Applying universal design standards to eLearning makes learning materials more accessible to those with disabilities (e.g. visual, hearing, motor, cognitive) and promotes learning across a wide spectrum of abilities, experiences, learning preferences, and language fluency. The Center for Universal Design (CUD) at North Carolina State University defines universal design as "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" (Principles of Universal Design)."
At its very core, universal design involves thinking comprehensively about the design of a product or environment and applying those thoughts to what one creates. An underlying assumption of universal design is that one should make their product or environment accessible to as many people as possible regardless of abilities, preferences, and address any potential barriers that may limit both access and usability. The table below highlights some false assumptions about universal design.
Misconceptions of Universal Design
- It's the same as 508 accessibility.
- 508 accessibility is a component of universal design. 508 or ADA accessibility refers to standards more specifically developed to meet the needs of people with disabilities whereas universal design considers a broader range of characteristics including disabilities, age, gender, stature, race/ethnicity, culture, native language, learning preference, and environment.
- It will cost too much.
- It depends. In some cases, the cost may be unaffected or even reduced due to more thoughtful and simple design requiring less maintenance. High costs are often associated with products that were not initially applying universal design as they need to be redesigned.
- It limits creativity.
- Creativity is often an important part of universal design since one must find ways to overcome challenges or barriers to access and use of a product while still making it engaging and effective.
- It's too complicated.
- Universal design aims to increase simplicity of design. While there are always some challenges associated with learning any new concept or practices, taking the time to understand and apply the principles of universal design will result in better eLearning content.
- It doesn't apply to my product.
- One should never assume that their product is the exception. Populations continue to grow and diversify, and while the need may not be immediate, products should be designed to also consider future implications.
Purpose of the Module
The purpose of the module is to familiarize faculty, staff, and other interested parties with the principles of universal design and how they apply to both web-based and computer-based eLearning content.
After completing this module, you will be able to:
- Identify the principles of universal design and how they pertain to the design of digital learning resources.
- Explain why keyboard accessibility is part of universal design
- Describe some important design considerations regarding screen reader compatibility
- Identify the key components involved in creating accesible eLearning content
- Discuss the components involved in writing content and presenting it with accessibility in mind
- List important accessibility and usability considerations involved when using visual illustrations and multimedia