Universal Design for Learning

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Many recent principles for designing instruction and instructional environments to address student diversity have been based on the principles of Universal Design (UD). UD represents a cohesive approach to promoting inclusion, one that considers, on an ongoing basis, how curriculum, instruction, and assessment can be designed to meet the learning needs of the greatest number of students without compromising academic rigor. The concept of universal design offers a more comprehensive approach to good teaching.

From a neurological standpoint, people learn in distinct ways regardless of their backgrounds. People recognize, strategize, and affectively process information using many different strategies, and no two people have the same strengths and weaknesses in their learning styles. In short, people do not have one general learning aptitude, but many learning abilities; thus, a disability or challenge in one area may be compensated for by extraordinary abilities in another.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an instructional method that can address the diverse learning needs in today’s classroom. The framework of UDL consists of instructional approaches that provide students with choices and alternatives in the materials, content, tools, context, and supports they use. The three basic principles of UDL are: multiple means of representation and presentation, multiple means of strategic engagement, and multiple means of expression. Multiple means of representation refers to multi-modal teaching, relying on a mixture of mediums (e.g., lecture, video, group discussions) to relay concepts. Multiple means of strategic engagement refers to maximizing student learning through motivation and relevancy so students have opportunities to interact with and learn the content. Lastly, multiple means of expression allows students to demonstrate their learning through multiple assessment opportunities (e.g., multimedia projects instead of written papers, or three quizzes and a project instead of one final exam).

The UDL framework challenges educators to rethink the structure of their curriculum and empowers them with the flexibility to serve a diverse population of learners.

UDL Resources:

UDL in HigherEd, http://udloncampus.cast.org/page/udl_about

Applications of Universal Design in Postsecondary Education, https://www.washington.edu/doit/programs/center-universal-design-education/applications-universal-design-postsecondary-education

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Disability Etiquette

Below is some guidance on ensuring individuals are engaged in meaningful and positive ways.

  • Be open to correction.
    • No two individuals are the same – what one person may prefer does not apply to everyone.
    • It’s okay to make mistakes as long as effort is made to correct the mistake.
  • Be aware of the language you use.
    • Aim for using more inclusive terms, such as saying “accessible parking” instead of “handicapped parking”.
    • Practice person-first language unless specifically asked not to by an individual. For example: “student with a disability” rather than “disabled student”.
    • It’s okay to use common sayings such as “See you later” and “Gotta run”.
  • Be polite, professional, and patient at all times.
    • Avoid interrupting or completing sentences for someone.
    • Avoid “talking down” and raising your voice.
    • Offer to repeat or write down information as needed.
    • Use descriptive language: ‘The water fountain is located at the end of the right-hand hall, on the left side’ rather than ‘it’s down that hallway over there’.
  • Be cognizant of how you speak, and the direction of your speech.
    • Speak to the individual directly, regardless of whether or not they have a companion or interpreter with them.
    • Avoid blocking your mouth from eyesight when working with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.
    • Speak normally and avoid exaggerating or over-emphasizing your words.
    • Adjust your physical position so individuals do not need to strain to speak with you. For example: moving out from behind a high counter when speaking to someone in a wheelchair.
  • Respect personal space.
    • Do not assume your help is needed, and do not repeatedly offer assistance if it has been declined by an individual.
    • Never touch someone without permission. This applies to an individual’s belongings, as well.
  • Service dogs – including service dogs in training – are working and should not be distracted from their task.
    • Do not pet a service dog.
    • Do not attempt to call or feed a service dog.
    • If walking with someone handling a service dog, walk on the opposite side of the individual than the service dog.
    • It is not required for a service dog to be identified by a vest or for a handler to show any certification.

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Guide for Accessible and Inclusive Events

Events are one of the key elements in maintaining the MSU Denver community. They’re a great way to connect and engage with one another, share and gain knowledge, and even have some fun. At the same time, access and inclusion are core values for MSU Denver in all its endeavors. It is, therefore, important to ensure that events are free of barriers so that all participants can experience an event to its fullest. This document aims to provide information and recommendations to ensure that every MSU Denver event is inclusive and accessible for all participants.

Responsibility for Ensuring Access

All university events – including all programs, meetings, exhibits, tours, etc. – must be accessible regardless of when, where, or how they are presented. This includes events taking place off campus or in virtual settings. Event planners should ensure accessibility and inclusion considerations are encompassed in every part of the planning process, including budgeting. Planners who believe an event cannot support the cost of an access consideration should discuss alternative funding sources with their supervisor or advisor. Planners should also make every effort to consult with the Access Center and other applicable university leadership prior to foregoing any access considerations.

Advanced Planning is Key

Including access in all event preparations not only helps lower or eliminate associated costs, but also provides the best possible experience for all participants. Planning for access in the beginning is much easier than trying to make last-minute changes, and is far less stressful!

Areas to Consider

Communications and Materials

  • Ensure all communications and materials shared before, during, and after the event are accessible. This includes advertisements, forms, and other promotional materials. Common things to look for include:
    • Hard copy materials should be available in large print (16-point Calibri font) and accessible electronic versions.
    • Electronic materials and communications – including web pages and emails – should always be accessible. Avoid presenting information as images alone, and ensure all text-based information matches any visual information.
    • Video content should always have accurate captions. Presenters should be contacted in advance to confirm captioning is available. If captions are not available and it is not possible to have captions created in the necessary timeframe, a complete transcript should be provided.
  • Include a statement on all communications indicating any relevant accessibility information as well as contact information for potential participants to request any specific accommodations not listed. An example statement:

    The Department of Cool and Exciting Stuff aims for inclusive, accessible events that enable all individuals, including those with disabilities, to engage fully. We kindly request that participants refrain from wearing strong fragrances to be respectful of those with allergies and environmental sensitivities. Live captioning will be available. This event will contain some flashing images. Participants requiring accommodations should contact Alex Person at [email protected] or (303) 555-5555 by Wednesday, January 1, 2020. Requests made after this date will be provided to the best of our ability.

    At a minimum, the following statement should be included:

    [name of department or sponsoring party] aims for inclusive, accessible events that enable all individuals, including those with disabilities, to engage fully. Participants requiring accommodations should contact [designated contact person] at [email, phone number] by [specific date, at least 10 days before the event]. Requests made after this date will be provided to the best of our ability.


  • For virtual events, specify the platform to be used and whether participants will need an account or any special software to participate.

Physical Venues

  • Select spaces that can accommodate wide and barrier-free walkways, seating, and tables.
    • There should be enough space to allow scooters, wheelchairs, or other mobility devices to move and turn without encountering any major barriers.
    • Ensure accessible restrooms and elevators (if necessary) are located nearby, and ensure clear signage is posted to direct participants to them.
    • Paths, entrances, restrooms, and/or elevators specifically identified as ‘accessible’ should be located reasonably close to the event. Ensuring participants do not need to go out of their way for any access is highly recommended.
    • Seating should allow space for access with a mobility device and/or service dogs. Movable furniture is highly recommended to allow for flexibility.
    • If refreshments are being provided, avoid the use of bar-height serving locations.
    • Ensure the surface height of any tables being used is between 28 and 34 inches from the ground (most tables provided by AHEC meet these requirements).
  • Ensure seating is available near the front for participants who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • Anticipate the ways participants will interact with and move through the space.
    • Avoid placing loose cables across walkways. Floor cord covers are recommended.
    • Be sure to allow space for doors to open fully and individuals to move through them as easily as possible.
    • Ensure signage is easy to see, read, and uses clear lettering with good contrast. If the venue itself is lacking signage, consider adding temporary signs.
  • Be mindful of the area immediately surrounding the space being utilized
    • If transportation is being provided to and from the venue/space, ensure it is accessible for participants with mobility concerns or who are using assistive mobility devices.
    • Ensure there are accessible routes to and from the event. These should take into account multiple ways of entry, if possible. For example, events on campus should evaluate the accessibility of routes from the various parking lots as well as public transit stops.
  • Evaluate facility access features prior to the event, and address any problems with the designated facilities contact.
    • Verify all accessibility buttons on doors are fully operational. This includes buttons in nearby restrooms.
    • Ensure all lighting is fully functional and provides ample illumination of presentation areas.
  • Consider acoustics and sound design
    • Confirm there is a public address (PA) system available for use, and ensure it is functional. When possible, it is highly recommended to have wireless microphones available.
    • Limit unnecessary background music.
    • Investigate the availability of assistive listening devices for participants and how to best integrate them with the space for maximum participation.

Virtual Considerations

  • Utilize a platform that is accessible for participants.
  • Provide alternative methods of participation, such as dial-in by phone, when available.
  • Ensure and displayed content is large enough for participants to see and has enough contrast between foreground and background elements (e.g. black text on a white background).
  • Make materials, such as PowerPoint presentation files, available to participants from the beginning of a presentation to allow individuals to interact with content in a way that’s most accessible to them.
  • It is highly recommended that real-time live captions (utilizing a human transcriber) are used during an event. At the very least, events should be recorded and should only be posted with complete and accurate captions.
    • It is important to be aware that ‘live automatic caption’ features included with some platforms such as Microsoft Teams utilize automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology, rather than a human transcriber. While such features can seemingly provide free and instant accessibility, they also come with errors, especially if the content includes very specific vocabulary, background noise, or poor audio quality.
  • If using a virtual background effect, avoid using video formats or overly complex images.

During the Event

  • Ensure all speakers use a microphone when speaking at all times, even if a speaker seems ‘loud enough’.
    • Failure to consistently use a mic leaves out participants who rely on the microphone system to hear and understand spoken content.
    • If other participants ask questions or address the group, have a volunteer bring a wireless mic to each person before they speak. If this is not possible, have the presenter repeat the question over the mic to ensure everyone has access.
  • Be descriptive throughout a presentation.
    • Verbally describe all visual content such as graphics and drawings.
    • Avoid nondescript phrases such as ‘over there’ or ‘this here’ – participants who cannot see the content will not know what ‘this’ or ‘that’ is.
    • If a video is being shown that does not have audio description available, provide a description of the video prior to showing.
  • For virtual events, ensure that anyone not actively speaking has their microphone muted to help eliminate background noise.
    • If the event will allow participants to use their mics, make an announcement during the event introduction requesting mics be muted.
    • Some platforms give organizers the ability to mute participant microphones if necessary.

Additional Considerations

  • Provide participants a post-event evaluation, and include a section on accessibility that allows participants to share comments relating to accessibility.
  • Service dogs are welcome on campus. It is not required for a service dog to be identified by a vest or for a handler to show any certification. Disruptive behavior can be addressed with the handler. If, after corrective instruction, the disruptive behavior continues the handler can be asked to remove the dog from the event.
  • Ensure event staff are able to answer most accessibility questions participants might have, such as the location of accessible restrooms, seating, etc.. It’s also recommended to share the information with presenters.

Additional Information and Resources

The Access Center is happy to answer any questions pertaining to accessible events. Contact us via email, [email protected], or phone (303) 615-0200.

The Instructional Accessibility Group (IAG) has many helpful guides on creating accessible materials, including video content. Additionally, the IAG holds a wide variety of workshops on topics such as Social Media Accessibility and Posters and Presentations. Visit the IAG website, or contact them via email, [email protected].

Accessible and Inclusive Events Checklist


  • Communications contain accessibility statement, which includes contact information for accommodations requests.
  • All materials are accessible, or available in an accessible format upon request.

Physical venue

  • Accessible doorways, restrooms, and paths are available for participants
  • Clear signage is in use
  • Seating is flexible, or offers ample space to accommodate participant needs
  • PA system with wireless mics, or other assistive listening capabilities, is available

Virtual venue

  • Platform is accessible for all participants
  • Information is provided on additional participation requirements (e.g. user account)
  • Captions are available for all or by request


  • Microphone use is enforced
  • Presenters use descriptive language
  • Videos are captioned and described
  • Post-event evaluation included accessibility sections

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Making a Referral to the Access Center

The Access Center provides leadership to the university community to ensure that qualified students with disabilities have equal access to University programs, services, and activities through academic accommodations and collaboration in order to advance MSU Denver’s commitment to inclusive excellence. The Access Center works with students who have disabilities and/or health conditions that effect a wide range of major life activities. In addition to serving students with physical and sensory disabilities, the Access Center works with students who have:

  • Psychological diagnoses such as Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar, or PTSD
  • Learning disabilities such as ADHD or Dyslexia
  • Chronic health conditions such as HIV, cancer, traumatic brain injuries, migraines, or diabetes

While this is not an exhaustive list, it does represent common reasons that a student might work with the Access Center. It is not uncommon for students to be unaware of the Access Center as many students did not engage with resources in K-12. Faculty or staff are often the first people who students share health conditions and/or struggles related to disabilities in interactions. Below are some examples of when to refer a student to the Access Center to see if we can be a resource for them.

If you have questions about whether the Access Center is and appropriate resource please contact our front desk at 303-615-0200 or by email at [email protected] to get connected with an Access Center coordinator.

When a referral to the Access Center is necessary:

If a student directly discloses a disability, health condition, and or pregnancy to you

Example: a student shares with you that they are depressed and on medication

Students discloses receiving past accommodations or services, either as a transfer student or in K-12

Example: a student shares they previously had extra time on an exam in another course or school and they want to have extra time on exams at MSU Denver.

When a referral to the Access Center could be helpful:

If you see a student who is struggling, you engage with them directly and share campus resources available to them, including the Access Center.

Example: A student tells you they are struggling in their Biology course, so you provide them with information on multiple campus resources including the Tutoring Center and the Access Center.

When a referral is not necessary

Example: If a student asks for help completing forms related to your department, you can assist the student rather than referring to the Access Center for assistance.

Example: A student is a caretaker for a family member who has a disability. The Access Center serves MSU Denver students who have disabilities, not their family members.

Example: A student needs to make up an exam, but is not registered with the Access Center, and has not mentioned having a disability or accommodations. Students can make up non-accommodated exams in the Office of Testing Services. ***not available for Fall 2020 semester

Documenting a referral to the Access Center:

When making a referral by email, it is helpful to cc: [email protected] so we can follow with an outreach directly. If a student shares information with you about a disability, making this direct referral is not a violation of confidentiality; rather, you’re giving them the resource who can best help them explore options:

Students right to self-disclosure & confidentiality

Remember that our students are adults; they may respond best to private conversations in which you use an inquiring and supportive approach and share information about the existence and location of the Access Center office. Only the student can decide to disclose their disability, or to pursue information about services available in the Access Center. Therefore, it is essential that disability information be kept confidential as it falls under FERPA. Again, making the direct referral to the Access Center is not a violation of the student’s confidentiality but at no time should other students be informed that a student has a disability, except at the student’s request.

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When using audio or video content in your course, event, or program, captioning provides an alternative mode of access for students. When selecting media for use, it is important to keep in mind that the process of creating captions requires extra time to complete as compared to other forms of content. Care should be taken to ensure adequate enough time for captions to be in place by the time media is used.

Automatic captions

Many video conferencing platforms provide options to add captioning through automated speech recognition (often referred to as ASR or auto-captioning). While ASR has improved greatly in recent years, it still lacks the same level of accuracy as human-generated methods. Because of this, ASR captions are not sufficient enough on their own to satisfy federal captioning requirements.


If you are recording your own media content, you can utilize the YuJa tool to create captions for it. While YuJa does utilize ASR for its initial processing, it also allows you to review and edit those captions to ensure they meet the necessary accuracy requirements.

For additional information on how to use YuJa, consult the Multimedia Accessibility guides from the Instructional Accessibility Group (IAG).

Captioning Pre-recorded media

If you intend to use pre-recorded media in your course, such as a film on DVD, that does not already have captions available, you will need to contact ITS for assistance. You can call the ITS HelpDesk (303-352-7548), or complete the Media Digitization Request form: https://www.msudenver.edu/technology/digitizemedia/.

Pre-recorded videos from external sites such as YouTube can vary in terms of caption availability and accuracy. For assistance with these cases, contact either ITS or IAG.

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Additional Resources

Instructional Accessibility Group (IAG)

The Access Center works closely with the Instructional Accessibility Group (IAG) within the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design (CTLD) to support faculty and staff in creating inclusive courses and materials. The IAG is an excellent source for information and training on ensuring accessibility of a wide variety of content. Their website hosts a wide variety of helpful guides, a calendar of trainings and workshops, and information on their Proactive Accessibility Certification Workshops.

Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum

The Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum Booklet was created by the Faculty Learning Community (FLC) on Supporting Learning for Students on the Autism Spectrum in 2020 to help faculty working with autistic students.

Online Teaching Resources

The CTLD’s Ready page houses a wealth of tutorials, best practices, and support information to help faculty in designing their Canvas courses.

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Contact Us

Hours of Operation

Main Office: Monday - Friday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Accommodated Testing: Monday - Thursday, 8:30 am - 4:30 pm

Main Office

Office Location: Plaza 122
Phone: (303) 615-0200
[email protected]

Accommodated Testing Office

Office Location: Plaza 124
Phone: (303) 615-0199
[email protected]