The concept of Universal Design Instruction (UDI) is actually a modified version of a value system implemented by architects and designers to consider human diversity in the design of products and spaces. It was developed as a way to address the changing student body in postsecondary education. This includes an increasing proportion of students who are older (over the age of 25), who are ethnic/racial minorities, and who are only in school part time and have other obligations like work and family. In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Act, and similar legislature, have heightened awareness about access to college where equal opportunities and classroom accommodations are assured. This model, UDI, shifts the focus from retrofitting accommodations to instruction to proactively planning for instruction that anticipates diversity in learners. It is a value system that embraces heterogeneity in learners and espouses high academic standards. The overall goal of UDI is to promote full participation and universal access for persons with disabilities in higher education.
The UDI paradigm as defined by nine principles: 1) equitable use, 2) flexibility in use, 3) simple and intuitive, 4) perceptible information, 5) tolerance for error, 6) low physical effort, 7) size and space, 8) community learning and 9) instructional climate. The first principle means that instruction is designed to be useful to and accessible by people with diverse abilities. The instructor should provide the same means of use for all students; identical whenever possible, equivalent when not. The second principle means that instruction is designed to accommodate a wide range of individual abilities. The instructor should provide a choice of method in use. The third principle means that instruction is designed in a straightforward and predictable manner, regardless of students’ experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. The instructor should eliminate any unnecessary complexity in the curriculum. The fourth principle means that instruction is designed so that necessary information is communicated effectively to the student, regardless of ambient conditions or the students’ sensory abilities. The fifth principle means that instruction anticipates variation in individual student learning pace and prerequisite skills. The sixth principle means that instruction is designed to minimize nonessential physical effort in order to allow maximum attention to learning (but does not apply when physical effort is integral to requirements of a course). The seventh principle means that 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. The eighth principle means that the instructional environment promotes interaction and communication among students and between student and faculty. The ninth principle means that instruction is designed to be welcoming and inclusive and high expectations are espoused for all students. The last two principles are an addition to the original UD principle for early education as an extension for postsecondary education. Here are some examples of the principles applied.
Other barriers to effective teaching in postsecondary education include the effect of the reward system for faculty that stresses research and scholarship that minimizes the importance of teaching and ways to improve it. In addition, there is no mandate for students with disabilities for a free, appropriate postsecondary education. Colleges are not required to alter technical standards and students must maintain their eligibility by meeting criteria for academic performance. While, this paradigm still requires validation to prove its efficacy, this paper shows that both students with learning disabilities as well as faculty who are recognized to be outstanding teachers recognize the most important factors that determine academic success and they all fall within one or more of the UDI principles (McGuire 2006).