Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) theoretical foundations lie in the belief that every human being is different and therefore planning for this diversity is needed from the beginning of any design process. The focus on human diversity reflects the principles of neurodivergence. By using UDL, universities demonstrate that diversity is valued, as it becomes part of the ‘norm’, not the minority that needs adjustments made to enable them to participate.

Universal Design for Learning (Part 1): Definition and Explanation
Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education

Effective universal design is a foundation of support that reasonable adjustments may be required to build upon.

 However, some students do not obtain reasonable adjustments due to a lack of formal diagnosis, or a wish not to share information their neurodivergence with others. For these students, support can still be available through universal design for learning.

graduated response triangle illustrates the layers of support that should be available to a student. The first layer is Inclusive Culture and Structures across the university. The second layer is Universal Design for Learning and the top layer is Personalised Reasonable Adjustments. Reasonable Adjustments are identified as being disclosure and diagnosis dependent.

Useful Websites

The following websites offer more information and resources on Universal Design

CAST: Universal Design

AHEAD: Universal Design for Learning

National Disability Authority: Centre for Excellence in Universal Design


Academic Articles: Universal Design and Higher Education

Waisman, T. C., et al (2023). Learning from the experts: Evaluating a participatory autism and universal design training for university educators. Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice, 27(2), 356-370.

Edwards, M., Poed, S., Al-Nawab, H., & Penna, O. (2022). Academic accommodations for university students living with disability and the potential of universal design to address their needs. Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education Research, 84(4), 779-799.

Hills, M., Overend, A., & Hildebrandt, S. (2022). Faculty Perspectives on UDL: Exploring Bridges and Barriers for Broader Adoption in Higher EducationThe Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning13(1).

Dwyer, P.Mineo, E., Mifsud, K., Lindholm, C., Gurba, A., & Waisman, T. C. (2022). Building neurodiversity-inclusive postsecondary campuses: Recommendations for leaders in higher educationAutism in Adulthood

Martin, N. (2021). Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in Higher Education: A UK, USA ComparisonJournal of Inclusive Practice in Further and Higher Education. 13 (1).

Reardon, K and Unruh, D. (2021). Universally Designed Learning in Postsecondary Education: A Synthesized Framework. Magna Publications

Xie, J. and Rice, M.F., (2021). Professional and social investment in universal design for learning in higher education: Insights from a faculty development programmeJournal of Further and Higher Education45(7), pp.886-900.

Gillespie-Lynch, Kristen & Waisman, TC & Singer, Judy & Grossman, Eliana & Kofner, Bella & Shevchuk-Hill, Sergey & Santos, Jin. (2021). Is Universal Design Enough? Learning from the Neurodiversity Movement How to Reach Diverse Learners. https://youtu.be/5i_Be3WOYeA

Fovet, F., (2020). Universal design for learning as a tool for inclusion in the higher education classroom: Tips for the next decade of implementationEducation journal9(6), pp.163-172.

Dalton, E. M., Lyner-Cleophas, M., Ferguson, B. T., & McKenzie, J. (2019). Inclusion, universal design and universal design for learning in higher education: South africa and the united states. African Journal of Disability, 8


  • Novak, K and Couros, G. (2022). UDL Now!: A Teacher’s Guide to Applying Universal Design for Learning. CAST, Inc.

  • Tobin, T and Behling, K. (2018). Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone. Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education. West Virginia University Press

  • Bracken, S and Novak, K. (2019). Transforming Higher Education through universal design for learning: And International Perspective. Routledge
  • Burgstahler, S and Cory, R. (2008). Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. Harvard Education Press