Eastern Michigan University

Universal Design

What is Universal Design?

  • Universal design is an approach to designing course instruction, materials, and content to benefit people of all learning styles without adaptation or retrofitting.
  • Universal design provides equal access to learning, not simply equal access to information.
  • Universal design allows the student to control the method of accessing information while the teacher monitors the learning process and initiates any beneficial methods.


The Disability Resource Center (DRC) believes that human variation is natural and vital in the development of dynamic communities. Disability is just one of life's many descriptors and is not an abnormal quality that alone prevents inclusion.

Everyone should be able to take advantage of all opportunities and enjoy the benefits of society. In many situations, the environment is the driving element that creates barriers to accessing opportunities. The barriers can be found in the form of physical design, policies and procedures, and even attitudes. Design is a powerful and profoundly influences our daily lives. Good design is essential for achieving inclusion and full participation. Creating usable, equitable, sustainable, and inclusive environments is a shared responsibility. We are all designers in some way. How we design something or think about something will include and/or exclude those around us.

Historically, offices such as the Disability Resource Center coordinate accommodations as a reactive response to something established by the environment. A student with a physical disability may need modifications to a residence hall room because the shower/tub is not something the person can access as created. A student with a learning disability in reading may need more time on exams because the instructor does not make available an alternative means of course assessment. Students with disabilities come to our office either in anticipation that some aspect of the environment (usually the classroom) will not be compatible to them given one's disability or after experiencing an environment that poses obstacles to equal access.

One of the Disability Resource Center's long-term goals is to support designers of all environments on campus in considering ways to proactively make the environment as accessible as possible for everyone from the outset. Such design would ideally minimize the need for many, but not all, accommodations. Everyone would feel more included and involved from the beginning and fewer students with disabilities would need to reactively ask for something (accommodations) in order for access to be available to them.

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