An occupational therapist’s view of UDL

A young woman is sitting with piles of books and is frowning. Special arrangements for university students who identify as having a disability is not an inclusive response. Hence many will try to manage without the assistance available to them. But taking a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach can provide both assistance and inclusion. A thoughtful article by Bethan Collins provides an occupational therapist’s view of UDL and the benefits for all. 

Collins writes from her experience as a disability officer with a university.  Students struggle for a variety of reasons such an inaccessibility of classrooms and reading material. The social aspects are essential for group work and discussion sessions but often disregarded. And of course, if one aspect of learning is a struggle it reflects on other aspects. 

Occupational therapists understand the importance of meaningful activity, not just doing the task. Collins makes the point that the three tenets of UDL are a good start, but the importance of the activities around learning are not discussed. 

UDL fits well with occupational therapy philosophy. Each client is treated as an individual with personal goals. Choice in how to do something is key. 

As a disabled student, occupational therapist and lecturer, Collins concludes with,

“… that there is a very important place for an inclusive curriculum (based on UDL) and also that we, occupational therapists, are in an excellent position to promote this approach.

The title of the short article is, Universal design for learning: What occupational therapy can contribute. The article shows how UDL and occupational therapy work hand in hand. The Universal Design for Learning section of this website has more on the topic. 

Interoception: A universal design approach

Interoception is an internal sensory system where you notice physical and emotional cues. Most people develop this system and gain awareness of their internal cues as they grow up. But not everyone does. Dr Emma Goodall’s workshop, Interoception: A universal design approach, enlightened us and linked it to universal design in learning (UDL).

Emma explained how poor awareness or misinterpretation of our internal body state, like feeling thirsty or hot, makes it difficult to regulate our emotions and behaviour. Then she took us through some interoception activities so that we were all able to notice our own bodies.

One of the slides showing atypical interoception and difficulty noticing body signals, and difficulty interpreting them.
One of Emma Goodall’s slides showing atypical interoception.

After understanding the theory and having a practice, we were able to consider interoception in our own lives and apply it in other settings. It is particularly useful for teachers of school children who have difficulty learning. Emma explained how students and teachers are more engaged at school and there are fewer suspensions and exclusions. 

Emma made the point that when children and young people have not yet developed interoception skills they will struggle with their emotions and with social interactions. Even just being around others may be difficult for them to manage. This will, of course, affect their ability to learn in and out of school.

Presentation slides and paper

The slides from Emma’s presentation give an overview of interoception and how it applies to children and young people. The title of her presentation is, Interoception as a universal design for learning strategy to support well-being and engagement in learning in education for all children and young people.

There is more in Emma’s published paper where she explains how educators, families and other professionals can implement interoception activities. Other contexts where it is useful is the justice system, mental health and aged care. 

Emma has more resources and information on the Positive Partnerships website

Post by Dr Emily Steel

UD, UDL, Accessibility and Ableism

A graphic showing a laptop with a green screen and several smart phones around it also with green screens. It is indicating that they are all connected.Access to information during the COVID-19 pandemic became even more problematic for some users as everything went online. So what can UD, UDL and Accessibility do to help to combat ableism?

An article by John L. O’Neill discusses Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning and Inclusive Design. In this context, the concept of Inclusive Design has a focus on the digital world. He covers the history of each, much of which will be known to UD followers. O’Neill argues that all three can be combined in innovative ways to ensure access to information. This is logical because each has the same goal – inclusion. He uses a case study where he merges the UD principle of perceptible information, the tenet of multiple means of representation from UDL, and adaptive systems from Inclusive Design. This perspective is given the title of “Abilities Design”.

O’Neill claims ableism underpins barriers and that undoing ableism is not a form of charity. Legislation that requires access and accessibility does little to change ableist attitudes.

The title of the article is, Accessibility for All Abilities: How Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design Combat Inaccessibility and Ableism

Editor’s Note: I am not sure that inventing another design category based on inclusion takes us any further forward. However, it is an example of how designers new to inclusive concepts can use existing frameworks to help their design process.

From the Abstract

Discussions about accessibility surged at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as people became more dependent on accessing information from the web. This article will explore different disability models to understand the oppression of people with disabilities. It will examine how the different principles and methods of Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design can be combined in innovative ways to ensure that all citizens have access to information without barriers.

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. 

Sound Advice!

Sound Advice: ET, the ExtraTerrestrial wrapped in a white blanket standing against a backdrop of a starry night sky.
Sound is fundamental to both films and learning but alternatives or supplementary supports must be provided. Source: Couleur from Pixabay

Did you know, that according to Empireonline.com, an ice-cream cone was used to produce the sound of raptors hatching in the film, Jurassic Park? Or that jelly, popcorn and liver were used to create the sound of ET’s movement in the film of the same name?

Auditory input is integral to most films, so too is it an important part of learning and teaching. It helps explain learning content and express emotion. However, for some learners, processing auditory information is challenging or impractical. Challenges may stem from hearing impairment, competing sources of auditory information (eg background noise, multiple people speaking at the same time, music, etc), the location of the learner (eg on the train), the time it takes to process auditory information or even difficulties with memory, so here is some sound advice!

Practical Strategies

Awareness of these potential barriers allows educators to provide alternatives or supplements to auditory information. Captioning videos is a relatively simple way to allow an alternative to auditory information. Speech-to-text options also serve this purpose. Transcripts of lessons or seminars provide an alternative, too.

To supplement auditory information, enhance learning with visuals. These may include posters, infographics, diagrams, illustrations, photos or notations of music and other sounds. Making use of symbols and emoticons to supplement auditory information is another option. Where required, sign language and braille options must be considered.

Other visual and tactile information serves to supplement auditory information, too. Consider the ‘yellow line’ on a train platform. In addition to announcements over the intercom to stand behind the yellow line, train stations have signage sharing the message and tactile ground surface indicators (the rows of slightly raised circular markers). The provision of auditory, visual and tactile messaging serves to reduce barriers to understanding.

Find more sound advice to reduce barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

UDL in Occupational Therapy Education

A young man with crutches walks through a door held open by a clinician.Occupational therapists work with just about every human condition you can think of. Their clientele is diverse, but are their professional teaching methods suited to a diverse population? This question is the subject of a new article from the United States.

The article reports on a survey of occupational therapy (OT) educators. They found that while most respondents knew about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), less than half could define it. 

The article discusses how the respondents fared with the three tenets of UDL: multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression. They found that OT assistant education used some UDL techniques such as games, feedback and incentives. These strategies were not evident at higher education levels. 

OT educators focus is on ensuring all content is delivered. That’s because the content covers such a broad spectrum and is subject to accreditation standards. However, the American Occupational Therapy Association has identified research priorities to find teaching methods that maximise learning for practitioners.

The authors sum up that with the recent pandemic the “need for a greater understanding and implementation of UDL tenets is more important than ever.” It will ensure today’s students become competent practitioners.

The title of the article is, Implementation of UDL in Occupational Therapy Education. It is open access.

Abstract: This exploratory research surveyed educators’ use of universal design for learning (UDL) in occupational therapy education. Most common methods of engagement were displaying enthusiasm, providing examples, and offering learner feedback; representation was primarily offered through class discussion, lab experiences, and images; methods of action or expression were most frequently class discussion, projects, practicums and tests. The type of program, years of educators’ clinical experience and faculty rank influenced some factors of UDL implementation. Further use of UDL principles that could facilitate improved learning outcomes of diverse learners within occupational therapy education is discussed.

A short article by Bethan Collins looks at both sides of UDL – for OTs and for clients.

Higher Education: Digital equity and autism

A view of Griffith University building which is new and about seven storeys high.Beware the diagnosis – it leads to stereotypes and misplaced assumptions. This was one of the findings from a research project at Griffith University. A common assumption is that people with autism find it difficult or stressful in social situations. For example, university discussion groups and making presentations. An assumption that follows is online learning would be their preferred learning method. Turns out this is not the case. Indeed, they had difficulty with online content for three key reasons. And these are also experienced by neurotypical students:

    1. Students had problems identifying which parts of the online content were most important
    2. They needed clarification of content by instructors to aid their online learning
    3. Students found it helpful when the instructor communicated links between content across the weeks or modules. 

So, the diagnosis is not the person. The research paper includes a literature review and a survey of students who identified as having autism. The paper has much useful information regarding the design of teaching and learning. The major point is that what’s good for students with autism is good for everyone. 

The title of the study is, “Online learning for university students on the autism spectrum: A systematic review and questionnaire study”. It was published in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology – special issue: Digital Equity. It’s open access.

Abstract: Online course delivery is increasingly being used by universities to deliver accessible and flexible learning environments. As this mode of delivery grows it is important to consider the equity of the learning experience for all students. As online delivery may reduce challenges and stressors present in face-to-face delivery, it could be suggested that it may promote student learning for specific student groups, including those with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. However, little is known about the experience of learning online for students on the autism spectrum. This article presents findings from two studies: a systematic review of the literature and a survey of students on the autism spectrum studying online. From the systematic literature review, only four previous studies were identified reporting on this topic. Findings from two studies identified that the online environment provided both facilitators of and barriers to the learning experience for students on the autism spectrum. Although the online environment provided flexibility for learning, how design factors are employed in online delivery may unintentionally create barriers to the learning experience for students on the spectrum. An outcome from this study has been the creation of a suite of resources to assist with course design and delivery. Implications for practice or policy:

•  Consider the impact of course design on students with diverse learning profiles.
•  Not all students disclose their diagnosis, so ensure methods of accessing support are clear.
•  Work proactively to ensure that interactions with instructors and are responsive and flexible to facilitate the online learning of all students.  

Moves to online instruction: accessibility cheat sheet

A computer screen shows a man in a blue jacket standing in front of a blackboard.The sudden move to online instruction runs the risk of forgetting accessibility features. A cheat sheet on making a quick move to online instruction has some handy tips. Some are obvious, but of course, they are obvious once they are mentioned. Basics such as, make sure you don’t have a bright light behind you. But other tips are not so obvious for accessible online instruction:

– Don’t try to do anything you are not comfortable with
– Focus on the essential learning
– Keep lectures shorter
– Make documents accessible and caption videos
– Allow a range of assignment options
– Find ways to work out what works and what doesn’t
– Make expectations clear

This one pager has a brief explanation on each of the tips and should help give confidence to instructors making the change. Many tips are good for video meetings as well. The cheat sheet comes from Disability Compliance for Higher Education. 

 

UDL vs Special Ed: Is inclusive education achievable?

A boy wearing a grey hoodie is wearing glasses and holding a pencil. He is sitting at his desk in the classroom. Other children are in the background.There are two points of view about universal design in learning (UDL). Some say it is the way to go, but others say it is not in the best interests of children. An article in the Irish Times presents both views. The National Council for Special Education supports the inclusive approach and cites the model developed in New Brunswick, Canada. Learning together helps create an inclusive society – it’s not just about education itself. Segregated children become segregated adults. 

The general secretary of a Catholic schools association makes the case against inclusion and maintaining segregated learning situations. He points to some of the issues not addressed by proponents of the New Brunswick model. These appear to be more on the basis of a philosophy not being a teaching method.

The National Council for Special Education is looking at the issues closely. In their Policy Advice on Special Schools and Classes, they explain the background work they have done on this topic in preparation for their report to the UN in 2020. This is a good reference document for anyone wanting to know more about the UDL approach to school learning.

Incidentally, UDL in higher education is taking off. To an outsider, it is not clear why schools are not following suit. Both institutions are obligated under the UN Convention to establish inclusive education. 

The Iris Times article is titled, Is Ireland at a Crossroads of Inclusive Education?  An article of the same name can be found on EBSCO Information Services by the Irish Association of Teachers in Special Education.

Not sure what UDL is about?  Have a look at CAST information – it is a leader in this field or go to their website for more. There are related posts on UDL in the UD for Learning section on the left hand menu of this site.

 

Videoconferencing: Zoom in to hear

Nine people are shown on a computer monitor.Online communication is great for staying connected, but it is not kind to people with hearing loss. A great blog post gives some excellent tips that everyone should consider when using Zoom. You just don’t know who in your group is finding it difficult to hear. There are two main issues: One is clarity of speech due to inadequate microphone, sitting too far away from the screen, background noise and/or the echo from the room (like the bathroom sound). The other is the delay between sound and vision so lip reading is impossible. And of course, talking across each other because of the transmission delay.

The blog post, Making the Most of Zoom, explains how the features can be used to best advantage for everyone to hear what’s going on. For example – how to change the video layout so that the active speaker is the largest view to make lip reading easier. Using the chat facility, lighting, muting when not speaking, and using the wave-hand function to get heard in turn. While this is focused on Zoom, many of the tips can be applied to other online apps and programs. There are links in the article to other resources and Zoom information.

You might also be interested in The Conversation article, How to help students with hearing impairment as courses move online