Universal Design

Universal Design helps instructors implement their courses to be usable by all students, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaption or accommodation. Instructors using universal design increase usability, engagement, and access to content for everyone. Therefore, the goal of Universal Design is for instructors to use a variety of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning and give all students equal opportunities for success.

Universal Design Awareness Program

The purpose of the Universal Design Awareness Program is to help instructors learn about Course Content Accessibility Guidelines and become acquainted with universal design strategies to design course materials that meet the needs of all students. The program will provide instructors with information and strategies to create accessible instructional materials (Canvas pages, videos, slides, and documents) that will improve student engagement and learning in their courses. The goals of the Universal Design Awareness Program include:

  • Explore the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.
  • Establish a network of instructors (the Universal Design Champions) dedicated to improving course access.
  • Discuss universal design issues and develop a Universal Design Toolkit.
  • Use the Universal Design Toolkit to redesign instructional materials following Course Content Accessibility Guidelines.
  • Provide additional support and resources to advance universal design awareness throughout TWU.

Access and Accommodation

Access vs. Accommodation infographic to explain the difference between the two

Access signifies the degree that instructional materials are usable by as many people as possible, regardless of disability or assistive technology in your course. Access is the responsibility of instructors creating and teaching courses.

Accommodation is not the same as access. Accommodation means that some aspects of the instructional materials have to be adapted or modified to meet the needs of a specific individual. Accommodation is provided by the Disability Services for Students Office.

  • Access is not a discrete feature of an application. It is a process made up of many intentional design and development decisions, based on real-world practice, institutional policy, public standards, and awareness of the diversity of user experience. For example, an access strategy in a course would include closed captions for all videos providing both audio and text for learning. This helps a student with hearing loss who benefits by reading the text. In addition, all students benefit from both the audio and text being available allowing for multiple ways to comprehend the material. 
  • Accommodation are patches or fixes, applied retroactively to overcome what is not provided by access alone. For example, if an instructor distributes a print document in class, a low-vision student will not be able to read that document. In this case, accommodation would require the instructor or student to work with DSS to provide software that can read the document for the student.

Access and accommodation work together to provide an equitable experience for all students interacting with instructional materials in your courses.

Accessible Course Materials

Instructors have the primary and ultimate responsibility to ensure access to their course materials by every student in every course they teach. The information below will help instructors make intentional design and development decisions. For specific questions or support creating accessible course materials, contact your instructional design partner. Once you have designed and incorporated access to course materials for all students, TWU Disability Services (DSS) will work with you to provide any accommodation needed by individual students.

The Universal Design Toolkit

The Universal Design Toolkit is a set of simple principles to apply to your course materials that allows instructors to provide content that works for everyone. There are practices to follow for Documents and Presentations; Audio and Video; and Utilities and Tools.

Documents and Presentations

When instructors create documents and presentations that will go online in a course, access for all learners is required.  Any scanned documents need to be text-based. Instructional materials you create should utilize these accessibility practices:

  • Links or hyperlinks should incorporate descriptive text for screen readers.
  • Images should contain alternative text that describes the image.
  • Structure communicates the organization of the page content.
  • Tables should be used to present data and contain a header and description.
  • Color Contrast should exist between text and the document background.

NOTE: When possible create your document first in Word, with all the accessible features, then convert the file to PDF.

Audio and Video

Videos and other media should be produced and delivered in ways that ensure that all learners can access the content. Instructors are ultimately responsible for providing accurately captioned videos in all their courses. Review the following articles to learn more.

  • Audio and Video Resources - Depending on the type of audio or video resource, closed captions (a text version of the audio that is shown synchronized in the media player), transcripts (a separate text version of the audio), or audio descriptions of visual information (an additional audio stream that describes context essential for comprehension of the visual content) need to be available.
  •  Making Audio and Video Content Usable by All Learners - Instructors upload or create their own videos to use in their courses. Videos with audio require closed captions, or text displaying the audio content that is synchronized with the video. Closed captions are auto-generated in Panopto for the instructor using speech recognition software. You will use four specific captioning standards to edit auto-generated captions.

Utilities and Tools

Utility and tool programs for accessibility allows you to find accessibility issues, provide suggestions on how to correct the issues, or apply solutions to fix the issue. The Universal Design Toolkit currently contains two utilities:

  • Accessibility Checker - Many products used to create documents and presentations have built-in accessibility checkers such as Canvas and Microsoft Office. To learn more about running an accessibility checker in a specific product, visit our Accessibility Checker chart.
  • PDF to Text Conversion - Portable Document Format (PDF) files created using a scanner or copier are saved as images. If this PDF contains text, you are required to convert the PDF to text or character so that the PDF is searchable and compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers. Use Adobe Acrobat DC to convert the image to text.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II, gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities that guarantees equal opportunity of employment, public accommodations, transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunications.

The Rehabilitation Act Section 504 and Section 508 expand the application of the ADA to include all state, local, and federal government entities, including colleges and universities, both public and private. Section 504 clearly states that any organization which receives federal subsidies must accommodate people with disabilities; This includes making instructional course materials accessible, such as documents, images, and videos.

To learn more about protecting students with disabilities please visit the Disability Services for Students Office.

Page last updated 2:46 PM, June 23, 2020