Extending Universal Design and UDL Across Society: Insights from Dr Shani Dhanda

Keynote: Extending Universal Design and UDL Across Society: Insights from Dr Shani Dhanda

Dr Shani Dhanda, renowned Disability Inclusion & Accessibility Specialist, Social Entrepreneur, and Broadcaster, captivated the audience with her keynote address, exploring the transformative potential of Universal Design (UD) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) beyond educational settings. Recognised as the UK’s most influential disabled person by the Shaw Trust and a BBC 100 Women Laureate, Dr Dhanda drew from her rich personal and professional experiences to illustrate how UD and UDL can foster inclusive, accessible spaces throughout society. From public areas and workplaces to fashion, she shared practical applications that promote equity and dismantle barriers.

Dr Dhanda’s journey began with her childhood education and subsequent transition into the professional world. Her presentation highlighted the significance of an educator’s narrative in shaping a learner’s potential. Perfectly aligned with the conference theme, ‘The Power of Potential’, Dr Dhanda’s story illustrated how the shift in narrative around her potential allowed it to be realised.

Sharing her story on global platforms has amplified the impact of Dr Dhanda’s work, underscoring the power of representation. She poignantly stated, “Disability is what we do to one another by creating barriers and bias.” Emphasising the need to disrupt biases and continually question our practices, she advocated for a social model of disability.

Dr Dhanda highlighted Microsoft’s inclusive design toolkit as a valuable resource for developing a deeper understanding of inclusive practices. Her vision for a world where potential barriers are preemptively addressed before becoming real obstacles resonated deeply. She cited everyday tools like electric toothbrushes, speakers, QWERTY keyboards, and SMS text messaging, initially designed to support accessibility, which have now become mainstream essentials.

A noteworthy example of her work includes collaboration with Primark on their new range of women’s underwear designed for individuals with various conditions and impairments. This initiative represents a significant step towards providing affordable adaptive clothing and acknowledges the costs associated with adapting everyday products.

Reflecting on the learning from the first day of the conference, Dr Dhanda’s keynote reaffirmed that while educators must provide evidence to create an inclusive curriculum, engineers are not required to justify the inclusion of stairs, lifts, and ramps in buildings. This analogy highlighted the inherent disparities in how inclusivity is approached across different sectors. Dr Dhanda stressed that our role in education is to enable rather than disable learners and her repsonse to an insightful question from Christain, our disability student lead, was to lead the way, learn about disability history and hold on to the principle of nothing about us without us.

Her keynote elevated our awareness and showcased numerous examples of how UDL-informed decisions positively impact companies and the importance of intersectionality in our approaches to designing our inclusive practice. There are communities within communities, and we cannot see our complex social world in sections. Everything is connected and this cannot be ignored. The concluding slide of this important presentation left the audience with a powerful invitation and mission:

“Every decision we make can raise or lower barriers to participation in society, what action will you take?”

Dr Shani Dhanda’s address was not just a call to action but a roadmap for creating a more inclusive and accessible world for everyone.

“I am not underrepresented rather I am over excluded; we all want to be resilient but do not want to wear it as a badge of honor”

The potential and power of intersectionality is yet to be unleased