what is universal design

Universal Design for Learning

Original Sensory Path Universal Design accessibility accommodation

I want to discuss Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which is a growing concept in the field of education. The concept of universal design originated in the field of architecture & design with accessibility to buildings when the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was established as law. There are 5 titles or sections under this law. Title II deals with public services: state & local government and Title III deals with public accommodations and services operated by private entities. Title II & III are regulated and enforced by the Department of Justice (DOJ), who also issued an ADA standard in 1991, and reissued one in 2010 to replace the 1991 version that is based on and in accordance with Title II & III of the ADA. These 2010 standards apply to facilities covered by the ADA both with new construction and alterations to existing structures.

So what exactly is universal design?

Universal design, as a concept, promotes the design and composition of an environment that can be utilized, accessed, and comprehended by all people regardless of certain factors such as age, size, and/or ability/disability. The goal is that anybody who wishes to use an environment (note: the word environment here does not just apply to a building but can also be a product, service, etc.) should be able to do so if they wish and ultimately that the environment should be constructed/structured/designed in such a way that it meets the needs of all individuals. 

So how does universal design play into education?

In 1984, a small group of education researchers formed the Center for Applied Special Technology or CAST. Their mission was to utilize new technologies to improve educational experiences and outcomes for students with disabilities. Through their research, they developed a new approach to education called the Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This approach has blossomed and CAST has pursued other areas of education such as state & national policy, teacher preparation and support, education research with UDL-based solutions, software development, and curriculum planning. Basically UDL is a framework that takes into account how humans learn in order to revamp & enhance teaching and learning for ALL individuals. 

UDL is a framework that takes into account how humans learn in order to revamp & enhance teaching and learning for ALL individuals. 

Catie Skelton, PT, DPT

While I can’t speak to UDL in regards to school curriculum as I am not an educator in the traditional sense. I can speak to how school-based physical therapists help facilitate and implement the principles & framework of UDL in both our physical therapy practice with the treatment of students and in the classroom with the structure of the learning environment. The next several blogs will focus on these topics. I hope y’all enjoy and can’t wait to dig into these topics with y’all!

Until next time,


Catherine C. Skelton, PT, DPT

Pediatric Physical Therapist


Americans with Disabilities Act Overview

About the ADA Accessibility Standards- Access-Board.gov

About Universal Design for Learning- CAST.org

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