Reflecting on the Critical Elements of INCLUDE: Past and Present

Dr Richard Jackson, Boston College, USA, Co-Founder of INCLUDE, reflects on the past for the promise of the future

Each new year calls for reflection. As the INCLUDE Collaboratory completes three years of development in anticipation of further growth and impact, I find myself reflecting on the genesis of INCLUDE and the astonishing rate at which UDL, INCLUDE’s guiding framework, has captured attention worldwide. As we convene to envision the future of INCLUDE, I now find myself reflecting on INCLUDE’s meaning and purpose. INCLUDE is, after all, an acronym, spelling out elements critical to the Collaboratory’s very existence.

The “IN” in INCLUDE signifies international engagement as an intention. The “C” stands for a Collaboratory, a center without walls, independent of place and just right for communication in the digital ages. The “L” signifies leadership, not of a top down or bottom up sort, but leadership that is distributed and emergent from within the ongoing practices of the Collaboratory. The “U” stands for universal, not to be interpreted as a one-size-fits-all solution to global challenges, but instead as an attitude or disposition toward equity and equal opportunity for all through design thinking. The “D” signifies Design as a mindset for planning so that barriers to learning can be eliminated and affordances for improving the human condition can be discovered or invented. Finally, the “E” stands for Education, which must be extended to all for the attainment of a productive and fulfilling life in society. Together, these constituent elements move the Collaboratory to action in service of equity and inclusion for all.    

When I think about INCLUDE’s origin, I go back to the late 1990s when the U.S. Congress required separate states to provide access to the general education curriculum for students with disabilities. Previously, such students were only entitled to a special education, tailored to address their disability-specific needs. Now, somehow a curriculum never intended for students with disabilities in the first place had to be transformed to reach all students. In practice, accessible materials had to be in the hands of students just in time to participate in instruction. Classroom practices had to employ activities that would engage all learners equally, and assessment procedures had to fairly measure what students know and can do as a result of their learning.   

A paradigm shift was required to accomplish what many policymakers believed to be illogical and impossible. Previously, lack of learning was attributed to the deficits of students with disabilities. This long enduring deficit paradigm yielded practices intended to reduce the impact of disability. A new paradigm would shift blame away from deficits to the curriculum for limiting access. Following a set of design principles, the curriculum could be made accessible, usable and measurable for the broadest possible range of learners.

At the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), such a paradigm or framework for the design of accessible learning environments was under development and ready for deployment to support the implementation of federally mandated curriculum access. This new paradigm, now widely known as Universal Design for Learning or UDL, asserted that the curriculum itself was disabled and composed of numerous unintended barriers that prevented learning by students with disabilities. In 2000, CAST, along with several partners including Boston College, was awarded a multi-year federal grant to provide the nation with guidance on how to make curriculum access a reality for all U.S. students with disabilities. At this time, I had the honor of leading a team of faculty and graduate assistants from Boston College to identify teaching practices to support curriculum access. The work of the Center at CAST and partner affiliates over a five-year period led to many district and state-level implementations of UDL across the U.S. Additionally, teacher licensure standards evolved to include UDL among their requirements for new teachers.

As the adoption of the new paradigm spread across the states and into several Canadian provinces, educational leadership roles and functions remained divided between general and special education. If inclusion of US students with disabilities in the general education curriculum was to become a reality, there would be a great need for joint responsibility among leadership personnel. To address this need, Boston College and CAST were awarded federal funds to establish the first postdoctoral UDL Fellows program. Based on priorities identified by a national group of stakeholders meeting in Washington, D.C. in 2007, eight UDL Fellows were recruited between 2009 and 2014 to work toward those priorities.

By 2015, interest in universal design from around the world was apparent. I was invited to submit a chapter in a volume edited by Sean Bracken and Katie Novak on UDL in Higher Education from a Global Perspective. Work on this project led to numerous exchanges and conference visits in Boston, Worcester and Dublin where the idea of INCLUDE as it is now envisioned took shape. My initial hope was to extend the concept of UDL leadership developed at Boston College and CAST to a global scale, but I had little insight into how this might be accomplished. Fortunately, Sean’s professional connections around the world, his insightful awareness of global inequities and injustices in the education sector, and his passion for UDL resulted for me in a most productive and personally gratifying partnership for the founding of INCLUDE. With the active participation of our Steering Group and the wider participation of the Collaboratory’s membership, I am confident our global and virtual community of practice will thrive for many years to come.

Simulations for the future: Reflecting on new directions for INCLUDE

Dr Sean Bracken, the University of Worcester

Co Founder of INCLUDE, reflects on possible futures for the Collaboratory.

Recently, Britain experienced an unusually prolonged period of bitterly cold weather. Temperatures in Worcester struggled to get above -5 degrees Celsius (or 23 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day and fell to about -10 during the night. Still, the days were clear and bright and made for wonderous walking to work. During the week, as I sauntered through the main gates of the University, I noticed some activity at ‘Forensics House,’ a simulating learning space used by CSI teams and paramedics to provide a sense of real-life authenticity to learning. A training ambulance had its signalling lights flashing, indicating that something dramatic was afoot.

Noticing my interest, one of the paramedics teaching staff beckoned me over and took me behind Forensics House where a lifelike mannequin lay lifeless in the cold. “So”, my paramedic colleague entreatied me, “What would you do as a paramedic, if you were to come across this unfortunate man?” “Well, I’d check his pulse first to see if he may be alive”? With sunken eyes and cheeks, and with hands that were tinged purple, the unfortunate looking mannequin certainly didn’t seem to be blossoming in life. “Not a bad response, I can share that he’s met his demise,” my paramedic colleague replied with a wry smile, “and next what”? “Well, I presume CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) would be the next step,” I ventured, rather enjoying the challenge. “Ah but where”? My colleague countered, “right here, I presume,” “And why, try to resuscitate someone right here in the freezing cold when you have a warm ambulance only metres away? Remember, you need to take care of yourself as well as your patient”, came the enlightening retort from my more experienced paramedic friend. The pivotal learning point here is that in real life we need to think differently to secure the best outcomes for all concerned, and whilst doing so, we need to be mindful of ourselves and what is best for us. This critical insight provided a good analogy for reflecting about the future potential trajectories for the International Collaboratory for Leadership in Universally Designed Education (INCLUDE).

The potential applications for UDL are multifarious, cross disciplinary, and geo culturally unpredictable, so the nature of how INCLUDE charts its future must incorporate a level of creative flexibility to facilitate meaningful growth that is sustainable for all concerned in the busy lives of practitioners. Having put in place sound foundations for INCLUDE that have served colleagues well over the past three years, we now need to develop imaginative scenarios that will maximise the potential of collegiate learning that moves beyond a classroom mindset and takes learning into authentic, or virtually simulated spaces.

Further, building on our action-oriented values, we need to create ways to facilitate exchanges of ideas, insights and research that encourage shared learning activities as a community habit. Our professional development sessions, choreographed in a masterly way by Betsy Dalton and Linda Plantin Ewe, have gone a long way towards realising that goal and the challenge is to grow the learning from these insightful learning sessions. Ironically, it may be helpful to rely on some tried and trusted means to make our goals somewhat more tangible. For instance, recent discussions among the steering group of INCLUDE have identified that setting up the International Journal for Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning will provide a mechanism for a growing number of colleagues across the world to have a shared space where learning based on premises of equality, diversity and inclusion can be exchanged within and beyond disciplines and where researched insights can also be tested across borders and in a diversity of socio-cultural contexts. But if the journal is a proposed output, and a worthy one at that, the process of getting to that output and the nature of the research it might feature is also worthwhile exploring.

To date, INCLUDE has featured in-depth insights from individual settings and this has altered our learning gaze from the internal to the external. It has prompted learning from ‘the other’ so our next step might be to learn with and learn from ‘the other.’ Karin Muff (2014) has defined a Collaboratory as, ‘an open space for all stakeholders where action learning and action research join forces, and students, educators and researchers work with members of all facets of society to address current dilemmas.’ This then is the challenge for INCLUDE, to enable facilitative ways to connect networks of educators, students, and researchers within differing global contexts so that the potentials for universal design and universal design for learning can be more fully realised. It would seem practical to have home based productive networks that conjoin colleagues and learners together and to then create a virtual space where these networks can be linked together with like minded research networks in other settings. That is one of the ideal next steps for INCLUDE. We also need to provide those colleagues with a venue for disseminating their ideas, for example by providing an international conference where ideas from differing cultural contexts can be shared and exchanged.

The steps taken in our first three years have been fruitful. They are emergent towards a more inclusive and dynamic networked interaction of learners and educators where learning from grappling with complex questions regarding accessibility for all can then be applied in a diversity of settings.  This is not merely a theoretical conundrum, but one with meaningful applications for learning across the globe. For example, to return to the initial mannequin scenario, educators in medical, forensic, paramedic and pedagogic sciences can all potentially learn from a shared application of UDL to explore how best to apply simulated learning in a diversity of resource based and culturally differing contexts. The emerging journal will provide a shared space where these insights can be shared.

However, to realise this potential, an investment of time and energy by a more diffuse group of agents will be required. Over the past three years, INCLUDE has been energised by monthly meetings of a select group of 6 colleagues. These productive sessions have been organised by our tireless colleague Dr Aiysha Abdool Satar from UNISA in South Africa. Over the next three years, if the true dynamic potential of a collaboratory is to be realised, differing ways of governing and sustaining the network will need to be realised.  To be honest, as one of the co-founders of INCLUDE, I am not entirely sure what such a systems-based approach may ultimately look like, but I do know that there may be some insightful ideas and suggestions regarding how it could emerge when we are provided with creative space to explore how INCLUDE will best serve the needs of its constituents.

Signpost with signs reading "this way", "that way", and "another way"

For this reason, the steering group have suggested that Dr Richard Jackson and I provide an initial overview of ‘where things are at’ for INCLUDE. This session will take place on the 11th January, 2023. Following that event, under the careful stewardship of thought maestro David Stinson, INCLUDE will turn things over to YOU, our source of energy and future hope, to determine how best INCLUDE might fashion itself going forward as a cohort of educators, researchers, students and wider communities who are motivated to overcome barriers to learning and social engagement. That futures-oriented strategic development session takes place on the 18th January. For the latter workshop, rather akin to my paramedic mentor, we invite you to think creatively and differently, so that we take the next seps in developing a more sustainable and meaningful INCLUDE collaboratory, one that is networked to address shared problems through identification of shared solutions.

Stay tuned to our INCLUDE website and social media outlets for additional information on these important sessions, and how YOU can take part.

Muff, K. (Ed.). (2017). The collaboratory: a co-creative stakeholder engagement process for solving complex problems. London: Routledge.

Lessons for UDL from the genesis of Universal Design: Echoes from the past, portents for the future
North Carolina State University

By: Dr.Seán Bracken, Head of Department for Education and Inclusion, School of Education at the University of Worcester.

A recent chance encounter at Logan Airport in Boston, while in transit from Ireland to Charlotte Airport in North Carolina, led to a historical odyssey into the fledgling beginnings of Universal Design at North Caroline State University (NCSU). At NCSU, the inspirational architect Ron Mace initially developed the concept of anticipatory design planning for accessibility. While chatting with Emeritus Professor Art Rice in Boston, he mentioned that he had been a colleague of Mace’s when he led the respected Centre for Universal Design, founded at NCSU in 1989. As luck would have it, my family and I were guests at a family wedding in Raleigh, so I was able to avail of Art’s invitation to visit NCSU’s College of Design where Mace had been a professor.

Rice explained that historically the College of Design was founded by Henry Kamphoefner and influenced by the philosophies of the Bauhaus. In Mace’s time then, the post-war influences had a distinctively Bauhausian flavour. The Bauhaus movement was concerned with the interrelationships between people and their environments. It was a social movement that considered materiality and artistic expression as a core aspect of the human experience. Clearly, Mace’s thinking would have been informed by these European ideas prompting designers to consider ways that the build environment would influence people’s social well-being as they interacted with physical spaces. For Mace, as a wheelchair user, the notion that architectural designers have a social and aesthetic responsibility would have been accentuated, and the disabling attributes of supposedly shared spaces would have prompted him to seek out new principles of inclusion to inform novel design processes with the goal of making the built environment accessible to all. Ultimately, this quest led Mace to create the approach known as Universal Design.

Somewhat disappointingly, the College’s Centre for Universal Design is no longer. Rice explained that Mace was a very influential and passionate advocate for inclusive design, however the Centre he had established may have been too closely aligned with his personal commitment rather than being a shared endeavour with a wider cohort of colleagues. However, with such a strong heritage of inclusivity permeating the College of Design, Rice stated that Mace’s legacy, and that of Universal Design, are very much embedded within the College’s current culture. This cultural orientation towards inclusive design is evident, for instance, in the work of the Natural Learning Initiative (NLI –, which, according to its website, aims to create ‘environments for healthy human development and a healthy biosphere for generations to come.’ The initiative is premised on a purposeful collaboration with communities while designing sustainable living, working, and learning spaces in schools, museums, and other public places. Such design-based thinking takes cognisance of community-oriented strategies that are purposefully initiated to prompt physical activity, foster food awareness, and promote healthy eating. These dynamic interfaces between space, health and education are referred to as ‘biotopic planned learning areas.’ Their ongoing design and use then become a focus for participant engaged action-research, so that stakeholders continuously learn more about the influences that these spaces have on young people’s living and learning.

A student and her professor, Carla Delcambre, at the Department of Landscape Architecture proudly display a model artefact, with Art Rice in the background.

The strong social foundation underpinning NLI’s approach to design resonates with the Universal Design for Learning’s (UDL) fundamental requirement that educators need to actively foster the affective dimension to students’ learning. On my walk through the College, it was clear that design-based thinking encouraged students to experiment with both digital and tactile models in research-informed, problem-solving ways. Students were prompted to engage with authentic learning while they iteratively developed ever better models of the built environments they wished to create. This too resonated with the UDL framework, where it is suggested that learners be provided with multiple means of engagement. Students’ creations were visible in differing formats, reflecting another core facet of UDL where students evidence their learning through various forms of action and expression.

At a crucial time in the continued evolution of the UDL framework, it is timely to (re)consider the positive influence that Universal Design principles have had on the formative development of UDL and their potential to inform future iterations of the framework. Following my visit into the historical heartlands of Universal Design, I can see how UDL may be imagineered to boldly incorporate the common good through a conscious highlighting equity of access and accessibility. Guided by Universal Design principles, UDL could more boldly consider how socio-culturally sensitive curricula are designed to promote the well-being of all, using iterative processes that are collaboratively and democratically co-constructed. As the future for UDL is at somewhat of a crossroads, recalling the historical wellspring of insight provided by Ron Mace and other architects at the Centre for Universal Design, and investigating their impact on current inclusive environmental planning, certainly stimulates thinking about a need to extend UDL beyond an ‘in-person’ model for curriculum, resource, and spatial inclusion. The early work of design-based practitioners and researchers continues to challenge the status quo, their achievements provide inspiration for educators who are committed to a more equitable and socially just learner experience across the life course.

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

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.


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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 

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 

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: (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 ( (Accessed: 7th May 2021).


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