on the first day.” An informal discussion in a small group, delegates take their lunch to the table with the discussion leader and topic that interests them.

“There will be three workshops: childhood education and universal design for learning, creating short videos on universal design and knowing your users.  Tourism will also be the subject of a panel session and a case study on accessible holiday parks,” she said.

Professor Philip Taylor from the Federation Business School, Federation University Australia and Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick will deliver a keynote on: ‘Debunking the Myths Around Ageing and Work’. Visit the conference website to register.

Banner for conference with a background aerial view of a city.The conference will take place on May 17-18 at the Melbourne Showgrounds and coincides with the ATSA Independent Living Expo, Australia’s largest display of assistive technologies. The Expo is free to attend, and delegates will have the opportunity to visit over 130 exhibits including those with new home modification options.


Better Placed: Action for Good Design

Front cover of Better Placed.Policies and guidelines can be inclusive and thoughtful without needing to even mention universal design. The NSW Government Architect’s policy, Better Placed, has many of the elements of universal design without mentioning it. 

A universal design approach to any design is about taking a holistic perspective. In the same way that level entry to a building is seamless, a policy that is truly inclusive just shows what needs to be done. The Better Placed objectives could easily be linked to the 8 Goals of universal design, which can be adapted to the language of any discipline. In this case it’s urban planning and infrastructure development. The key objectives of this integrated design policy for the built environment are:

    • Better fit
    • Better Performance
    • Better for community
    • Better for people
    • Better working
    • Better value
    • Better look and feel

The NSW Government Architect defines a well-designed built environment as healthy, responsive, integrated, equitable and resilient. 

The accompanying document, Implementing Good Design takes the ideas and turns them into actions. There’s an evaluation guide as well. 

Better Placed confirms our collective wishes for the future design of our infrastructure, architecture, and public spaces, and endorses the power of design to enable a better and resilient future for our communities. – Peter Poulet, former NSW Government Architect.

Toolkits for Action and Expression

Tools to support learner action and expression.
Build learners’ toolkits through broad opportunities for students to action and express their learning. Image by Slon Pics from Pixabay.

The third Universal Design for Learning principle, to provide multiple means for action and expression, considers options for the ways in which learners act upon and express their learning. Checkpoint 5.2 encourages educators to consider the tools learners use to build their toolkits for action and expression.

As educators, we are required to prepare our students for active participation in the world. CAST, the home of UDL, advise that providing access to more contemporary tools:

    • supports learners to be more prepared for their future
    • broadens the scope of content and methods that can be used in the teaching and learning process
    • increases opportunities for learners to express their knowledge and understanding
    • removes some of the barriers to learning that some students face, opening the door to success for a wider range of learners

Practical Strategies

Maths-related tasks: Provide either virtual or tangible manipulatives for students to construct their learning. Suggestions include MAB (Base Ten blocks), counters, algebra blocks, geoboards, number rods, abacus or Rekenrek. Students may also access, for example, a maths dictionary, graph paper and calculators.

To support language and written expressions tasks: Provide access to software that supports reading, spelling and writing success, including, for example, predictive text options, spelling and grammar checkers, text-to-speech and speech-to-text software. Other tools include any scaffolding tool, such as concept-maps, Venn diagrams, KWL charts, outline guides. Writing prompts, such as sizzling starts or sentence strips are valuable options.

For design and arts-based tasks: area-specific computer-assisted technologies, such as design layout software, editing and illustration applications, notation programs for music or maths, building or engineering software are some examples.

For expressing knowledge and understanding, generally: opportunities for video presentations, animations, infographics, creating wikis or a huge range of other web applications build a student’s repertoire of tools for acting on and expressing their learning.

Find other practical, easy-to-implement strategies for incorporating UDL strategies into learning engagements in the Universal Design for Learning section of this website.

Local Government Universal Design Network

Header for the sign up form for joining the netowork.Virginia Richardson is setting up a new universal design interest group for local government staff. This new network will enable like-minded people to share experiences and skills in universal design and inclusive practice.

Local government staff and others with an interest in local government are invited to join this new network. If you are interested in joining, Virginia asks that you complete the online form

The objectives of the Network are:

      • Greater understanding of how UD is being applied in a Local Government setting
      • Support for UD policies to be adopted by more Councils
      • Opportunities for shared professional development and capacity building
      • Potential for joint advocacy to improve State and Federal legislation

This is a great initiative by Virginia Richardson who works for the Mornington Peninsular Shire Council in Victoria. The acronym works too – LGUDN (elgood’n).

Editor’s note: It would be good to see more special interest groups and networks set up to help with the implementation of universal design across different fields of work. 


The real lives of online learners

Maslow's pyramid diagram of needs: at the bottom are physical needs, then safety and security, then love and belonging, rising to self esteem and at the pinnacle is self-actulisation.Online learning will continue to be an important way of teaching and studying. But little is understood about unintended consequences for some learners. Some will be left behind. Ready access to a computer or device and the internet is just the start. Anxiety about home backgrounds can prevent learners from turning on the camera. Lack of good housing and adequate food can also be an issue. If education systems are to be truly inclusive, the real lives of learners need to be factored into learning processes. 

Understanding the value of diversity, equity and inclusion is important for upcoming generations who will be tomorrow’s decision-makers. This is a key point made in an article from Arizona State University. The article discusses the issues within the context of changes brought about by the pandemic. There are interesting ideas that incorporate the real lives of learners and the diverse issues they have. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, they remind us that food and shelter are not a given for all learners.  Providing a place to sleep and eat is one example of assisting learners to complete their courses.  Other examples are included in the article. 

The title of the article is, Inclusive Campus Environments: An Untapped Resource for Fostering Learner Success  It is part of a series, Shaping the Futures of Learning in the Digital Age. 


The purpose of this paper is to consider new possibilities for higher education, where the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provide a framework for creating digital and physical environments that honor every learner’s unique lived experiences and support the expectations of learners for their individual life goals. Each learner brings their own unique lived experience; multi-level intersectionality; and cognitive and social learning variabilities to their educational journey. Many of these present obstacles to their realizing successful learning outcomes. Understanding the lived experiences in the learner’s journey and creating environments that remove barriers to learning requires a deep understanding of inclusion, which is central to the framework of UDL. How can we create a campus that promotes a sense of belonging, community, and well-being — a campus that has the potential to increase the number of learners who persist to completion? It begins with honoring the uniqueness of every learner.


Human-centred design playbook

Human-centred design is an approach to problem-solving that puts people at the heart of the process. It’s about empathy with users. This style of approach has the potential to generate more varied ideas for design solutions. It’s more than community engagement – it’s an collaborative and iterative design process. Collaboration and iteration are at the core of a universal design approach.

The Victorian Government’s human-centred design playbook was developed specifically for its staff – public servants. And not just those with job descriptions that are about policy, planning and design. 

The aim is to help staff collaborate better with the service design team, service designers, and external design agencies. The guide does some of the thinking in helping to assess options and practical steps for implementing the project.

Taking an iterative approach to design is at the heart of the process. “We iterate because we know that we won’t get it right the first time. Or even the second… it allows us to keep learning.”

At 100 pages covering methods, design plans, outputs and case studies this playbook has everything. The Digital, Design and Innovation branch of the Department of Premier and Cabinet produced the playbook. It is designed to be a starting point for planning and scoping design-based activities. 

You can download a copy of the playbook directly from the website. 


It’s All Double Dutch to Me

Instructions for use written in symbols which are hard to decipher.
It’s all double Dutch. Decoding symbols can be a barrier to learning. Image: Gerd Altman.

You are not a coder, but take a look at the ‘back-end’ of a website. You are not bilingual, but start reading Le Monde. You are not a mathematician, but explore algebraic geometry. You have few mechanical skills, but still attempt to follow a bicycle assembly manual…and you don’t get very far with any of these areas. Rather, you may think, “It’s all double Dutch to me!”

Double Dutch is speech or language that is difficult to understand or decipher. Spare a thought for students who do not possess prior knowledge or awareness of specific language or symbols used in learning. The English alphabet is a code of letters that symbolise specific sounds. The process of decoding an encoded language begins with reading and then decoding the symbols to Braille, for example. Similarly, recognising and understanding mathematical symbols can be highly challenging. For some learners, fluency in decoding does not occur quickly. This means the student has difficulty in accessing the learning. 

The lack of automaticity in decoding symbols creates an additional layer of cognitive load for the student. In turn, their ability to use their cognition on processing the learning or making meaning of it is limited.

To support learners’ acquisition of symbol knowledge and ability to use the coded language efficiently, students need consistent and meaningful exposure to symbols. Providing alternatives or adjustments to decoding supports students to access the learning and develop their knowledge and skills.

Tools to provide alternatives or adjustments include:

  • Text-to-Speech software
  • Glossaries or keyword lists
  • Alternative sources of information (diagrams, voice-over explanations, worked examples, graphic organisers, etc)
  • Automatic voicing for mathematical notation
  • Audiobooks
  • C-Pens

For a relatively small cost in time, effort or money, these tools and strategies can provide meaningful support for students to equitably access learning.

Find more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning in the Universal Design for Learning section of the Centre for Universal Design Australia’s website.

Access Insight newsletter: focus on parking

Front cover of magazine showing an accessible parking space.Accessible parking spaces are the focus in the latest issue of the access consultants newsletter. Each contributor offers a different perspective on the topic. Nick Morris gives a personal story, and Howard Mutrie and Eric Martin get technical with standards. Rachel Whymark discusses car parking related to Specialist Disability Accommodation. As with all standards there are always some anomalies and these are discussed.  

You can read the magazine online using ISSUU, or you can download the PDF version.  

You can also see back issues of the newsletter on the ACAA website


UDL: A practical guide

A row of female university graduates in gowns leap into the air with joy. The picture indicates their happiness in graduating.There is a myriad of academic papers on the topic of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). So it’s good to get some practical assistance from practitioners. A guide from Canada provides a great introduction for newcomers to the topic. The three key areas for designing learning are multiple means of:

    • engagement: the why of learning
    • representation: the what of learning
    • action and expression: the how of learning

The guide begins with a Quick Start, then looks at Opportunities and Challenges, User-Centred Design and Case Studies. It’s titled,  Universal Design for Learning: A Practical Guide.

The guide lives the message with easy to understand text and logical structure. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction: 

“Post-secondary instructors are facing more challenges nowadays because the student population is increasingly diverse. Students with diverse cultural backgrounds, skills, abilities, interests, experiences, and social-economic status require instructors to reflect on their teaching practices and adopt user-centred approaches for course design and delivery. But how do user-centred approaches look like in practice? And how can instructors deliver quality learning outcomes to maximum number of students? Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a curriculum design, development, and delivery framework that could help answer these questions.