Circular tables in a classroom.


Universal Instructional Design (UID) is an educational design approach that seeks to provide access to learning for all students. By considering the potential needs of all learners, UID recognizes and removes barriers that impede learning (Burgstahler, 2015; Davis, 2010).

Accordingly, UID is a proactive course design method that seeks to benefit all students. For example, close captioning on all video lectures provides greater access is available for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, those whose first language is not English, as well as greater clarity of content for the wider student body.

This is similar to what architects have in mind when designing a building with entrances at ground level. The integration of such entrances not only benefits people who use wheelchairs for mobility, but also parents with strollers, those who use a walker or cane, those who have difficulty climbing stairs and ramps, etc. Not surprisingly, UID originated from the building concept of universal design (Mace, 1991). For the educator and the architect committed to universal design, equity means access for all, whether it is providing equitable access to education or providing access to components of a neighbourhood.

The seven principles of UID

Principle Suggested Strategies
Accessible Instructions and resources should be accessible and valuable to all students. Present teaching strategies and resources that all students will be able to use, and, when necessary, make available alternative methods and resources for meeting the goals for the course.
Flexible Provide flexibility in how students engage in a course by offering course resources in different forms.
Clear & Consistent Course materials should be presented in an easy to use format, using clear language that is free of jargon.
Explicit All course materials should be delivered in an accessible manner to students with various sensory abilities (visual, auditory, tactile).
Supportive Teaching strategies and course structure should be designed with all students in mind. Create an atmosphere that is welcoming and inclusive.
Minimize unnecessary tasks and requirements To make the most effective use of students’ time, design your course to focus on tasks that maximize learning, avoiding unnecessary administrative tasks (for example, photocopying).
Sufficient space Confirm that the space and equipment in your classroom, lab, or lecture hall will accommodate all of your students’ physical requirements.

Assessment for all students

An important distinction when considering the assessment of students is considering the difference between equal and equitable treatment. Treating all of your students, with a diverse range of abilities, the same is not equitable or just. By providing different forms of assessment, barriers to learning may be removed and all students are given an equitable chance to be successful.

Assessment Strategies

  • From the outset of the course clearly communicate all assignments and assessment tools through your syllabus and other related materials. Provide a clear explanation at the beginning of the course and throughout the term as assignments and tests approach.
  • Make use of different types of assessment to more accurately assess learning, ensuring that the types of assessment are connected to the learning goals of your course.
  • Offer different assignment formats when it is suitable. For example, allow students the choice between a service learning group project in the community or an individual academic essay.
  • Provide practice questions or examples in preparation for an upcoming test.
  • Allow for ample time to complete readings, assignments, and tests.
  • Use a variety of assessment tools and avoid allocating a heavily weighted component, for example, a final exam representing 50% of the final grade.
  • Provide ongoing (formative) and prompt feedback on assignments, such as constructive and encouraging comments on first draft papers (ungraded). This often represents the largest impact on learning a post-secondary teacher has on their students.
  • Offer helpful examples of assignments whenever possible.
  • Break down larger assignments into smaller tasks for submission (components of a research paper)

Technology Tips

As previously noted, the accessibility principle of UID recommends that course resources be accessible to all students. Several features within UM Learn can help to meet accessibility: ReadSpeaker is a text-to-speech technology that will read content, whether a PDF, Word, or html file, aloud to students. For html files in UM Learn, the content tool has an accessibility checker to determine if the file meets accessibility standards. You can also use Panorama, an accessibility tool checks how accessible files are and supplies accessible alternative formats for all files including accessible PDF, high contrast, text to speech, braille and audio files.


Student Accessibility Services

Student Accessibility Services strives to use Universal Design principles as a guiding force for the office.

“Universal Design is 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.”

“Universal Instructional Design (UID) is the process that involves considering the potential needs of all learners when designing and delivering instruction.”

Wherever possible, Student Accessibility Services tries to incorporate the seven principles of UID at the University of Manitoba. The seven principles are:

  1. Be accessible and fair,
  2. Be flexible,
  3. Be straightforward and consistent and,
  4. Be explicit,
  5. Be supportive,
  6. Minimize unnecessary physical effort, and
  7. Accommodate students and multiple teaching methods.
As the guiding principles for Student Accessibility Services, Student Accessibility Services strives to assist the University community to consider design of places, spaces, course material and online content at the outset to include and be welcoming to all UM learners, students, academic staff members and staff.

University of Manitoba’s Student Accessibility Services Handbook for Faculty and Staff

This handbook is intended as an information and resource guide for academic staff members at the University of Manitoba. It may also be a useful guide for senior and academic administrators and members of staff who wish to learn more about services at the University for students with disabilities.

Besides describing Student Accessibility Services (SAS) procedures and supports for students, the handbook also emphasizes the need for all members of the University community – students, academic staff members, staff and administrators – to be responsible for the accommodation of students with disabilities and to assist in the societal task of eliminating all types of environmental barriers to education for students with disabilities.

“We are not alone in our desire to assist persons with disabilities in their search for independence, self-respect, and hope for a better future.”

Video presentations

The following video presentations are freely available online. They are useful for self-instruction and professional development.

Best Practices Through Universal Design for Learning

Equal Access: Student Services

Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs

Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction

Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone

Self-Examination: How Accessible is Your Campus

Universal Design

Universal Design Applications in Biology

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design and Online Accessibility

Universal Learning Design: Empowering the Next Generation

Why Universal Design in an Educational Setting?

World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design

Introduction to Panorama Accessibility Tool 

* Burgstahler, S. (2013). Websites, Publications, and Videos. In S. Burgstahler (Ed.). Universal design in higher education: Promising practices. Seattle: DO-IT, University of Washington.


Burgstahler, S. (Ed.). (2015). Universal design in higher education: From principles to practice (Second ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Burgstahler, S. (2013). Introduction to universal design in higher education. In S. Burgstahler (Ed.). Universal design in higher education: Promising practices. Seattle: DO-IT, University of Washington.

Davis, B. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mace, R., Barrier Free Environments, inc, & National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation Research. (1991). The Accessible housing design file. New York, NY: J. Wiley.