ERIC Identifier: ED459548
Publication Date: 2001-11-00
Author: Shaw, Stan F. - Scott, Sally S. - McGuire, Joan M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
Teaching College Students with Learning Disabilities. ERIC
During the last quarter century, the concepts of mainstreaming, least
restrictive environment and inclusion encouraged public schools to serve more
students with disabilities in K-12 general education classes, and there has been
a corresponding increase in the number of students with disabilities who attend
college. At the college level, issues in educating students with disabilities
are often different than those affecting K-12 education, and the instructional
climate is changing. Taken together, these trends call for a more systematic
method of accommodating diverse learning needs. This digest presents the issues
and offers a practical approach to improving instruction for students with
learning disabilities (LD).
DISABILITY LAW AT THE COLLEGE LEVEL IS NOT AS
At the college level, the prescriptive Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is not applicable. While two civil rights
laws, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA), provide for equal access for "otherwise qualified"
students with disabilities, exactly how equal access applies to instruction is
less clear (Brinckerhoff, McGuire & Shaw, 2002).
THE INSTRUCTIONAL CLIMATE IN HIGHER EDUCATION IS
Traditionally, many college professors have emphasized content over
pedagogy, raising concerns about their knowledge of effective instructional
strategies, especially for students with disabilities. In the 21st century an
increased emphasis on pedagogy in higher education is creating opportunities to
improve instruction for college students with LD. A high rate of faculty
turnover has been projected for this decade (Magner, 2000), offering an
opportunity for new faculty to enter academia at a time when teaching skills are
valued. Additionally, information technology can support instructional
approaches previously not feasible in the college classroom. Effective
instruction by faculty is now viewed as a critical element in the accessibility
of learning environments (Scott & Gregg, 2000). In many colleges a major
role of Disability Services personnel is to collaborate with faculty to help
students become self-determined, independent learners (Shaw & Dukes, 2001).
With more students with LD attending college and a mixed level of pedagogical
expertise among faculty, expecting faculty to make individual modifications and
accommodations can be problematic. A more systematic method of meeting the needs
of diverse learners is required, and Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) is
such a model.
UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR INSTRUCTION
The general concept of
Universal Design (UD) includes a specific set of principles to systematically
incorporate accessible features into a design instead of retrofitting changes or
accommodations. As applied in the field of architecture, UD results in the
creation of environments and products that are as usable as possible by a
diverse range of individuals. Building on the framework of UD and its principles
(Follette, Story, Mueller, & Mace, 1998), UDI anticipates the needs of
diverse learners and incorporates effective strategies into curriculum and
instruction to make learning more accessible. By focusing on methods and
strategies that promote learning for all students, UDI embraces an inclusionary
approach that enables students with disabilities to overcome some of their
barriers to learning.
When the principles of UD are adapted to reflect the instructional practices
that have been acknowledged as effective with students with LD, a more inclusive
paradigm for teaching emerges. UDI provides a conceptual framework for thinking
about access and inclusion for diverse individuals.
PRINCIPLES OF UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR INSTRUCTION
framework (adapted from Principles of Universal Design for Instruction by Sally
Scott, Joan McGuire and Stan Shaw (2001). Center on Postsecondary Education and
Disability, University of Connecticut. Users of this digest may copy and
disseminate this information with the provision that they credit Scott, McGuire
and Shaw) consists of nine general principles to guide faculty in thinking about
and developing instruction for a broad range of students.
Equitable use-Instruction is designed to be useful to and accessible by people
with diverse abilities. It provides the same means of use for all students,
identical whenever possible, equivalent when not. Example: Using web-based
courseware products with links to on-line resources so all students can access
materials, regardless of varying academic preparation, distance from campus,
Flexibility in use-Instruction is designed to accommodate a wide range of
individual abilities. It provides choice in methods of use. Example: Using
varied instructional methods (lecture with a visual outline, group activities,
use of stories, or web-based discussions) to support different ways of learning.
Simple and intuitive instruction-Instruction is designed in a straightforward
and predictable manner, regardless of the student's experience, knowledge,
language skills, or current concentration level. It eliminates unnecessary
complexity. Example: Providing a grading scheme for papers or projects to
clearly state performance expectations.
Perceptible information-Instruction is designed so that necessary information is
communicated effectively, regardless of ambient conditions or the student's
sensory abilities. Example: Selecting text books, reading material, and other
instructional supports in digital format so students with diverse needs can
access materials through print or by using technological supports (e.g., screen
reader, text enlarger).
Tolerance for error-Instruction anticipates variation in individual student
learning pace and requisite skills. Example: Structuring a long-term course
project with the option of turning in individual project components separately
for constructive feedback and for integration into the final product.
Low physical effort-Instruction is designed to minimize nonessential physical
effort in order to allow maximum attention to learning. Note: This principle
does not apply when physical effort is integral to essential requirements of a
course. Example: Allowing students to use a word processor for writing and
editing papers or essay exams.
Size and space for approach and use-Instruction is designed with consideration
for appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulations, and use
regardless of a student's body size, posture, mobility, and communication needs.
Example: Using a circular seating arrangement in small class settings to allow
students to see and face speakers during discussion-important for students with
A community of learners-The instructional environment promotes interaction and
communication among students and between students and faculty. Example:
Fostering communication among students in and out of class by structuring study
and discussion groups, e-mail lists, or chat rooms.
Instructional climate-Instruction is designed to be welcoming and inclusive.
High expectations are espoused for all students. Example: Creating a statement
on the syllabus affirming the need for students to respect diversity,
underscoring the expectation of tolerance, and encouraging students to discuss
any special learning needs with the instructor.
EXAMPLES OF UDI IN PRACTICE
#1: Equitable Use: As Dr. Smith reflected onadjustments to her lecture course,
she realized that for thelast three semesters she had had at least one student
with alearning disability who had requested a note taker. Inplanning for the
next semester, Dr. Smith anticipated thisneed by posting class notes on the
class web site, makingthe notes available in the same form to all
students(Principle #1, Equitable Use). Any student with a learningdisability
would have immediate access to a complete set oflecture notes and would no
longer need a notetaker. Informaldiscussions with students and end-of-semester
courseevaluations indicated that many students found this a usefulinstructional
feature, including students whose primarylanguage is not English, students with
attention deficits,and students wanting to preview the day's instruction.
Thisinstructional support resulted in a more "usable"environment for students
with diverse learning needs.
#2: Flexible Us principles, they will be able to more effectively teach all
students, including those with learning disabilities, with reduced reliance on
accommodations. To do this, college faculties need support for responding to
student diversity and a means of sharing their knowledge. A web site,
facultyware.com, is being built to offer such support.
Brinckerhoff, L.C., McGuire, J.M., & Shaw,
S.F. (2002). Postsecondary education and transition for students with learning
disabilities (Second Edition). Austin,TX: PRO-ED.
Follette Story, M., Mueller, J.L., & Mace, R.L. (1998). The universal
design file: Designing for people of all ages and abilities. Raleigh, NC: North
Carolina State University, The Center for Universal Design.
Magner, D.K. (2000, March 17). The imminent surge in retirement. Chronicle of
Higher Education, 46(28), A18-A20. Scott, S.S., & Gregg, N. (2000). Meeting
the evolving needs of faculty in providing access for college students with LD.
Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33, 158-167.
Scott, S., McGuire, J.M., & Foley, T.E. (2001). Universal design for
instruction: An exploration of principles for anticipating and responding to
student diversity in the classroom. Storrs, CT: Center on Postsecondary
Education and Disability.
Scott, S., McGuire, J., & Shaw, S. (in press). Universal design for
instruction: A new paradigm for adult instruction in postsecondary education.
Remedial and Special Education.
Scott, S., McGuire, J.M., & Shaw, S. (2001). Principles of universal
design for instruction. Storrs, CT: Center on Postsecondary Education and
Shaw, S.F., & Dukes, L.L. ( 2001). Program standards for disability
services in higher education. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability,