UDL Through Real-World Examples

Sesame Street characters dancing in the street.
Sesame Street promotes diversity and inclusion. Image: ScribblingGeek on Pixabay.

Introducing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into education settings is often met with a murmur of, “Oh no, something else that has to be done.” School teachers, early childhood educators and university academics all carry an extraordinary load. Taking on something new can feel burdensome, at times. One strategy to help this be less so, is to illustrate concepts of UDL through real-world examples.

This post, and a collection of future posts, will draw attention to principles of UDL in everyday life and pop culture.  And where better to start than with the Sesame Street?

Sesame Street and UDL

Features of Sesame Street relate to several the UDL checkpoints. This post explores Sesame Street and UDL Checkpoint 7.2, Engagement through optimising relevance, value, and authenticity.

For more than 50 years, Sesame Street has been entertaining children with an educational focus. Throughout its long history, it constantly sought to represent all people, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Just as UDL aims to make education inclusive and accessible, so too does Sesame Street.

Sesame Street creates its program to be appropriate for different racial, cultural and ethnic groups. Teaching about racial difference is one example, through its multi-coloured Muppets, and then more explicitly with the introduction of black characters.

Cultural responsiveness is shown through different focal points for different countries. Kami, a Muppet in the South African series, is HIV positive. His representation aims to support people to recognise themselves or promote understanding of others. Kami’s friends make explicit that HIV cannot be spread by touch or by being friends with someone who is HIV positive.

In the Nigerian series, the focus moves to religious and ethnic diversity. Diverse religious iconography, food, names and clothing have all been included to promote cultural responsiveness and relevance.

Creating a range of Muppets with diverse characteristics, such as Julia, being on the autism spectrum, characters having mixed race relationships, and, for example, characters with physical or neurological disabilities promotes personalisation and contextualisation, ensuring the lessons learnt through Sesame Street are relevant and valuable to its viewers.

Relating strongly to Checkpoint 7.2 of the UDL guidelines, these features of the Sesame Street characters help optimise relevance and authenticity. Through making its characters representative of the broader community, Sesame Street increases accessibility through diversity and inclusion – a great illustration for consideration in our formal education contexts.

See more of Lizzie’s posts on UDL for specific teaching and learning strategies. 

Visit the Universal Design for Learning section of this website for more information on UDL.

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