“No Boundaries” Education
“No Boundaries” Education

Categories: Education

CAST Universal Design for Learning Logo
By Patricia K. Ralabate, Ed.D., Director of the National UDL Center, and David Gordon, Director of Communications at CAST and co-editor of A Policy Reader in Universal Design for Learning (with Jenna W. Gravel and Laura A. Schifter, Harvard Education Press, 2009)

In reading and reflecting on Disability.Blog’s No Boundaries Employment Series, we are inspired by the many stories of individuals who have overcome tremendous barriers to enjoy meaningful and productive careers. And we know that meaningful careers begin with excellent education for everyone – a “no boundaries” education.

The aspiration to expand learning opportunities for all individuals is gaining ground in education policy, practice and research through the growing field of universal design for learning (UDL). As Harvard Law School Dean and civil rights champion Martha L. Minow has written, “Universal design for learning is one of the few big and truly transformative ideas to emerge in education over the past two decades.”

What is UDL? In 2008, Congress defined UDL in the Higher Education Opportunity Act as “a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that (a) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and (b) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports and  challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.”

UDL originated at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), a nonprofit educational research and development (R&D) organization founded in 1984 near Boston. CAST’s early work in using new and specialized technologies to help individuals with disabilities overcome barriers in the classroom pointed to the need for a new view of disability in education.

CAST’s researchers began to see that the education system itself is “disabled” – not the students – because the system is not flexible and nimble enough to meet the needs of individual learners. After all, disability is just one of many factors along the spectrum of human variability that account for individual differences in the classroom. Many other factors (e.g., social, cultural, linguistic and emotional) must also be accounted for in the curriculum.

In the late 1990s, CAST’s researchers drew up the three UDL principles for designing educational environments that are flexible enough to be effective for everyone:

  1. The first principle has to do with the core of learning, which addresses why anyone cares, what motivates and engages us – this varies across individuals. Providing multiple means of engagement is needed to reach all learners.
  2. The second principle deals with how we present information to the learner. No one way of representing content works for everyone, so offering multiple means of representation is crucial.
  3. The third principle addresses how we ask learners to approach a learning task. Since learners vary widely in the way they do this, offering multiple means of action and expression is essential.

The UDL principles reflect new insights from neuroscience into the nature of learning differences and echo the universal design field in architecture. They also address a challenge posed by the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which called for making the general education curriculum accessible to all. How can this be done given the constraints of traditional schooling that are largely based on printed texts? It can’t. But a universally designed learning environment can help us meet that challenge.

In recent years CAST has expanded and deepened the three principles by developing guidelines and checkpoints for each one. These specific applications of UDL are being researched and applied in classrooms around the world, and this information is feeding into our refinement of the framework. At the same time, UDL has gain broader acceptance in policy, research and practice. The National Educational Technology Plan (2010) included a strong endorsement of UDL. The National Science Foundation (NSF), for example, has supported a research effort to develop science curricula that are universally designed for learning. UDL initiatives are also funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and many others.

Across North America, the number of state and district UDL initiatives is growing in K-12 and post-secondary settings. And since 2006, more than 45 U.S. organizations, representing general and special education, have banded together as the National UDL Task Force to advocate for including UDL in federal, state and local policy.

To learn more about UDL, visit the National UDL Center at http://www.udlcenter.org/. You can read more about the Guidelines, find practical examples and helpful videos of classroom implementation, as well as tools to advocate for more inclusive education, and join the conversation of advocates and educators at UDL Connect, where people meet to intelligently and passionately pursue a new kind of education – the kind with no boundaries.

Dr. Patricia Kelly Ralabate is the director of the National Center on UDL. In this role, she directs the development of the Center’s UDL Series and builds collaborative partnerships with individuals and national organizations interested in promoting UDL.

David Gordon leads CAST’s publishing projects, communications initiatives and other efforts to disseminate research in Universal Design for Learning.

14 Responses to “No Boundaries” Education

  1. Luis E. says:

    Appreciate you sharing, great post. Really, thank you! Cool.

  2. Carolyn M. says:

    I have been fortunate enough to get assistance from Voc. Rehab through Social Security’s Ticket to Work program. However, my problem has been getting the accomodations I need from my school. I have documention from two different professional sources stating that I require a specific accomodation in order to be able to succeed in school and the school I have been pursuing my degree program at says they can’t provide me with what I am requesting. Who do I go to for help? All I need is extended time to turn in assignments due to health issues and have been told by several resources that this is not an unreasonable accomodation to request especially considering my medical problems. As of now, I am stuck and just can’t complete my education.

  3. Disability.Blog Team says:

    Hi Lily,
    Unfortunately, Disability.gov cannot offer direct financial assistance, but we can point you toward resources that can help finance your schooling, such as scholarships https://www.disability.gov/education/financial_aid_%26_scholarships/scholarships , loans https://www.disability.gov/education/financial_aid_%26_scholarships/loans and grants https://www.disability.gov/education/financial_aid_%26_scholarships/grants
    Also, your state’s VR may be able to help you with job training and financial assistance to return to school. Find contact information by going to http://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/Programs/EROD/org_list.cfm?category_ID=SVR.

  4. Disability.Blog Team says:

    Sheri, Charlie and KL Love:
    Thank you for your feedback! Since much of the content on Disability.Blog is written by guest bloggers, we are going to begin to ask them to write their posts using “plain language” (http://www.plainlanguage.gov). In addition, if we receive guest posts we feel do not use the practices of plain language, such as short sentences and “everyday” words, we will edit those posts so that they do. Thank you very much for your suggestions, and for helping us improve Disability.Blog!
    The Disability.Blog Team

  5. Disability.Blog Team says:

    Hi KL Love,
    Thank you for your comment. Removing CAPTCHAs or replacing them with alternative CAPTCHAs that are accessible is the highest priority for our team at the moment. We have been working closely with our tech folks, and have found a solution. Currently it is on the testing platform, where a few technical issues are being worked out, and will hopefully be implemented very shortly. We too are very concerned that all people who want to not be denied the opportunity to comment on Disability.Blog. We promise to keep you updated on this effort!
    The Disability.Blog Team

  6. KL Love says:

    I don’t think it’s the one percent, I assume you are referring to the rich, that keeps the rest of us from having jobs. If people didn’t take it upon themselves to form and run corporations and small businesses that end up doing very well, then where would the rest of us work? All for the government?
    I don’t believe in the idea that because some people do very well for themselves, the less fortunate must suffer. I would agree that unscrupulous practices in the finance industries should be punished. And government bail outs should have had more stringent standards.

  7. g firchow says:

    I am interested in what this program can do for Charlie M. I read at a much higher level than third grade and am able as an adult to do many things, however in this economy without the benefit of a tailored resume, a network of fellows, or a government grant, I am subjected to the whim of the 1% and destined to an uncertain future. Timing and opportunity is key to a sustainable future work force, both of which have been removed by the 1%. Good luck, Charlie.

  8. KL Love says:

    I thought someone was supposed to look into removing captchas on here. It makes it difficult for an array of people (visually impaired, learning disabilities) to post comments. I don’t want to see someone blocked from communicating about their disability on here because of their disability.
    I would like to see at least alternative captchas provided. Please make this a top priority.

    • Penny says:

      Thank you so much for this article. We’ve been having problems getting our school to accept that my son has been diagnoised with Asperger’s, a form of Autism. I presented with the doctor’s notes and diagnoises, thinking that everything would be better. I couldn’t even get an ARD meeting. I’ve had to take care of all of my sons therapy and get my own training to be able to help him, myself and his teachers and I’m a single mom. No one was willing to tell me what was even available to my son to meet his needs. Thank you so much. Penny W.

      • Nong says:

        It’s more an amalgam of related stories, but school bullying, and particularly cyber-bullying, has been a huge media obsession this year. Also, the release of individual teacher value-added data in New York and California, though very recent, might rank up there, perhaps as part of the idea that accountability rhetoric is surging again (along with the familiar policy proposals for quick fixes and scapegoating of teachers).

  9. KL Love says:

    I agree with Charlie M. that these blogs should be easier to read. I was taught in college to write for people on a 4th grade reading level. As Charlie M. says, blogs posted on here are hard to read. The sentences are long and have a lot of big words, commas and transitions. Maybe posting more videos with blogs would help explain information to all disabilities better. (Charlie, I tried to write this post where it’s easy to understand. Hope it was).

  10. Charlie M. says:

    This is hard for me to read. I want to learn. I graduated from high school last year. I am trying to learn about what I might be able to do as an adult. I read at a third grade level. I have autism. I can learn when information is easy to read.

  11. Sheri M. says:

    It would be helpful to people with intellectual disabilities if this blog was written at a reading level congruent with the accepted definitions of intellectual disability.

  12. Lilly S. says:

    I am a 49 years old disabled individual who dreams about going back to school to become a vet. It’s almost impossible due to my financial situation. I can’t even afford paying for my medication…let alone school.
    Does your organization get involve to help people like me?
    Please help my dream come true….please.