Overhauling the ENTR Program Using UDL

By: Katherine Carpenter, Dr. Brad Anderson, and Dr. Seanna Takacs from Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Watch the related webinar recording HERE.

In 1999, The Entrepreneur Leadership program (ENTR) was launched as Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s first Bachelor of Business Administration program. The program was developed to provide full-time and part-time students the opportunity to successfully undertake roles in general management, new venture creation and development, and sales management in any sector of the economy, within a local or global scope. 

While 93.6% of ENTR graduates were employed after graduation, the program struggled with enrollment as the number of students enrolled in the program declined over the years to 40% capacity. The ENTR program also has historically had higher withdrawal and repeat rates when compared to other KPU BBA programs. The ENTR program was facing a crisis and paused to consider what a program overhaul could look like to make it appealing and inclusive.

Recognizing the program must adapt to the changing needs of students to remain viable, the program underwent a renewal process to modernize the program learning objectives (PLOs) from the original 1996 proposal.

As an Educational Consultant in UDL at KPU, Seanna was called in to do a presentation on the ways UDL could support program renewal. Many of the features of UDL are a natural fit with entrepreneurship such as accounting for variability, accessibility, iterative design processes, and gathering feedback on design choices. ENTR faculty were interested not only in course-level changes. How could we use UDL to design the entire program? How could we implement student choice in navigating course selection and prerequisites? The idea of Jerome Bruner’s Spiral Curriculum was also introduced with the goal of supporting ongoing inquiry and development of ideas; far from the test-and-essay, course-by-course delivery model, budding ideas in the early stages of the program would have the chance to grow and flower through subsequent courses and projects as concepts were revisited and elaborated throughout the program. An optimistic group set ambitious goals to grow the program by teaching entrepreneurial leadership experientially, inclusively, and meaningfully.

The three broad goals of the renewal included:

  • Attracting a broader student base, clarify the program’s intent for all stakeholders, and build on our record of experiential learning.
  • Aligning with the ACBSP accreditation requirements and KPU’s current expectations for curricula.  
  • Modernizing the PLOs to align to the course learning outcomes and guiding principles of UDL, spiral curricula, active and experiential learning, and student agency.

What followed was an extensive mapping of program learning outcomes, course learning outcomes, course redesign and audit, and three-stage approval process up to University Senate.

The program changes were implemented and took effect in the Fall of 2021. The results are exciting and encouraging. Enrolment rates have increased to the highest amongst the KPU business programs, throughout all four years of the program students have plenty of choices in how they demonstrate their learning, and in several ENTR courses students are taking ownership over their levels of performance through contract grading.

And we’ve only just begun! Come to our INCLUDE session to learn more about the program overhaul process, our present learnings as faculty, and our path forward to continue improving the program.


Katherine Carpenter

Headshot of Katherine Carpenter

Katherine Carpenter (Cochrane) has an MBA from the University of Victoria and has been a full-time Faculty Member with Kwantlen Polytechnic University since 2020. Katherine has over 12 years of experience teaching in-person and online and delivering advisory projects to various entrepreneurial organizations. In addition to entrepreneurship, her areas of expertise include student engagement, online learning, program development and renewal, and instructional design. 

Katherine is currently a developer in the Open Education for a Better World mentoring program and is a 2021 OER Grant Recipient through the KPU Open Education Working Group. When she’s not instructing with KPU, Katherine also teaches at other public and PVI organizations across the country, and advocates for UDL, open education, online delivery, and continuously improving programs to meet the needs of those learners worldwide.

Dr. Brad Anderson

headshot of Brad Anderson

I used to make drugs for a living. 

Saying that is a great way to make a splash at cocktail parties. And it happens to be true, too! Though I’ve been teaching business for many years, I started in the biotech industry. I earned an MSC way back in 1997 and started work in drug manufacturing and development. I’ve worked on drugs for various types of cancer, treatments for antibiotic-resistant infections … and I even worked on a drug for turkeys! Don’t laugh; turkeys need love too.

Around 2006, I joined the dark side and earned my MBA. After that, I worked in business development, where I’d prepare budgets and bid on multi-million dollar projects. From there, I transitioned into consulting and spent some years after the big bust of 2008 building up a real estate investment business.

But that’s all behind me now. 

These days, I’m working on a lot of things I love. I’ve been teaching business since 2009, which is hands down the best job ever. In 2019, I earned my doctor of business administration (DBA) degree researching organizational and managerial wisdom. And, when I’ve got some spare time, I write science fiction because, lets be honest, there’s nothing good on TV, so you might as well write your own stories.

Check out my blog at https://bradanderson2000.com/

Dr. Seanna Takacs

headshot of Seanna Takacs

Seanna has worked with children, teens, and young adults with learning difficulties from the earliest stages of her career. She holds a PhD in Educational Psychology from SFU where she studied reading comprehension and more broadly, variation in language acquisition and literacy processes. Seanna was an instructor in post-secondary for ten years, teaching courses on instructional psychology, reading, and learning disabilities. Her interest in Universal Design for Learning is contemporaneous with her investigation of learning differences: what differences exist, are those differences meaningful, and how can we ameliorate those differences through strong teaching and curriculum design practices? Seanna has completed UDL contracts at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, British Columbia Institute of Technology, and in the Teaching and Learning Commons at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Through her role in Accessibility Services at KPU, Seanna is excited to work on both sides of the fence, supporting both students and instructors, in equitable educational experiences for all.

Mission Accomplice: Practicing Antiracism with UDL as White Allies for Systemic Change

By: Tracy Galvin, Queens University, Belfast, Northern Ireland; Dr. Eric Moore and Dr. Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, USA

View the associated webinar presentation.


In this blog, we aim to share our personal journeys in our professional and personal lives around embedding antiracism to align with the work we already do with Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The associated webinar will not be an introduction to UDL but rather showcases several ways how both UDL and antiracism intersect. More importantly, the UDL framework needs to strive more towards a role in equity work to ensure all our learners are successful. We discuss the ways that both the internal and external work are important, both as individual educators as well as through communities of practice that have the goal of becoming change agents who work collaboratively to dismantle systemic inequalities. We will discuss reckoning in terms of where education currently stands, becoming an ally and accomplice as white educators, how to drive culture change, and the importance of leadership and love in higher education. 

A Note on Language:

We use the term “learner” rather than “student” because we see learning occurs in many contexts: both within physical or virtual spaces, alone or through collaboration, with scaffolds and accommodations or without, as well as individually or collectively through critical thinking, problem solving and self-regulation. As Loui Lord Nelson (2021) put it “learners exist wherever learning is taking place.” 

The work of antiracism, as Andratesha Fritzgerald often reminds us, is work that centers on honoring our learners, recognizing that each individual learner brings with them their whole history, identity, and selves. When we make space for learners to be authentic in the classroom (or wherever learning occurs), we have begun dismantling systemic racism, which is often expressed in repression of learner identity. UDL, in this context, is a tool in service of the work of antiracism. It is a framework that guides the provision of choices and helps us better consider the many ways that we can honor our learners and celebrate their diversity, culture, identities, and experiences. 

Theoretical Foundations

The work of antiracism in higher education must be shared. When considering involvement, the perspective of all stakeholders in higher education must be how we should be involved, not if.  In our experience, the how can be a daunting question. It can be difficult for white allies who want to support the work to navigate the space between being an accomplice but not being in control of the agenda. It can be difficult, too, to find ways to advance the call of antiracism in such a way that leads to meaningful change, rather than the appearance of change without anything happening. In this section, we recognize the reckoning that is happening in higher education, as we come to terms with the racism that has been implicit for generations and is now being exposed. We then explore what it means to be involved in the work of antiracism as white allies and accomplices in higher education today. 


There is a reckoning in education today. Now more than ever, educators across the globe are realizing that there are ways that the system of public and higher education are designed that are more supportive of systemic racism than honoring and supporting learners who come from different races. White educators, like us, are seeing the ways that systemic practices- and participation in these systemic practices- create ways to discriminate, separate, favor, and dishonor. While this may seem like a novel concept, it is anything but. Those who have been on the receiving end of systemic racism have known for centuries that basedon a construct of a certain attribute, their worth or presence or being has been judged as inferior or less than. In many cases, such prejudice is not communicated explicitly, or even felt explicitly by educators, but is no less harmful for being implicit. Implicit bias shows up in standardized test design (Gard, 2020), classroom placement and performance (Kramarczuk Voulgarides & Tefera, 2017), and admission to special education (Artilles, 2017). It shows up in school resource allocation (Loera, 2021) and continued promotion of content that centralizes white culture and authors and marginalizes the work of people of color. It shows up in the histories that are taught and not taught (Leslie et al., 2021), often whitewashing uncomfortable racist history and silencing dissent (Kim-Cragg, 2019).  We know that this is wrong.

It is one thing to know it is wrong and another to be an agent of change. But whose job is it to disrupt, dismantle, disengage racist practices? Rather than arguing the point, white people should take the lead of black activists and support, amplify, and work with anti-racist groups; they should not dominate or center themselves in the work (Saad, 2020).  What does it look like for white people to be allies and accomplices in this work? What does it look like to be active, but not centered? 

Allies and Accomplices

Historically and today, teachers in significantly racially heterogeneous nations such as those in North America and Western Europe are predominantly white, at rates that exceed the overall demographics of the nation or student body. The latest reports in the US, for example, revealed that 79.3 percent of public-school teachers are white. Comparatively, 7 percent are Black. Compared to student demographics, white teachers most out-ratio white students (+32%) and Black teachers are most underrepresented compared to the Black student population (-8%). These trends follow to varying degrees to other nations. For example, in the UK, about 86 percent of teachers are white, compared to 3.6 percent who are Black; again, white teachers are above proportion to white students (+11%) and Black teachers are comparatively underrepresented (-2%). Asian, Hispanic, indigenous, and other populations are also underrepresented in the teacher workforce compared to student populations. 

Attempts have been made to recruit and sustain a more diverse pool of teachers, but statistically these attempts have failed to this point. This is especially the case for entry into the teaching profession from those who gained a qualification in another country and if they do often face discrimination throughout their career. The reality is that most children and youth of color in heterogenous and white-majority nations are likely to receive most of their primary and secondary education from teachers who do not look like them and are not part of their ethnic group(s). While we recognize that there is work to be done to improve representation among different racial and ethnic groups to provide increased racial mirrors in education, we also recognize that such work is beyond the scope of most teachers and practitioners. Rather than abandoning service to the call of antiracism in education, we recognize that white teachers have an opportunity to use their power and position to serve as allies and accomplices in the work of antiracism in education. 

In getting involved in this work, it is important for white teachers, staff, and higher education faculty members to not center themselves in the work, but — to the extent that they are willing to serve — serve the cause humbly as allies (those who support others who are doing the work) and/or accomplices (those who come alongside those doing the work to lend their talent). For example, instead of announcing what we think to be problem areas, we recognize the need to listen to those who have been minoritized by our education systems and to respond to, amplify, and/or support those with lived experiences with inequities in the classroom. 

Rather than reducing expectations, as has sometimes been provided as a sort of solution, teachers may learn to honor and amplify the talents, backgrounds, and interests of individual learners, to create inclusive spaces to bring their full selves to the learning experience. This may mean offering flexibility in choice of texts in English/Language Arts and/or intentionally choosing various texts for the class that represent the diversity of the classroom.  Rather than promoting quick, high visibility “solutions” to structural problems, take the time to reckon with those who have been hurt, with those who have profiteered from the status quo, and to appreciate the depth of changes needed to bring about restoration. 

The three authors are white with backgrounds in social justice, UDL, accessibility and technology. We began our journey by listening to the voice of a Black educator, Andratesha Fritzgerald, who through her book “Antiracism and Universal Design for Learning: Building Expressways to Success,” has effectively set an agenda for our work. The three of us are part of an open community of practice that currently has white and non-white membership and shares a mission to contribute our efforts, time, and energy to be agents of change by listening, reckoning, and taking action to support the work that our colleagues of color that have already begun. We are not the center of the story, but hope to lend our power, privilege, and talent to support those who are: teachers and learners who have been minoritized for generations. In this work and other work like it, we hope to share what we have learned not only about the practice of antiracism in formal education, but about the roles and limitations of white allies and accomplices involved in the work of antiracism. 

We acknowledge that issues around bias, race, oppression, and discrimination are infinitely more complex. Approaching these issues with passionate curiosity, honor, love, and a desire for justice is part of the internal and external work that white people need to participate in. It’s about understanding how you identify in the world and how you are seen as a white person in a white centric designed world and unlearning the ways that it favors you (Saad, 2020). The intersectionality of race, ability, gender, sexual orientation, and class work to weave a tapestry of discrimination based on one (or more) attributes must be a part of the discussion and action. Sometimes, finding that stray thread that can lead to unraveling the paradigm of power and oppression is all it takes. 

Culture Change, not Checklists

One of the gravest threats to the work of antiracism is those who purport to support “diversity, equity, and inclusion” by way of checklists or performative gestures. Danger here lies when institutions perpetuate antiracism as a selling point but internally lack the strategies and processes to actively include authentic antiracism work. A student of mine (Eric) once suggested the irony that the fastest way to get people to move on from an atrocity is to build a commemorative monument. It’s as if a grand gesture is the solution. “What more do you want?” And this often happens in schools and universities when a hire is made for a DEI coordinator, who is given ample opportunity to talk, but no meaningful opportunity to effect change. In other situations, this sort of performativity may be wrapped up in call-out culture, the movement of large rocks, or any number of other gestures that administrators or politicians or individuals or groups may do to demonstrate their good will regarding antiracism without actually having to change much at all. 

There simply is no simple list of steps to take to “fix racism” or even to come close to addressing systemic inequality. It is not something that will one day be addressed by a well worded petition, a potent speech on social media, a changed name or logo or a once off award. That isn’t to say that such things needn’t also often change, but that the change must be seen as part of a much bigger commitment. Too often, schools and universities celebrate victory having merely crossed a starting line without putting any real thought or intention behind why they crossed it in the first place. 

In the work of Black authors who speak of supporting systemic change, such as The Black Butterfly by Lawrence T. Brown and Antiracism & Universal Design for Learning by Andratesha Fritzgerald, we often encounter not checklists, but a process to address systemic racism in systems. In some variation, these often include stages that involves:

  1. Reckoning – obtaining a deep understanding of the historical trauma and current systems that propagate inequity in schools. 
  2. Acting – taking ongoing, adequate, and robust steps to bring about change. 
  3. Engaging – ensuring that the voices at the table represent those who are served, including those at the head of the table. 
  4. Sustaining – investing resources (human, fiscal, power, and otherwise) to sustain an ongoing process of repair, restoration, reflection, and response. 

In this way, the work of antiracism and the work of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) overlap. Both have faced attempts to be reduced to checklists, but both speak to deeper systemic and cultural change. Both aim not to simply address the needs of the moment, but to equip, amplify, and enable individuals to thrive and take ownership over their lives and learning. Both call for radical re-evaluation of systems that have largely been unchanged for many decades. Indeed, we feel that the parallelism of UDL with antiracism makes UDL an effective and natural framework to deploy in schools as a means of addressing antiracism as well as other systemic inequities. This change is certainly highlighted through CASTs re-envisioning of the framework as they strive toward UDL Rising to Equity.

We identify this change as multi-level and interconnected. It can be started individually through identifying one’s own positionality and privilege by making the change necessarily through personal growth, increasing knowledge, and becoming comfortable with your discomfort, but more importantly through a growth mindset by bringing others with you toward compassion, empathy, and love. We must work in partnership and collaboratively with others within our own teams, directorates, schools, and faculties by being an ally, accomplice and advocating for cultural change to occur both at a grassroots level, aligned with structures and policies, as well as driven by (and/or supported by) leadership. By embedding the principles of UDL across an institution through utilizing technology, physical spaces, instruction, administration, professional and student support, we are not only minimizing barriers but fostering inclusive environments, as well as striving toward equity for all. 

Lessons Learned

As part of the conversation about performativity, it is critical to remember that the work of antiracism isn’t essentially academic — it is ultimately pragmatic. It is not enough to simply talk about or write about what it means to change our institutional cultures; we must roll up our sleeves and do the work of reformation: internally and communally. We have spent the last two years in community learning together and challenging each other to advance the work of antiracism in our own settings. We know that we have a long way to go, but we also have already learned a great deal. In this section, we share some of the lessons we have learned along the way.

Structural vs. Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is not a new fad or trend. Servant leadership has roots in ancient cultures, appearing in ancient religious texts and ancient Chinese philosophy (Stewart, 2017).  Servant leadership came into vogue in the 1970’s with Robert Greenleaf’s book The Servant as a Leader. When it pertains to schools, servant leadership has great power and potential to shift the authoritarian tone that is often prevalent. The assertion of one’s power over another to achieve a goal that benefits the organization is no longer effective. In fact, we challenge if coercion and asserting of one’s power are ever effective means at recognizing the brilliance in every learner (ibid, p.4) attests that servant leadership is an act of love that benefits every member in the organization: 

The key, according to van Dierendonck and Patterson (2015) is to lead with love (p. 122). At first a seemingly trite recommendation, these authors explain their proposal by contrasting it with the idea of those who lead by fear, noting that many organizations lead by fear, which they rationalize must be a good idea because it works. In reality, however, leading by fear is unproductive—and perhaps, even likely to be destructive to an organization. 

In her book Antiracism and Universal Design for Learning: Building Expressways to Success, Andratesha Fritzgerald reminds us that honoring black and brown learners is one of the most impactful ways to disrupt typical classroom power dynamics. Honoring learner preferences, needs, and understanding the lived experiences of those that may be different from ourselves are surefire ways at the classroom level to disrupt the power dynamic. Fritzgerald said elsewhere (2021), “A learning community of honor creates opportunities for learners to make decisions for themselves and evaluate their best possible outcomes.”

To make this disruption in classroom power dynamics happen, one of the fundamental shifts that educators and leaders need to do is to disengage from traditional power structures in structural leadership roles and shift to servant leadership roles. Taken from Tait (2020) knowing the difference between structural and servant leadership is an important aspect of shifting the power dynamics in educational settings to one that is anti-racist. 

Structural leadership vs. servant leadership

Structural (Traditional) LeadershipServant (Empowered) Leadership
Focuses on organizational structuresFocuses on people in organization
Pushes agendas, compliance for the benefit of the organizationActively listens to the people in the organization for the betterment of the organization
Cold, Calculated, Ego-driven where ethics are questionableEmpathy, Compassion, Human-centered focus in an authentic manner with ethics
Perceived authority is used to force compliance, coerce, manipulate people to do what the leader or organization wantsPerceived authority is used to encourage, support, motivate those in the organization
Creates a mission and vision of excellence for the organization that is superficialCo-creates a mission and vision of excellence for the organization/team
Does not build a community- sees themselves as separate from the members of the organization. Build a community with members by actively involving members 

We’ve learned that one of the most fundamental ways to shift this dynamic in leadership is to approach everything that we do from a place of love, empathy, and compassion. This does not give white people “a pass” when it comes to actively participating in their own understanding of systemic inequalities, racism, ableism, etc. It invites a different approach that is more human centered as opposed to system centered. When you are in the pursuit of true justice and equity, that is the ultimate act of love. 

Love in Higher Education 

The title of Tina Turner’s song ‘What’s Love got to do with it?’ is very prevalent here in terms of how we perceive ourselves and others and how we treat others.  If we embrace life through a lens of compassion, trust, empathy, humanity, and love, love then has everything to do with it.  A recent publication on Higher Education and Love highlights several ways that “universities have a unique place in our culture which gives them the opportunity and responsibility to activate and manifest love” (Brendon 2021). Few in the neoliberal academy can escape the sense of isolation through not being promoted, grant refusals, negative teaching reviews, publication rejections or bad reviews, loss of colleagues through illness or changing employment, ineffective processes or practices and ineffective leadership. This continuous pressure to succeed, publish or perish, teach, and carry out administrative roles is mostly focused on an individualized and competitive approach that certainly highlights the absence of love. Instead, Peterson (2021) refers to shifting this thinking toward academic citizenship as a moral, ethical, and civic practice by stating that “without the virtues of trust, fellow feeling, public spirit, loyalty, faith and hope in community, the nature of academic work will remain both disheartening and without a heart” (p.77). 

Ethical values as well as love are not new to education (Freire 2008, hooks 2005). Like all ethical frameworks, hooks’ love ethic is concerned with how we live, the choices we make, what we do, and whether what we do is consistent with the values that are meant to underpin our actions. There are three core assumptions in hook’s ethics of love, that it is:

  1. resists domination.
  2. relational.
  3. transformative and transforming. 

In her book All About Love, hooks (2000) claimed that “awakening to love can only happen as we let go of our obsession with power and domination” (p.87). In this sense, a love ethic is a set of values that enable us to resist, dismantle, and move beyond systems of power and domination (2005). Over the past two years it has certainly been a time to critically reflect on the global pandemic that has showcased how fragile our education systems are- but equally how our educators reacted and became change agents at a pace never imagined. What was showcased by many was love for learners, love for teaching, love for learning, building communities of practice, supporting peers and the importance of wellbeing. However, we must ask ourselves if the institutional decisions, guidance, support, policies, and processes enacted were centered around its people and community and if not, why not? In the forward of the book Higher Education and Love (2021, p.xxi) we are encouraged to critically reflect on our experiences over the pandemic and where do we go next by concluding, “what love has felt like to us all over this period is impossible to categorize, yet it may have offered time to question what love actually means in its absence, what love actually is and how it matters to HE? 

Robinson (2021, p.33) highlights that we must focus on “hope, morality, justice, courage and self-worth.” In addition, Waghid (2021) from an African perspective constitutes to not only be aware of societal, environmental, and political predicaments but to have a notion of cosmopolitan activism and in doing so internalizes the passion for love. He refers to cosmopolitan activism that consists of three aspects that involves both educators and learners together:

  • Autonomous reflective beings that are open to learn from one another, share ideas and practices across cultural markers
  • Commit themselves to being educational change agents, to embark on pedagogical and societal initiatives in opposition to global injustices, wars, global warming and human suffering
  • Summoned to awaken, where they make sense of their learning, become reflexive to what they know and open to what is still to come (ibid, p.91)

Paulo Freire, in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2008), emphasizes that love is a conscious act stating that “the pedagogy of love humanizes learning by engaging students in an ongoing process of self-exploration.” This not only showcases the importance of an educator’s journey of relational connections but to become an accomplice and ally it focuses on, that all learners matter. Thus, it is abundantly clear to us that the core part of what we need to become change agents to embed antiracism into our practice is rooted and centered in love. In the words of the Beatles, “All we need is Love”. 

UDL as Love

But is love really all we need? We assert that seeing each other as fellow human beings is a must, as opposed to a category, sorted by class, race, gender, ability that incorrectly assumes that one group is superior to another. Our common thread is our collective humanity- why not center that? What educational practices allow us to replicate this notion of honoring our collective humanity in various learning spaces? Universal Design for Learning has a place and opportunity to support this. We will discuss the ways that this can take place. 

The first principle of the UDL framework is Engagement, which aligns to the Affective Network. This is where we decide as learners what matters to us, what actions to take, and identify the emotional connection to the learning (Rose & Dalton, 2007). UDL empowers the educator to intentionally design the curriculum to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of all learners (Meyer et al., 2014). It celebrates learner variability to remove any barriers that the learner may face.  If HE continuously attempts to widen access to all learners to gain entry by promoting inclusive and diverse institutions, then why do we still have significant drop out rates or student satisfaction is often under par or there is no representation from minoritized learners on some courses or programs? Any job application now advertising a post upfront state those from diverse and under-represented groups are encouraged to apply, but this does not always result in employment or even an interview from those that are targeted to apply. The lack of adequate representation of black, brown and indigenous populations in HE (and K12) also serves as barriers to access for those groups. If one is unable to “see” themselves in a space, how are they able to effectively access it? 

 What does that mean to feel part of a community or have a sense of belonging in HE? For many faculty, depending on the institutional context, their expertise and research is the focus and often teaching comes in second. While there are many who deeply care for learners, go above and beyond their role and teaching responsibility, but are often confined by the neoliberal institution to be encouraged to genuinely care for learners. We need to ask ourselves what really matters in education? 

Over the past two years what we are seeing from learners is the passion, empathy, and love for the environment through climate change, accepting and celebrating differences -and not accepting violence or racism, in particular around #BlackLivesMatter and a more call out nature of the #MeToo Movement. These movements are certainly interconnected to an individual’s mindset, environment, experiences, and backgrounds. Just like in a learning context if an individual faces social and emotional hardships through isolation, microaggressions, bias and discrimination through racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, this can have serious negative consequences on their learning experience and engagement practices.  Such negative relational connotations or perceived perceptions can often mean that ethical values are omitted and that the variability that is inherent in all of us is not honored or valued. In her interview with Dr. Catlin Tucker, Andratesha Fritzgerald reminds us of this fundamental point: “We cannot, in good conscience or in good teaching, stand by and watch another generation be marginalized because we didn’t take action.” 

UDL refers to empowering expert learners but how do we empower educators to become expert teachers beyond a subject or discipline? If the learning environment has dramatically changed where more flexible options have become available or even a possibility for many HEIs, how can faculty development not only support the DEI/EDI rhetoric and legal obligations around discrimination, but drive deeper change to ensure UDL, accessibility and antiracism are included around challenging stereotypes, bias, microaggressions and gaslighting at an individual level but also at a systems level to being antiracist, where everyone has a place and feels a sense of belonging? How can institutions provide safe spaces, invest in its people, acknowledge the painful issues and histories, unpack, and learn from them and take action?  How can this in turn develop into learning moments and growth mindsets (that are centered in equity) for educators to be part of that change in partnership with learners?  The shift away from compliance, checklists, and logos on websites needs to focus more on the institution’s community, its people and those that it serves, rather than the marketisation and corporatization of our HEIs. 


The work of antiracism is continual. Indeed, the easiest way to spot performativity is when individuals, leaders, or systems point to single events and actions as demonstration of change. On the contrary, antiracist change is demonstrated in continual review and redress of systems. For districts, a commitment to distributing educational resources based on need, rather than local tax brackets is far more potent than giving a grant for 1:1 chromebooks to a local low-income school. For schools, a commitment to regular culturally responsive reviews of curriculum that represents diverse voices is far more potent than adding a book from a Black author to the curriculum. For individual educators and other stakeholders, a commitment to listening and acting based on what we learn from our colleagues and students of color about what is needed is far more potent than signing our name on a petition or making bold posts “in solidarity” on social media once in a while.  

Being a white ally or accomplice boils down to a commitment to listen, learn, and act. Continually. Our privilege is such that we don’t have to care about systemic racism in education. We can easily opt out of caring and sustain the status quo with our inaction. For our students and colleagues of color, there is no such opportunity to opt out of caring — systemic racism isn’t merely a concept for them, but a lived experience. If we can opt out, however, we can also opt in. In doing so, we must avoid centering ourselves. That means avoiding performativity and instead embracing servant leadership and ongoing commitment. It means lifting others up without show or fanfare. It means doing the internal work before the external work. And doing it again tomorrow. 

Universal Design for Learning is a powerful framework for designing for inclusion of diverse learners; antiracism is a critical lens that helps us focus our efforts on addressing systemic barriers that were (or are) intentionally developed and maintained to marginalize individuals based on race. When we bring them together, there is opportunity to use brain-based pedagogical research that calls for intentionally designing for diversity to laser focus on those barriers that have hindered individuals of color for far too long. This is the first time in history that these two frameworks, now both fully mature, have been united at scale. As Fritzgerald (2021) reminds us in a guest post:  “Every learner has a gem inside of them. It is our job to blast away at barriers until we find it. And that is what is antiracist. Universal Design for Learning does blast away at barriers until the gem of brilliance is clearly shining for all the world to see.”  We are just beginning to see the impact.


Artiles, A. J. (2017, October 19). Re-envisioning equity research: Disability identification disparities as a case in point [14th Annual Brown Lecture]. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

De Rijke, V., Peterson, A. and Gibbs, P. (2021) Higher Education and Love: Institutional, Pedagogical and Personal Trajectories, Palgrave McMillan.

Freire, P. (2008) Pedagogy of the Oppressed 30th anniversary Edition. Continuum International Publishing: NY.

Fritzgerald, A., & Rice, S. (2020). Antiracism and Universal Design for Learning: Building Expressways to success. CAST Professional Publishing, an imprint of CAST, Inc. 

Fritzgerald, A. (2021, August 20). Blasting Away Classroom Barriers through Antiracism & UDL . Retrieved January 7, 2022, retrieved from: https://www.gleaneducation.com/ed-leaders-podcast/andratesha-fritzgerald. 

hooks, b. (2000). All about Love: New Visions. Harper Collins Publishers.

Hooks, b. (2005). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the practice of Freedom. Routledge.

Kim-Cragg, H. (2019). The Emperor Has No Clothes!: Exposing Whiteness as Explicit, Implicit, and Null Curricula. Religious Education, 114(3), 239–251. https://doi.org/10.1080/00344087.2019.1602464

Kramarczuk Voulgarides, C., & Tefera, A. (2017). Reframing the Racialization of Disabilities in Policy. Theory Into Practice, 56(3), 161–168. https://doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2017.1336037

Leslie, A. M., Watson, V. M., Borunda, R. M., Bosworth, K. E. M., & Grant, T. J. (2021). Towards Abolition: Undoing the Colonized Curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies Research, 3(1), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.46303/jcsr.2021.5

Loera, P. (2021). Race and Inequality in School Funding Across Texas [Thesis]. https://oaktrust.library.tamu.edu/handle/1969.1/194422

Nelson, L.L. (2021) Using the Universal Design for Learning Framework to Understand the Power of Belonging, Chapter 4, in Jennifer L. Jones and Kami L. Gallus, Belonging and Resilience in Individuals with Developmental Disabilities: Community and Family Engagement. Springer Publisher.

Peterson, A. (2021) Academic Citizenship, Service and the Cherishing of Community (Chapter 4) in De Rijke, V., Peterson, A. and Gibbs, P.  (2021) Higher Education and Love: Institutional, Pedagogical and Personal Trajectories, Palgrave McMillan.

Rose, D. H., & Dalton, B. (2007). Plato revisited: Learning through listening in the digital world. CAST, Inc. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=F4434F 5D53B397CD7B115066D5E750B3?doi=

Saad, L. F. (2022). Me and white supremacy. Quercus. 

Stewart, J. G. (2017). The Importance of Servant Leadership in Schools . International Journal of Business Management and Commerce , 2(5). https://doi.org/http://www.ijbmcnet.com/images/Vol2No5/1.pdf 

Tait, B. (2021, December 10). Council post: Traditional leadership vs. servant leadership. Forbes. Retrieved January 4, 2022, retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/03/11/traditional-leadership-vs-servant-leadership/?sh=15769da1451e

Tucker, C. (2021, July 27). The balance, by dr. Catlin Tucker: Antiracism and Universal Design for learning with Andratesha Fritzgerald on Apple Podcasts. Antiracism and Universal Design for Learning with Andratesha Fritzgerald. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/antiracism-and-universal-design-for-learning/id1485751335?i=1000530214769 

Waghid, Y. (2021). On the Possibility of Love within University Education (Chapter 5) in in De Rijke, V., Peterson, A. and Gibbs, P.  (2021) Higher Education and Love: Institutional, Pedagogical and Personal Trajectories, Palgrave McMillan.

About the Authors

Eric, was born to a white middle class family and grew up predominantly in a well-to-do suburb (Grand Rapids, Michigan). I was only distantly exposed to issues of race and racism, and never truly affected by it growing up. When I became a teacher and taught overseas in Indonesia and Korea, I was forced to confront biases and prejudices I didn’t even know I had. Toward people of other religions. Other cultures. Other socioeconomic status. I credit my learners and colleagues for their patience with me as I navigated and often blundered through learning about how my own background had shaped me, and how I needed to be intentional in reflection and in action for the benefit of my learners – whose experiences were different from mine in so many ways. In pursuing my M.Ed and PhD, I focused on inclusive education. I wanted to know more, I wanted to do more. And in the years since, I have been fortunate to have opportunities to learn from many wonderful colleagues and mentors and to continue my journey of being an apprentice ally and accomplice. I am grateful to have had the chance to make important changes in myself and in my classrooms and communities. Though I recognize there is still so much to be done! 

Hillary, was born to a white working class (blue collar) family in a coastal community in Maine. While my parents worked multiple jobs to put food on the table, there were definite privileges that I benefited from as a white person. My experience of race and racism only were “in the past,” where history lessons told us those days were over and that the U.S. was a great nation that saved the world. It wasn’t until High School that I saw in person a black person. It was then that I realized that I had these biases, thoughts, and feelings that I didn’t understand where they came from, yet they were coming from within me. They weren’t all about blackness. There were thoughts about gender, ability, sexual orientation as well. It wasn’t until college that I was further exposed to diversity and as a resident assistant, received training in diversity. I had no idea that I still had these beliefs, and biases. Even as a grad student in special education, I had to recognize that there were ableistic notions to my training, which is the exact opposite of how to educate learners with disabilities. My first teaching job was in a predominantly latino community, where I was immersed in a completely different culture, yet didn’t quite understand the systemic barriers the children I worked with faced, and how I was a barrier.  In 2017, our school district was sued by a black educator for racial discrimination and won. My fear of retribution kept me silent, which was wrong. It wasn’t until I started doing the internal work in 2017, starting with Layla Sadd’s Instagram Challenge that eventually became her book Me and White Supremacy,  that I began to realize how insidious bias and racism can be, that it is an onion that the layers need to be peeled repeatedly. While I am actively participating in my own unlearning within myself and within communities of unlearning, I acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to do. 

Tracy, was born to a white working class family and grew up in a housing estate in Limerick, a mid-west region of Ireland. My experience of racism as a young child was very much in relation to the Traveller community, that still today remains a prominent issue in Ireland, where the community is still under-represented in all aspects of society due to the systemic inequalities. In terms of diversity, it was not until high school (secondary) aged 13 when I met a mixed race (bi-racial) student, one out of 900 students in the whole school. Through my own lived experience my work, volunteering, teaching and research focused on social justice but through a narrow lens of inclusion on poverty, and educational disadvantage. This led me to my beginning journey around understanding the intersectionality of inclusion. I realise now that my assumptions and implicit biases came from my upbringing and culture, like many other young Irish people, besides the local Chinese restaurant, there was a lack of exposure to other ethnic groups with the only experience been through television that was often portrayed only as starving children from Africa. It was not until my early adulthood through travelling, volunteering, university and work experience that I became exposed to other opinions, identities, cultures and lived experiences, resulting in my work in equality, diversity and inclusion in education and widening my focus of social justice. My own personal journey of recognising my own positionally had led to growth and understanding, as well as constant unlearning and undoing, but it is only at the start of its journey as I continue to become an accomplice, ally and anti-racist through by being a change agent.

Raising Awareness of Assistive Technology: A new tool by AHEAD to help guide people to AT options.

‘Both UDL and AT work to overcome barriers, provide access, and support participation for
students with disabilities.’ (Rose, Hasselbring, Stahl, and Zabala, 2005)

Assistive Technology, or AT for short, has evolved in an awe inspiring way over the past few decades and its possibilities to empower students to overcome learning barriers has never been so abundant. Raising awareness about AT and its ability to support our diverse learners is needed and In AHEAD, we are raising awareness about Assistive Technology and addressing this gap in AT knowledge. In our website, we have created a section dedicated to AT that has not only information about different types of AT to support reading, writing, organization, collaboration, communication as well as magnification and more, but we have added a section called ‘Discover your Assistive Technology’ that has 3 simple questions for you to answer. At the end of answering 3 simple questions, a list of AT tools are created that are starting points to help focus and begin peoples exploration of AT. This tool is accessible to everyone as we want all types of people from all walks of life to try this tool and delve into the world of Assistive Technology. We invite you to try it and share it with others as there are so many possibilities with AT and how it can help people of all ages and backgrounds.

‘Assistive technology is essential in the application of a UDL instructional design and, in return, a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides accessible Curriculum Content, helping to raise the value of Assistive Technology’ (Basham, Israel, Graden, Poth, &Winston, 2010).

AT and UDL are a powerful partnership as they offer learners choice about how they access and express knowledge. Now AT options are available on all devices and digital eco systems like Google Workspace and Office 365, so learners have many AT options at hand and our ‘Discover your AT’ website helps to guide them to appropriate technologies in a focused way.

Take time to try ‘Discover your Assistive Technology’ and explore AT types for your devices that can help you in different ways.

By: Trevor Boland, eLearning and Digital Office, AHEAD

Delivering A Graduate Course in Universal Design for Learning: Reflecting on Eighteen Years of Experiences

By: Dr. Frances Smith, Adjunct Professor, George Washington University and UDL Leadership Fellow, Boston College/CAST

My first introduction to universal design for learning (UDL) was during the summer of 2001. The Dean of the School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA where I was working at the time had received an email communication from CAST announcing a summer institute on UDL and, knowing my interests in inclusive technology, sent that on to me. That invitation and opportunity began a new journey in my professional career in UDL. 

Nested in that email was reference to an enlightening article titled, “The Future is in the Margins: The Role of Technology and Disability in Educational Reform” which summarized some important predictions of how technology would change over time and, more importantly, expand the opportunities of so many marginalized individuals (Rose & Meyer, 2000). Of particular importance, the authors highlighted:

“The result of new technologies will be a re-centering of the core agenda of school on learning instead of content. This will be fostered by advances in our understanding of what learning really is…and which methods –such as universal design for learning–are articulated and flexible enough to meet the diverse learning needs of all the students” (p. 6)

As an emerging science, UDL immediately peeked my interests on how the promise for leveraging evolving technologies could open doors for marginalized students and expand their educational pathways. The power and flexibility of digital tools could shift the way that we both understand and support students’ learning. That invitation took me to Peabody, Massachusetts (USA) and a full week of immersion into exploring UDL with 50 other educators from around the USA.

At this juncture, I had many years of experience as a practitioner in vocational evaluation and assistive technology. These had provided me with a deep understanding of the underpinnings of disabilities, exploring career paths, and figuring out how to adapt technology to expand and enrich learning. Both disciplines encouraged practitioners to seek optional ways to find success for students and adults with disabilities. As a vocational evaluation practitioner, I had often worked with students who on paper (standardized test results) had failed miserably in their education. Yet, when we allowed those students to help us craft a week-long career assessment process that mirrored their interests and provided hands-on work tasks for them to complete, an entirely different person emerged; one with obvious intelligence and aptitude. In my work as an assistive technology professional for a large urban public school in the metro Washington, DC area of the U.S. I had been a part of some of the early adoption of assistive technologies that grew out of the 1990’s and opened doors for those with a range of physical, sensory, motor, and multiple disabilities. These technologies allowed them to write with their voice, couple words together and “word predict” in a document, and “read” written material with their eyes. The possibilities were amazing. Yet, as Rose and Meyer (2000) also found, these technologies held less effectiveness when these students went into classrooms or work sites where traditional instructional, or work practices continued to create barriers to success.

The framework of UDL offered a focus on inclusive designs that were embedded from the beginning, supported an acknowledgement of learner variability across all individuals, and a focused on approaches to reach and teach all students. I could see the power of this approach working and therein  began my transformation as a lifelong devotee of UDL.

Upon completion, I returned to my then position as a director of a faculty technology lab at a university in the Southeast and began considering how the UDL framework could be infused into my work. These were exciting times for the beginnings of distance learning and the importance of accessible web design. The framework UDL had much potential! However, sometimes pioneering ideas are slow to catch on and in the early 2000’s, little research on the effectiveness of UDL in higher education had yet to be published. The reception to such a new idea was slow and it took time for faculty to adopt UDL campus-wide, but the ability to infuse these ideas in classes and trainings started to grow. Fortunately for me, I was also beginning my doctoral studies at GW university and knew I wanted to focus my future research on UDL. 

The Why, What, and How of the UDL Course

Having a vision for why a course in UDL is important is the easy part when one has spent a week with impassioned educators and CAST leaders indoctrinating all in the principles, opportunities, and power of UDL. As a new doctoral student, exploring such innovative opportunities to learn about UDL were supported and continued to grow. My visionary advisor and the department chair of Graduate School of Education and Human Development, of Special Education and Disability Studies supported these interests in exploring a new course option in UDL at GW. We began with a summer institute and piloted a week-long face-to-face class on the downtown campus of GW in Washington, DC. 

The groundswell of interest to attend this summer institute blossomed quickly – perhaps because there were few such classes in the country at that time. Students started to fill these classes and enriched the community we were building. Having access to nearby national programs also proved to be beneficial as we could schedule in guest experts for daily presentations or, in some cases, arrange “field trips” to visit them in person and explore their views on UDL.

Since few UDL texts had been written, we relied on the same notebook of resources and articles shared at that 2001 summer institute at CAST. As an “experimental pilot offering” we also had a small room with computers to teach the class. Even with these restrictions, our first class was filled, and many faculty members and adjunct faculty requested to “sit in” on the course and learn about this novel and intriguing idea called “universal design for learning”. By 2002, Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning was published, and a free digital copy posted on the CAST website (Rose, Meyer, & Rappolt, 2002). This was our adopted text for the next 10 years. In 2014, we added Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice as our core text (Rose, Meyer, & Gordon, 2014) as this was offered again in multiple formats of text, e-pub, and freely online. CAST has continued to model UDL best practices in offering open, digital formats of many of their publications and which demonstrate the three core UDL principles in action: 1) provide multiple options of engagement, 2) provide multiple options of representation, and 3) provide multiple options of action and expression (CAST, 2021).

In 2003, the Blackboard Learning Management System® (LMS) was being used for online course instruction on the GW campus. Still in its infancy, Blackboard®  provided a digital means to continue our classroom instruction after the initial week of in-class instruction. We could also post the PowerPoint presentations, link videos, and add hyperlinks to resources that supported the material. Over the next year, the university office of Disability Support Services (DSS) offered small grant opportunities to strengthen existing courses that promoted universal designs. We obtained a small grant and continued to expand the digital resources used for in-class instruction and through our online Blackboard course. Several other faculty members also explored this opportunity to redesign courses that modeled UDL best practices (George Washington University, 2005).

Strengths, Opportunities, and Lessons Learned

Pitching a new course in higher education often takes time and it may take years until adoption. This UDL course however continued to flourish since the course was so successful as a “summer pilot”. Since its inception in 2003, the course has been in existence for 18 years through the Graduate School of Human Development and Education: Department of Special Education and Disability Studies. In the early years, the chair of the Department of Special Education and Disability Studies began a new policy to have all faculty include universal design and UDL language in syllabi. The hybrid model existed for approximately eight years and the course has been completely online since 2012. Students from across a range of content disciplines have taken this course. Several of the department programs (M.A. – Collaborative Vocational Evaluation Training; M.A. – Interdisciplinary Secondary Transition Services) have adopted this course as a requirement in their master’s level programs and the course is also an elective for the Doctorate in Special Education. In 2007, I invited a colleague with expertise in curriculum and instruction to join as a co-instructor. That was a very wise decision as her background was extremely pertinent to the growing focus of UDL application in schools. The partnership between a curriculum and instruction expert with one in UDL and assistive technology proved to be a strong co-teaching arrangement. 

While the course has never been embraced systemwide across the university, the impact has made headway. Discussions and alliances have been explored with the Disability Support Services, Office of the Provost, and the Academic Technologies. As a result, the incorporation of UDL best practices have been strengthened and infused into some of these areas. Many of the students who have taken this class have gone on to national leadership roles promoting UDL across a range of programs, schools, and work settings.


CAST, 2021. About CAST. Retrieved from https://www.cast.org/ 

George Washington University (2005). By george. The Official News Source of the George Washington University, 17(11), 1-12.

Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.

Rose, D. H., Meyer, A, & Rappolt, G. (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

About the Author:

Frances Smith, Ed.D, is an educator and consultant (Recognizing Differences, LLC) based in Richmond, VA, USA. She has taught as an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University since the late 1980’s in vocational evaluation topical areas. In 1997, Dr. Smith co-designed and co-taught a fully online course in Technology & Disabilities. In 2003, she began piloting a new graduate hybrid course in universal design for learning, offered over 18 years in face-to-face, blended, and now completely online formats. A range of students across special education, rehabilitation, museum education, curriculum and instruction, transition special education, higher education, and instructional technology have taken this course as well as faculty, doctoral candidates and others seeking to learn about UDL. Dr. Smith holds an M.A in Collaborative Vocational Evaluation, Ed.S in Transition Special Education, and Ed.D in Higher Education Administration, all from GW University.

In 2011, she was selected as one of eight postdoctoral UDL fellows in residence at CAST and Boston College Lynch School of Education. Her work focused on UDL in higher education, transition special education, career assessment, and inclusive technologies. Dr. Smith is currently a member of the CAST National Faculty. She has been an early adopter of UDL and provided training nationally and internationally. She is a past board member of the former National UDL Taskforce (USA) and represented the voice of the Vocational Evaluation and Career Assessment Professional Association. She is a past recipient of the 2015 DISES Distinguished Leadership Award for her collaborative work with an online UDL learning project with colleagues at the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA and The Mico University College, in Kingston, Jamaica.

More details about Dr. Smith’s work can be found at http://www.recognizingdifferences.com 

Design Universal para Aprendizagem: construindo um currículo acessível a todos.

By Valguenia Ferné de Souza Torres

Este E-Zine é o produto final da pesquisa : Contribuições do Design Universal para Aprendizagem à prática educativa inclusiva: um estudo no âmbito da alfabetização e multiletramentos, do Mestrado Profissional em Educação da Universidade Municipal de São Caetano do Sul -USCS, sob a orientação da professora Dra. Elizabete Cristina Costa Renders.

A proposta é apresentar alguns conceitos sobre o Design Universal par Aprendizagem (DUA), sugerir alguns recursos multimodais para o planejamento com base nos princípios do DUA.

Access the document here:


About the author:

headshot of author Valguenia Ferné de Souza Torres

Mestre em Educação pela Universidade Municipal São Caetano do Sul, pós graduada em Psicopedagogia Clínica e Institucional pela Universidade do Grande ABC, pós graduada em Gestão do Currículo para professores – coordenadores pelo Universidade de São Paulo, pós graduada em Educação Especial na Perspectiva da Educação Inclusiva pela Universidade Estadual Paulista “Júlio de Mesquita Filho”, pós graduada em Docência do Ensino Superior pela Universidade Católica Dom Bosco, pós graduada em Educação Inclusiva pela Faculdade de Ciências Humanas de Mairiporã, graduada em Pedagogia pela Universidade do Grande ABC e graduada em Letras pelo Centro Universitário Fundação Santo André.

Lecionou como professora efetiva por vinte seis anos na rede Estadual de Ensino a disciplina de Língua Portuguesa no Anos Finais e Médio, atuou como Professor Coordenador Pedagógico na rede Estadual de Ensino. Participou do Programa de Iniciação à Docência na Universidade Municipal de São Caetano do Sul (USCS), onde acompanhava o Prof. Dr. Rodnei Pereira durante as aulas online, pela plataforma Google Meet, auxiliando nas aulas e orientando os graduandos em suas atividades avaliativas. Atualmente atua como professora efetiva de Educação Infantil e Anos Iniciais na Prefeitura de São Paulo, sendo designada Professora de Apoio Pedagógico- PAP. Participou do Grupo de Trabalho da Secretaria Municipal de Educação da elaboração da Priorização do Currículo da Cidade de São Paulo do ensino fundamental de Língua Portuguesa para o ano de 2021.

Realizing Students Inclusive Voice Potential Within a Blended Learning Space During Covid-19.

By Anastasia Kennett and Dr. Sean Bracken

profile image of Anastasia Kennett
Anastasia Kennett


In 2021, students were recruited globally to work internationally with INCLUDE (University of Worcester, England) and ICEQ (University of Ibn Zohr, Morocco) to organise and facilitate the first International Student Voice Conference in the Maghreb. Positioning students as primary creators of the conference facilitated deeper learning in event organisational planning and leadership (Fox and Kang, 2019). This poster utilises appreciative inquiry (Kadi-Hanifi et al., 2014) to discuss how the conference facilitated deeper learning using student’s voice during the Covid-19 pandemic.

International Relationships:

Working internationally meant that  students’ global citizenship was enhanced, providing the student organisers from Morocco, the US, South Africa and the UK with further skills and attributes that will benefit students in an ever increasingly global learning space. Students shared understanding for religious celebratory events and took the time to offer guidance and reassurance when needed which increased students’ sense of well-being. Furthermore, international collaboration for the conference enabled students voices to be heard from a variety of countries and institutions, ensuring the conference was inclusive of all student voices (Egron-Polak and Marmoleje, 2017).

New digital skills:

Due to Covid-19, the conference was facilitated online where students developed new digital skills that may not have been realised in the classroom (Sicilia et al. 2018). Such as creating event posters; using Microsoft Teams; Google forms, Google docs and OneDrive to organise the conference and safely store participants’ information. Furthermore, students learnt to use a specific conference platform; called Whova. Students were also able to use their voice to request support from academic staff and will be able to use these new digital skills in their future academic studies or careers.

Staff/student partnerships:

Students maintained control within the conference organisation but at times, students needed specific guidance and support in ‘breaking the glass-ceiling’ in knowledge. Staff provided immediate support to students which created a student-staff mentorship and collaborative space whereby deeper partnerships with staff members were established. This meant that students could learn valuable skills from staff partners whilst staff could also value the voices of the students and their expertise of the student cohort. Working with students in this way, could make for a valuable addition to existing student-staff partnership programs currently  undertaken in Higher Education, such as those outlined by Cook-Sather, Bovill and Felten (2014).

All-inclusive conference:

Students were also inspired to create an all-inclusive digital conference by utilising the principles of Universal Design for Learning (Cast, 2020). This ensured that the conference aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2020) and meant that all students felt included during the whole conference planning process. Students’ role in facilitating a global initiative, such as inclusion, demonstrated students’ commitment to inclusive education.


Positioning students in leadership roles within the planning process enabled the student voice to be heard from the conference inception to its end. Students utilised the positive support from staff to improve their knowledge and worked empathically and internationally to develop a new avenue for inclusive practice. Therefore, positioning students as conference organisers can make for a complimentary addition to other student-staff partnership programs.


CAST (2020) About universal design for learning. Available at: http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.XtuJJ9aSlPY (Accessed: 7th May 2021).

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014) Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Egron-Polak, E. and Marmolejo, F. (2017) ‘Higher education internationalization: adjusting to new landscapes’, in de Wit et al (eds.) The globalization of internationalization: emerging voices and perspectives, pp. 7 – 17.

Fox, D. and Kang, L. (2019) ‘Social work leadership: reflections on a student-led conference’, Social Work Education, 38(4), pp. 516 – 529. doi: 10.1080/02615479.2018.1554641

Kadi-Hanifi et al. (2014) ‘Engaging students and staff with educational development through appreciative inquiry’, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 51(6), pp. 584 – 594. doi: 10.1080/14703297.2013.796719

Sicilia et al. (2018) ‘Digital skills training in higher education: insights about the perception of different stakeholders’, TEEM’18: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Technological Ecosystem for Enhancing Multiculturality, pp. 781 – 787. doi: doi/10.1145/3284179.3284312

United Nations (2020) The 17 goals. Available at: THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development (un.org) (Accessed: 7th May 2021).

Promoting UDL principles and strategies for inclusive learning: The Redesigning Blended Courses Project at the University of Cape Town

By: Lauren Butler,Tess Cartmill 1, Amani Karisa 2 Thomas King 1 Judith McKenzie (Director: IDEA), Chantal Samuels 2, Widad Sirkhotte 1, Janet Small 1 (Project leader), Nokuthula Vilakati 1*


The context of higher education in South Africa is highly contested in the post-apartheid era. It is perceived as an arena in which historical inequality should be addressed and as a gateway into economic prosperity for its graduates. However, neither of these areas have been satisfactorily addressed as student protests in the past few years have vividly demonstrated. Teaching and learning at the University of Cape Town was disrupted due to student demands for increased access and participation through the #Rhodesmustfall and #Feesmustfall student protests. While fees and racial transformation were a major focus, the protests also campaigned for the development of the curriculum to promote social justice in the African context.

However, the closing down of in-person teaching during the public health national lockdowns since 2020 has highlighted existing inequality on the higher education agenda even more starkly. The COVID 19 crisis, which required South African universities to respond with ‘emergency remote teaching (ERT)’, revealed the painful social inequalities around living conditions, access to devices and internet connectivity inscribing old racial and economic exclusions (Czerniewicz et al, 2020).  Across the world, teachers and commentators have been highlighting the differential impact on students’ capacity to keep learning which exacerbates existing disadvantages.  

Whilst educators initially saw ERT as a temporary hold pattern with a future return to the old  normal, we now realize that teaching and learning cannot be the same, and that trying to go back would be regressive because what we had was not working for many students. The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) future vision commits our institution to curriculum revisions which include the incorporation of blended learning and educational technology in ways which provide all students with more meaningful and interactive learning experiences. We have come to realize that ERT is not sufficient to address student needs and that a considered and well-planned to blended learning is called for. As we move toward intentionally designed blended models, we see an urgent need for easy-to-apply inclusive learning design that intentionally addresses educational inequity. In this project we have adopted the approach of universal design for learning (UDL) to guide the redesign of courses for the new normal. 

The university recognizes this imperative by supporting a three year project: The promotion of inclusive digitally-enabled education through the redesign of blended courses which is funded by the national Department of Higher Education and Training. In this project, course models will be developed to provide greater flexibility and cater to a greater diversity of student learning needs by incorporating UDL principles. Intentional design will assist by emphasizing the need for a variety of learning materials and activities to cater for diverse student contexts, different learning needs (including disability), and digital literacies. Incorporating the UDL principles will  increase accessibility, and cater for a variety of contextual barriers and challenges (e.g. power outages, data costs and poor connectivity) as well as supporting student choices.

What we’re doing

Partnership approach

The project is led by the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CILT) and draws on expertise locally and internationally through partnering with the Including Disability in Education in Africa research unit (IDEA) for assisting with the development of flexible and locally appropriate course models. IDEA is generating materials for advocacy promoting asset-based pedagogies and focusing on developing students as expert learners.

The Disability Services Unit also sits on the project committee and offers advice and resources on the accessibility considerations in technology for students with disabilities. The project aims to make use of existing resources, to develop support for teaching staff in redesigning courses and promoting the use of UDL principles in a variety of blended course designs. 

Learning from others 

Our team is tapping into the resources of CAST and  learning from existing initiatives such as the Johns Hopkins University’s ‘Hopkins Universal Design for Learning (HUDL) project’; we also work with academics from the USA who consult to the project though IDEA.

Edtech advisors 

A group of senior postgraduate students have been recruited to serve as Edtech Advisors. CILT learning designers developed and ran a customized training programme for the Edtech advisors to explore how technologies are being used in supporting teaching and learning. This training combines knowledge, practical, hands-on skills development, critique, and reflection on inclusive learning through the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.

The Edtech Advisors will support teaching staff to create inclusive, accessible and multi-media rich learning materials and activities, based on UDL principles which are aimed at enhancing student access and inclusion.

The project includes working with the Education Development Unit in the Humanities Faculty in training their Teaching Assistants (TA). Part of their training includes looking at pedagogies of care (which focus on promoting well being) and pedagogies of discomfort (which build resilience to navigate exclusion and diversity) both key parts of creating a different learning environment in blended course redesign. Such is intended to enable both teaching staff and students to challenge dominant assumptions and beliefs in order to take action towards making a contribution towards accessible and inclusive learning spaces.  

Open webinars and customized staff training on implementing UDL in course design is being developed to accompany a range of existing and new resources.   

Pilot courses

Starting with some existing courses, such as a Disability Studies PG Diploma module, the team is piloting methods for helping with redesigning courses to maximize student inclusion through improving alignment of learning outcomes and assessments. An overarching goal is to consider the relevance of learning materials for the diversity of students in the class by introducing new tools and to intentionally allow for different forms of engagement, student outputs and assessments.

Way forward

While we are still at the early stages of the project, we have found it gratifying to see how the UDL approach is finding resonance at UCT and is now frequently referred to in curriculum discussions. Our challenge will be to build on this initial awareness and begin to integrate the flexibility and responsiveness of a UDL approach into blended learning – a challenging task that requires new ways of thinking and doing.  We invite the INCLUDE community to offer suggestions, collaborations and directions that will support us in this task.


By Leandro Key Higuchi Yanaze, Maria da Conceição dos Santos, Cícera Aparecida Lima Malheiro,

We are delighted to present the Accessibility Portal at the University Federal of São Paulo (Unifesp) as an important tool to guide the implementation of our recently established Accessibility and Inclusion Policy. We will briefly highlight a few key elements that underlie the philosophy of our inclusion practices in higher education. We will then describe our initial implementation with reference to a group of students with disability[1].

Education: key element to promote social justice

Education is key for promoting social justice and participation for all citizens, without discrimination of any form. It is a fundamental human right and an essential condition for all individuals to fully develop their potential and effectively participate in society (UN, 2018).

Worldwide, persons with disabilities belong to a vulnerable population who experience discrimination, stigma and increased risk of social isolation.

Globally, access to higher education for many students with disabilities is only a recent possibility. Fortunately, change is underway through policy formulation and implementation aimed at this segment of society (CAIADO, 2013; TIMMERMAN; MULVIHILL, 2015; YSSEL et al, 2016; MELO; MARTINS, 2016; LINDSAY et al, 2018).

Identifying disability as a social marker of human diversity allows us to understand the process of exclusion as a complex sociohistorical phenomenon in general society and in the field of higher education.

The Disability and Development Report (UN, 2018) in its analysis of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs-UN) establishes a disability theme as transversal to the whole set of objectives and specifically to education. The Report further indicates the importance of accessibility in order for an environment to be inclusive and sensitive to the diversity of human functioning.

According to this document, available evidence shows that persons with disabilities are less likely to attend school, complete primary or secondary education and become literate, thus pointing to an urgent need to improve access to education for children and youth with disabilities. Disability puts young people at greater risk of social exclusion and poverty because of limited opportunity to participate in education and the world of work.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: a new milestone

As a fruitful result of historical struggles in the political and academic arena, the Social Disability Model (OLIVER, 2013) has advanced our understanding of the complexity of disability, culminating in — among other important documents — the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS …, 2006) launched by the United Nations.

This Convention constitutes a new milestone in the recognition of struggles in defence of the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as for legislators and social policymakers informing institutional actors, whether in the public or private sector, about their responsibilities when formulating policies, services, and products to ensure equal access for all citizens despite any limitations on human functioning (FOUGEYROLLAS et al., 2019).

Brazil, where we are located, is a signatory of the Convention, and even though students with disabilities have their rights to education guaranteed in several national legal documents prior to the UN Convention, routine instructional practices remain inconsistent affecting access and retention of young persons with disability in secondary and higher education (ROCHA; BRUNELLO; SOUZA, 2018; CAIADO, 2013).

The presence of students with disabilities calls out the university to review preconceptions about disability and transform curriculum and instructional practices to be as flexible as necessary to ensure the rights of education.

In Brazil, there are important legal instruments for strengthening inclusive education and special admissions quotas for minority groups such as persons with disability: National Policy from the Perspective of Inclusive Education (BRASIL, 2008), the National Student Assistance Program (PNAES), the Brazilian Inclusion Law (BRASIL, 2015) to name a few.

However, a crucial point we want to highlight about Brazilians’ civil rights of access and retention in higher education is to recognize that special education and inclusion approaches demand investments and efforts to accomplish institutional and cultural change. Without such investments, the implementation of inclusive educational practices from the perspective of human rights and diverse human functioning cannot be achieved.

To enter a federal university all candidates must take the National High School Exam (ENEM) and, according to their score, they may apply to many universities, to a graduation course of their choice. The candidate, being a person with disabilities (motor, visual, hearing, intellectual or multiple) will compete for specific vacancies, as provided for in the Law of Quotas (BRASIL, 2016) mentioned above.

Along this path, we still experience intense challenges not only in the institutionalization of policies that guarantee accessibility to students with disabilities in higher education but also in the cultural change of the university to guarantee their retention and participation in the daily life at the university and the creation of a curriculum accessible to all (MALHEIRO e SCHLÜNZEN JUNIOR, 2019).

Covid19 Pandemic: one more challenging layer for inclusion policies

The world is undergoing an intense transformation due to the Covid19 pandemic. Social isolation along with access to vaccine thus far have been effective strategies for controlling the SARS-Cov-2 virus. This pandemic has necessitated higher education institutions in Brazil to review their institutional policies and pedagogic strategies to ensure continuity in teaching and learning. At the same time, universities are challenged to respect the principles of equality and equity with regard to computer and internet access.

Recent studies have shown that the main barriers to the retention of students with disabilities in higher education refer to the lack of pedagogical and architectural access and the absence of adequate institutional support mechanisms at normative, administrative, and pedagogical levels that equally suit their specific educational needs. Another barrier is related to the unpreparedness of teaching personnel along with their lack of knowledge concerning the needs of students with disabilities (MARSHAK et al., 2010; TIMMERMAN; MULVIHILL, 2015; YSSEL et al, 2016; LINDSAY et al, 2018; MARTINS et al., 2018).

In the context of the educational inclusion paradigm, disability studies in education have presented the perspective of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) – an analytical framework – as a possibility for the process of developing structured educational environments for minimizing and eliminating barriers in schooling. for all persons, including those with disabilities (BOCK et al., 2018 p.144).

Figure 1: Brazil map, symbol of justice and accessibility icons

Federal University of São Paulo – a single Accessibility and Inclusion Policy in a multicampus University

The Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), originally created in 1933, in the city of São Paulo, started as a medical school, later added a nursing course. In the 1990s it became a university already having a few other courses, all related to the health professions.

In the 2000s, a new federal governmental educational policy was adopted in Brazil aiming to democratize access to a public and free higher education raising the education access to a larger number of citizens of this continental country.

In 2004 Unifesp expanded from a health professionals university to offer courses in other areas of knowledge such as human sciences. To do so, it turns into a multicampus university, moving from the city of São Paulo to other municipalities in the state of São Paulo, in the southeastern region of the country.

Unifesp currently occupies seven campuses, each having a local board linked to a central administration. Two of them are in the city of São Paulo, and the other five are distributed in the cities of Santos, Osasco, Guarulhos, Diadema and São José dos Campos.

Located in the coastal city of Santos, the Campus Baixada Santista has two institutes: The Institute of Health and Society (ISS) [2] and the Institute of the Sea (IMar)[3]. Both have undergraduate and graduate courses, with academic units located at various addresses in the city carrying out research and extensive activities to meet the demands of the population and municipality related to health, social, and environmental issues.

Figure 2: Unifesp’s campuses in the state of São Paulo, Brazil

The Accessibility and Inclusion Policy of Unifesp was recently approved by the University Council in November 2018. Thus, the Accessibility and Inclusion Center of this campus (NAI-BS) is responsible for the students at both institutes; ISS and IMAR.

As a means of achieving its goals, the policy centrally created a Technical Chamber for Accessibility and Inclusion (CTAI) linked to the central university administration, and Accessibility and Inclusion Centers (NAI) locally at each of the seven campuses.

The Central Chamber and the local Centers together with all the other administrative instances of the university constitute the Accessibility and Inclusion Network.

Thus, to work as an Accessibility Network demands that all the social actors of the university dialogue on the perspective of human rights, assuming the contemporary concept of disability stance as part of human diversity. The Unifesp’s  Accessibility Network stands for the prerogative of respect for the singularities of students with disabilities in a sensitive understanding of their needs that in turn require the promotion of accessibility.

The Center of Accessibility and Inclusion of the Campus Baixada Santista

In the year of 2020, due to the COVID19 pandemic, in-person classes and administrative activities at the Unifesp on all campuses were suspended. Concerned with identifying facilitators and barriers to implement remote online teaching, the Dean of Student Affairs carried out a mapping of all Unifesp students. The goal was to determine who among students have access to digital technologies (computer, etc) and how they are able to communicate (connectivity).

The result of this mapping for the Campus Baixada Santista pointed out that of the total of 1256 students who answered the Pro-Rectory of Students Affairs questionnaire, 17 of them answered “yes” to the question “Do you have physical, hearing, visual or cognitive disabilities that would hinder your participation in remote teaching/learning? “

Based on this information, the NAI-BS compared its own records from 2016 to the present year and a new questionnaire was sent via Google forms in order to collect detailed information about  barriers to remote learning and disability status, totalling 41 students

Graph 1 shows the distribution of students who declared some condition. Among them some who fit the so-called invisible disabilities (dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, etc.), and who are the target population of special education, but were not identified by the NAI until then.

The active search through electronic questionnaires allowed the free expression of students in relation to their needs. This has revealed the importance of obtaining individual information from each student and do not rely only on the numbers already highlighted by those who enter under the quota law and are automatically identified by the occasion of the enrollment.

Graph 2, below, shows the distribution of the total number of students enrolled in the courses of the two Institutes on the Campus Baixada Santista, according to the type of admission.

From the group of students, according to the year of entry (Graph 3), the year 2020 concentrates the largest number of students, but among them only four entered by the quota law, 13 of which are self-declared.

It is worth mentioning here that of the total of 22 students enrolled by the Quota Law (Graph 1), four of them receive regular and individualized attention from the NAI-BS since the beginning related to the needs of pedagogical accessibility, doing so by intermediating the dialogue with the course coordination and conscientization of the teaching staff, namely: one student with hearing impairment, two with blindness and one with severe cardiopulmonary impairment, all of whom enrolled before year 2020.

Of the rest, nine of them have mild motor disabilities and have no special needs, and five students from the start preferred not to be identified as a student with disabilities, declaring that they do not need any specific support.

Four students, enrolled between the years 2016 and 2017 (two with mild intellectual disabilities and two with low vision) declared demands for specific support (longer exam time, regulation of classroom lights, increased font size for reading), information that was passed on directly to course coordinators.

The academic calendar of 2020 for the new students coincided with the suspension of all presential classes and any academic activities as a measure of biosafety due to the COVID19 pandemic. Regarding them, the NAI-BS provided notification to the course’s coordinators, based on that recent mapping, including the set of self-declared students, so that the coordinator himself and his faculty can gradually go on welcoming their students, even that remotely, and trigger the NAI-BS as needed.

Finally, in Graph 4, below, the distribution of the total of 41 students according to the graduation course is shown:

Social Work has the largest number of students with disabilities and/or self-declared students with special educational needs. The data of the present mapping does not allow us to make great conclusions about the option for professions, but could we ask the question if the choice of profession would be related to the very experiences of social inequalities along the schooling trajectory?

Promoting inclusion on a daily basis: advances and challenges.

It is necessary to emphasize the complexity of teamwork, too large sometimes, diverse in its views and conceptions – in positivist nature by some and in a more humanistic nature by others – about disability, human functioning, inclusion. Due to this, NAI-BS has elected some strategic actions at the macro and meso levels.

To name a few, at a micro level we adopted the accommodation principle when proposing singular solutions to a specific need of a specific student. It takes the ability to negotiate dialogically with the student, course coordinators and teachers as well as other sections involved to eliminate a disabling situation (Marshak, Raeke Ferrell & Dugan, 2010, Timmerman & Mulvihill, 2015, Yssel & Beilke, 2016, Lindsay, Cagliostro & Carafa, 2016).

We have also begun studying the framework of universal design for learning (UDL) recognizing that it is an important theoretical reference to promote inclusion, retention, and academic success of students with disabilities (Bock, Gesser & Nuernberg, 2018).

Another fruitful strategy recently started is to invest in peer support. To do so, we recently performed an online workshop with monitors (students volunteers) aiming firstly to pose an open discussion group about disabling situations in remote classes and secondly to train them how to identify digital and attitudinal barriers to pedagogic accessibility. For example: Is the closed caption tool being used in online classes? The audio description principles have been considered when producing teaching material? How to do and what are the main elements of audio description?

Unifesp Accessibility Portal

Although the portal is a webspace and includes the main features provided for a website (texts, images, animations, information), it also provides a communication channel (forum) for all stakeholders to participate in a Virtual Learning Community encouraging knowledge sharing.

The Unifesp Accessibility Portal gathers resources that have been mapped and developed and are made available on its pages and shared in the virtual learning community. Its actions provide for internal and external collaboration to contribute to the inclusion in higher education inside and outside Unifes. The portal provides visibility to the actions carried out by the Technical Chamber of Accessibility and Inclusion (CTAI) and the Unifesp Accessibility and Inclusion Centers (NAI) and it fosters inter-institutional partnerships, national and international, for the development of practical actions and research that contribute to inclusion in higher education. In this way, the established objectives are  to contribute:

a) in the dissemination and sharing of actions, training experiences and resources, which aim to promote the reduction of architectural, pedagogical, attitudinal, communication and information barriers by making students, teachers, and educational administrative technicians aware of inclusive and accessibility processes and resources in Higher Education.

b) in the development of institutional actions and policies for Inclusion and Accessibility in Higher Education, committed to the educational and social transformation for the full exercise of citizenship and the strengthening of democracy and human rights.

c) in the participation, collaboration, and visibility of accessibility actions within the institution, nationally and internationally, articulating, and congregating extension projects through courses, events and services related to inclusion and accessibility, as well as promoting the development of research in the area.

Unifesp’s Accessibility Portal also aims to promote “recognition, respect for difference and appreciation of human diversity and which requires awareness, information and training for teachers, students and the entire community inside and outside the academic universe”. Thus, one of the fundamental pillars of the portal is to disseminate the culture of inclusion in higher education through teaching materials on the dimensions of accessibility, Universal Design for Learning, conditions, and disabilities. This educational role is well aligned with Sustainable Development Goal 4 (ODS4), which is scoped to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (https://sdgs.un.org/goals), because it intends to provide open educational resources through documents, e-books, articles, handouts, videos and courses available for free, open and accessible.

The portal assimilates the pillars of open education as a space that aggregates open educational resources, contributing to the dissemination of the culture of accessibility in the institution and in society. The intention is to provide such materials on inclusive education, accessibility, and issues of persons with disabilities free of charge.

Figure 3 – Course example – Course “Inclusive practices in Higher Education: area of visual impairment”

Figure 4 – E-books on various types of disabilities

Figure 5: Access the Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCImf7LlJvgFouIkfiID3vxA

Among the varieties of practices and meanings related to the Virtual Learning Community (VLC) proposed by Coll (2003 apud LIMA; GUIMARÃES 2018 p. 123), the proposal of this VLC within the scope of the Accessibility Portal corresponds to groups of persons who share spaces non-formal educational, designated under various dimensions of intentions, and involving the learning of skills and/or the development of potentialities; learning and exercising practices that enable subjects to organize themselves with community goals, aimed at solving everyday collective problems, in this case, the inclusion of students with disabilities, high skills/giftedness and autism spectrum disorder.

Access further information here: https://acessibilidade.unifesp.br/forum-de-acessibilidade.

According to the Brazilian Inclusion Law (Law No. 13,146 / 2015) accessibility is considered the condition for using, safely and autonomously, fully or assisted, spaces, furniture and urban equipment, buildings, transport services, devices, and systems and means of communication and information used by persons with disabilities or reduced mobility (BRASIL, 2015).

The concept of accessibility has been expanded by the literature, associated with the commitment to improve the quality of life of all persons. In this process, it is believed to be essential to consider the different dimensions of accessibility, which are part of the design and structure of the Accessibility Portal:

  • ARCHITECTURAL ACCESSIBILITY considers the elimination of barriers in all physical environments, internal and external.
  • COMMUNICATIONAL ACCESSIBILITY aims to overcome obstacles in all areas of communication, considered in its different forms; spoken, written, sign, sign language, digital, among others.
  • METHODOLOGICAL AND CURRICULAR ACCESSIBILITY facilitates access to the syllabus offered by educational institutions, expanding teaching and learning strategies.
  • INSTRUMENTAL ACCESSIBILITY allows accessibility in all instruments, utensils, resources, and equipment, used in the educational institution and in the student’s daily life, using knowledge from the field of assistive technology.
  • PROGRAMMATIC ACCESSIBILITY contributes to professional and social training initiatives to combat prejudice, forms of discrimination and other attitudes that prevent or hinder access to resources and services offered by society, promoting the inclusion and equalization of opportunities.
  • ATITUDINAL ACCESSIBILITY helps to extinguish all types of prejudiced attitudes that prevent the full development of the potential of the person with disabilities.
  • WEB / DIGITAL ACCESSIBILITY, promoting measures so that all persons can access and use the web and digital environments with autonomy and can perceive, understand, navigate, interact and contribute to these spaces.

Final considerations

The brief experience of NAI-BS, since 2018, of implementing the Accessibility and Inclusion Policy arose from the actions developed during that period. Those experience revealed the potential and challenges of changing an institutional culture at the macro, meso and microstructural dimensions to promote inclusion in higher education for the group of students with disabilities.

As a consultative body based on the premises of inclusion, special education, and accessibility, building a team proved necessary in order to detect disabling situations and to weave a strong Accessibility Network at the university. The NAI-BS actions demanded the construction of bridges to dialogue with a diverse number of institutional actors.

We highlight as particularly important, that the university’s stakeholders must invest in all dimension of accessibility as well as promoting a sensitive cultural environment among all university personnel.  It is important that a community must be able to identify specific needs of students with disabilities, not as a privilege but as the right to be respected, and avoid structural disabling situations in order to promote autonomy and empower young persons with disabilities on the rights of enjoying material and cultural goods. Interrupting the long historical path of discrimination and social exclusion of this population.


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Mini Biographies

Prof. Leandro Key Higuchi Yanaze, Ph.D.

Is adjunct professor at Unifesp (Federal University of Sao Paulo, Brazil), in the Educational Design Technology Degree Course and researcher at Communication, Design and Digital Technologies Research Group. Holds a degree in architecture and urbanism, a master’s degree in social communication interfaces and a doctorate in electronic systems. Has experience in digital communication, games, distance learning and educational technologies. Is coordinator of projects for the development of accessible educational digital games and for accessibility and collaborates with the implementation of the Unifesp Accessibility Portal.


Prof.  Maria da Conceição dos Santos, Ph.D.

Is Adjunct Professor in the Occupational Therapy Course at Institute of Health and Society, of Federal University of Sao Paulo (Unifesp), Baixada Santista campus. She currently coordinates the Accessibility and Inclusion Center of this campus and collaborates with the implementation of the Unifesp Accessibility Portal. She is a representative of the university, at the Committee for Accessibility and Disability of the Montevideo Association of Universities. She holds a master’s degree in Health Sciences and a PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences from the University of São Paulo. With a large clinical experience within the group of Person with Disabilities, in the adult life cycle, develops teaching and studies in the field of Rehabilitation and Inclusive Education in higher education, based on the theoretical studies of human rights, disabilities creation process and human functionality diversity.


Prof. Cícera Aparecida Lima Malheiro, Ph.D.

PhD in Education, Master in Special Education and Graduation in Pedagogy. Professor at Unifesp (Federal University of Sao Paulo, Brazil). Has experience and research in the areas: Technology and Education, Accessibility, Assistive Technology, Digital Games for Education, Distance Education, Educational Design and Universal Design for Learning.



[1] All the data and references presented here belong to two papers in pre-publication (Santos M.C et al., 2020) that will be soon published in Portuguese. The main author of both these papers is also a collaborative author of this presentation at the Include Webinar and she is also the current Coordinator of the Center of Accessibility and Inclusion of the Campus Baixada Santista.

[2] The Institute of Health and Society offers undergraduate courses in the areas of Physical Education, Physiotherapy, Nutrition, Psychology, Social Work and Occupational Therapy, and master’s and doctoral courses.

[3] The Institute of the Sea offers an undergraduate course in Marine Sciences, as well as a master’s and doctorate course.

UDL in Swedish Higher Education

The impact of Universal Design for Learning in higher education, and the road we are on in Sweden

by Linda Plantin Ewe and Pia Haggblom,

Kristianstad University, Sweden

With a pending master’s degree in special education Pia Häggblom is a developer of widening participation at the department of Library and Higher Education Development. She also holds the title of UDL-coordinator at the University. Linda Plantin Ewe is a lecturer in the special education programs at the University. She is also a PhD student at Malmö University. Pia and Linda have extensive practical experience as in-service teachers; Pia as a secondary teacher in Swedish and English and as a SENCO, and Linda as a math- and science teacher in primary school as well as a SENCO.

To register for the May 21st webinar on this topic, go to http://bit.ly/INCLUDEreg

Pia’s story

Kristianstad University was among the first in Sweden to begin implementing Universal Design for Learning in higher education. My name is Pia Häggblom and I work with developing widening participation through the concept of Universal Design for Learning. During spring 2021 I give an on-line UDL-course for university teachers, Widening participation through Universal Design for Learning at the department of Library and Higher Education Development.

The task for every workshop in the course is trying to set the stage for learning and motivation and keep them motivated and engaged. In other words, I try to give them the why, the what and the how of working for widening participation at university level, and to do it through UDL. The course begins with presenting the laws and regulations we are to adhere to when talking about widening participation, and then trying to give the participants relevant examples and various roads to take, all in small steps. When they see their course with UDL-lenses, those lenses seem to stay on, as the results of my recent master thesis imply (Häggblom, 2020).

The work with UDL at Kristianstad University began when visiting an international conference in 2013. From the next year having tried teaching UDL as part of a module in the higher education development course, it later grew to be its own module in the course. Meanwhile, and starting in 2014, I gave short presentations on the UDL-workshop at regional and national conferences to learn, to get feedback on the work and to spread the idea of UDL-workshops within higher education. Locally I tried to implement the idea of UDL at the university whenever possible.

Wanting to create the basis for a course on UDL, and to find out how the concept of UDL worked in a Swedish context particularly for university teachers, I applied to do a project consisting of six workshops with 8 participants from various faculties. The idea used was that the teachers after an introduction began to analyze one part of their courses at a time using the UDL-framework. The workshops covered UDL in teaching, UDL in assessment, UDL in feedback etc. The participants were asked to first analyze one aspect of their selected course where there seemed to be room for improvement, and then they planned how to implement various guidelines. They were not asked to try out the revision of their work on students but many of them began doing so. Before the project was over several of the participants had applied to do their own UDL-projects. 

The project ended and they all took part in semi-structured interviews so that I would learn more from the participants on how to move forward. With the results from the project the current course on UDL was developed. And as always, the key factor is the participants learning from each other.

After the project, the presentations grew and were sometimes given at conferences, at national authorities, and at international conferences. Learning along the way, the presentations turned into workshops every now and then for teachers and educational developers at other universities.

To further implement the idea and concept of UDL, the local higher education development publication designated one issue to accessibility, as we called widening participation at the time. The issue dealt with different aspects of widening participation, and colleagues from mainly Kristianstad University but also from other universities contributed, from librarians to faculty members. There was also an article about UDL.

The next step was to do a study to see whether UDL had any longevity with the teachers in Sweden. This resulted in a qualitative study for a master thesis where 8 university teachers were interviewed 2-3 years after they had taken part of a UDL- course. The thesis is called The impact of Universal Design for Learning in higher education. Experiences of university teachers two or three years after attending a workshop series on UDL (Häggblom, 2020).

The results imply that UDL, a few years after attending a workshop-series, still plays a part in the work of teachers in the various aspects of working toward widening participation. The four themes that were found are identified and illustrated below:

1. “UDL as a concept to strategically implement widening participation”

2. “UDL as a concept for student centered learning and student centered teaching”

3. “UDL as a concept for the processes of students learning to learn”

4. “UDL as a concept for manifesting the mindset of widening participation”

“When asked about the drawbacks of UDL the main concern was that UDL is not implemented on a large scale. Time was an issue for a couple of respondents, but then again UDL could save some time as well, as one respondent put it.” (Häggblom, 2020)

Now in spring 2021 the UDL-course is online through Zoom. An example of inspiration used is a 20-minute film where a teacher from Kristianstad University explains how she has implemented UDL in an online course. She also tells about the results that her changes have had. The grades in her course increased compared to the previous time she has given the course, and 50 % of the students who answered the survey said that the implemented UDL-aspects had had an impact or a great impact on their studies.

Within the on-line resources for higher education development, various aspects of UDL are presented for teachers to be inspired by, to learn from, and to have readily at hand. Concrete examples from colleagues are, of course, the aid most asked for. And it goes hand in hand with the current UDL-course where the participants each get to build material for the examination in the form of a 10–15-minute film. If the participants want to, their film can be a part of their educational development portfolios, and their films can be posted as examples of good practice in the on-line resources för higher education development.

How UDL will develop at our university is a work in progress. Institutions and faculties at Kristianstad University can today ask the Library and Higher Education Development department for a single workshop, a day for the institution to learn about and use UDL, a workshop series, or an academic course in widening participation through UDL. The individual teacher can also ask for consultation on widening participation and UDL.

Seeing how implementation of UDL is evolving at higher education institutions worldwide and increasingly from management level is a motivator. Research, UDL-networks, and resources through CAST.org  push us to take the next step in aiding the progression towards widening participation.

The question has for some time not been whether UDL works, with its systematic approach to analyzing and developing course design for diverse student groups. Nor is the question of how to do large scale implementation, but instead how to motivate both teachers and management. Hopefully, the UDL-networks and CAST.org will increasingly share research results and good practice on large scale UDL-implementation.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

UDL in the pedagogical practice


Linda’s story

UDL has been something that I have strongly believed in ever since I started working as a math and science teacher, and later SENCO, many years ago. In my work as a lecturer at Kristianstad University, I have had the opportunity to visit Harvard University and CAST to learn more. It was also here where I met Richard Jackson for the first time, and he has been such a huge inspiration for me ever since.

In my work as a lecturer, I have noticed a curiosity for the concept of UDL among the university staff, and I have similarly to Pia had the opportunity to talk about UDL among university staff on different occasions and in different program areas. This is gratifying and shows an open mind for innovation among teachers in higher education.

In addition to talking about UDL with university teachers, I have also lectured about UDL in our special education and SENCO-courses for several years. I see this as a very important opportunity for spreading the knowledge into practice. Beyond this, I have lectured in our student courses, and also I have also talked about UDL on national levels for several occasions, such as at the Special Education Day, which is annually arranged by the Special Education School Authority in Sweden. Frequent inquiries about me lecturing about UDL in various municipalities around the country also speaks its clear language; the willingness to learn and see learning partly from a different perspective is on the rise in Sweden. The interest applies not only to practicing teachers but also principals and student health teams, which is gratifying and enables organizational changes.

To make it easier for Swedish teachers to learn more about UDL, Pia and I, together with some other colleagues, have translated the UDL framework into Swedish. The translation is published on CAST’s website. We have also arranged an international UDL conference which took part in October 2020. Both international and national researchers participated as well as government agencies and in-service teachers and principals. The evaluation showed that this was much appreciated by both researchers and practicing teachers. This was gratifying because our main purpose for the conference was to build bridges between research and practice to increase the possibilities for accessible learning for all students.

A couple of years ago, together with some of my colleagues and in collaboration with the National Agency for Education, I created a module for accessible learning for Swedish teachers. The module “Accessible learning through digital tools” was based on the UDL framework and focused K-12 education. Similar work is currently being done with a focus on upper secondary school which displays that UDL as very much on the rise in Sweden.


Häggblom, P. (2020). The impact of Universal Design for Learning in higher education. Experiences of university teachers two or three years after attending a workshop series on UDL. Malmo University

Rear-view mirror from a UK perspective

Reflecting about practice through the lens of Universal Design for Learning principles and practices to inform learning design

Blog post by

Virna Rossi, Ravensbourne University London, United Kingdom, March 2021

Months of pandemic teaching and learning have highlighted issues of access and accessibility, which have disproportionally affected some under-served student populations. Students and teachers are experiencing the literal meaning of the word ‘distraction’, from the Latin dis (apart) + trahere (to drag): we are all being dragged apart, pulled in many different directions. Hence, intentionally designing inclusive learning experiences is crucial to support our students at this time. But we also need the students’ help to evaluate the effectiveness of our learning design.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) helps us design more inclusive learning experiences. It is an approach to curriculum design that minimises barriers and maximises learning for all students. 

The 3 UDL principles are based on 3 primary neurological networks: UDL is based on brain science. The 3 networks are: affective, recognition and strategic ‘which refer to the why, what and how’ of learning. Based on these, there are 3 UDL principles: Engagement, Representation and Action & Expression. More on this below.

the 3 principles of UDL: Engagement, Representation, Action & Expression
UDL Core Principles

UDL should particularly be used at the start of the learning design process, to intentionally drive the process, ideally in collaboration with students. However, UDL principles and practices can also be used as a professional reflection and evaluation tool during and after the learning event. Once more, this would ideally involve the students.

A metaphor to illustrate the use of UDL principles as a tool for reflection is to see them as rear-view and side mirrors. The universal use of rear-view and side mirrors has changed the status of humans from a species only capable of perceiving the field of vision ahead, to one which can understand in a single glance two opposing visual fields. In cars, the inner rear-view mirror and the two side ones provide different angles of the same ‘scene’ behind, virtually eliminating blind spots. Each of the 3 mirrors informs the driver’s driving decisions, with very little effort, on the go

A view of what we see in the rear-view mirror of an automobile.
What we see in the rear-view mirror

The 3 rear/side mirrors can be seen as the 3 UDL principles against which to gauge how inclusive our learning design is. The 3 mirrors provide 3 perspectives to evaluate our practice.

Why do we glance?

We glance at the rear and side-view mirrors to inform our driving, to avoid accidents, to check the state of the road, to situate ourselves, to change our trajectory. These are the same reasons why we should reflect ‘on’ and evaluate our teaching, in particular our learning design. This reflective and evaluative exercise provides us with a series of dynamic snapshots about our practice and the learning we are prompting.

Global Automotive Rear-view Mirror
View from the side mirror

At times there is a safety warning on the side mirrors: ‘objects in mirror are closer than they appear’. In our metaphor this also has an equivalent: some situations may need attention as a priority because we might underestimate the closeness and relative importance of some aspects of our learning design. For instance if we have dyslexic students – Have we provided judicious output choices? How well equipped are they for their upcoming assessment? What study support systems are in place?

When do we glance? 

We do it while we drive. So we can reflect on and evaluate our learning design while the learning experience is happening, we can indeed make it part of the learning experience itself. The 3 UDL rear/side-mirrors can be used as a quick evaluative checkpoint, like a brief ‘glance’ while driving.

End-point course reviews are common practice, but as teachers we will not be able to action any feedback for that same cohort on that course at that point. In a way, it is like checking the rear-view mirror after a collision from behind which we could have avoided by checking earlier. 

For this reason, at least one mid-term or mid-course evaluation point is much more valuable in terms of informing our practice for that cohort. 

Using our metaphor, as we drive and check the scene behind, some of the vehicles behind us at times overtake us or come alongside us (with thanks to David Baume for mentioning this point in a live event). So, in our metaphor, the reflection and evaluation exercise is not of a still image, but is one of a dynamic nature because we are dealing with a moving scene, with a living learning process. It is  a learning journey in the making.   

How do we glance? A case study

I used UDL as the main learning design framework for our internal staff development course (PGCert) from the outset. I articulated this to the students even before the start of the course. But I also used the 3 lenses of UDL principles for mid-term review (the 3 rear/side mirrors), during one of our live lessons on the PGCert to elicit evaluative feedback comments about my PGCert course design, from the users themselves. I wanted to spark dialogue and to gain the student perspective. This was part of a 360 degree feedback approach, which invites the literature input, our own reflections and students’ views as part of a wider-angle feedback view.

The literature view

I started by discussing the theory underpinning UDL principles and guidelines, by means of this visual aid:

Graphic depiction of UDL networks, principles, and guidelines
UDL networks, principles, and guidelines

This provided the theoretical and best practices grounding.

The students’ view

We used Ketso to represent our reflection and evaluation. This is a hands-on learning aid and workshop tool. It has been adapted for remote teaching, with each learner sent their own pack to develop their ideas in their learning space. 

Students used the reusable, moveable pieces to represent their ideas, then arranged them on the felt workspace. The white shapes were used to label the UDL principles, and ideas for each principle were developed on the 3 different colour leaves (a colour for each principle).

Students discussed their ideas in their study sets, in breakout rooms, and uploaded images of their Ketso representations onto this Padlet. The main question was: How are the 3 UDL principles evident on our PGCert course? How can UDL practices be enhanced on a PGCert?

My self-feedback

I also made a Ketso representation to highlight some of the ways I intentionally used UDL principles to drive my PGCert learning design process.

The outcomes of the exercise for me was gaining much-needed insight into how the students were experiencing UDL on the course and where to improve.

For instance, for Engagement, many mentioned that using Ketso was a very good way to be engaged in the course. For Action & Expression, some mentioned that they would welcome more ‘debates’ during the live lessons.

How do students benefit from glancing?

What are the benefits for students in using the 3 rear/side view UDL lens as a reflective and evaluative mid-course review?

Firstly, this enhances students’ meta-cognition and their ability to articulate their learning about learning.

Secondly, understanding UDL principles can equip students with ideas and vocabulary to provide more meaningful feedback on any course design, not just on the PGCert.

Thirdly, this exercise should inform immediate enhancements in course design and delivery. In our case, we discussed some of the suggested enhancements mentioned on the students’ Ketsos, and I immediately implemented needed changes.

Conclusion: adjust/clean the mirrors

The 3 UDL rear/side mirrors help us adjust our practice.

If we already are UDL champions, can we keep growing in our understanding of UDL principles and practices? Can students and colleagues suggest further ways to enhance our practice? This would be like adjusting or cleaning the mirrors so that we can better see how to evaluate our practice.

Finally: Keep calm, Keep traveling, keep checking the ‘rear-mirrors’

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