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Universal Design and Accessibility

Many confuse Universal Design with Accessibility. Universal Design is inclusive of Accessibility, and not solely focused on Accessibility. Rather, Universal Design expands Accessibility's definition by including all persons, not only persons with disabilities. An important step is to change how one perceives what needs to be done to make content accessible. Think of the mobile learner, for example. How can content be delivered to fit their needs? A shift in thinking about addressing these concerns from the context of accessibility towards the context of access is necessary.

Accessibility to Access

Universal Design: Access and Inclusion

Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability (1). It is designing for all users, rather than the typical or average user.

A resource should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. This should not be an additional requirement set up just for the benefit of only a minority of the population with special needs. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. Universal design is not about accommodation. It is about good design that works for everyone.

While universal design has been common in the physical world for many years (2), attention to universal design in the digital realm is still fairly new. Just as buildings that have ramps and elevators are accessible to wheelchair users, digital products that adhere to accessible design principles are usable by people with a wide range of abilities. The approach allows each user to interact with the technology in ways that work best for them.


Accessible means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. A person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally, and independently as a person without a disability. Although this might not result in identical ease of use compared to that of persons without disabilities, it still must ensure equal opportunity to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by the technology and equal treatment in the use of such technology. 

Below is a list of TLT-supported services and information regarding their compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act for IT Accessibility:

(1) Centre for Excellence in Universal Design -

(2) Mace, Ronald, L. (1998). A Perspective on Universal Design. Presentation given at “Designing for the 21st Century: An International Conference on Universal Design,” June 19, 1998, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York. Retrieved Feb 25, 2019 from

Content For All: Applying Universal Design to Digital Resources

Access the full playlist Universal Design for All

Universal Design Resources

  • CAST is a nonprofit education research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning.

Additional Resources for Accessibility:

Teaching and Learning Technologies

University of Kansas Medical Center
Teaching and Learning Technologies
Mail Stop 3034
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Kansas City, KS 66160
TLT-EdTech: 913-588-7107,
TLT-Media: 913-588-7326,
TLT-Testing Services: 913-588-1471,