Keynote: Uncovering Potential the UDL Way

Associate Professor Richard Jackson: Boston College, USA

Richard Jackson shared his lifelong journey with disabilities, narrating the challenges, barriers, and
frustrations he encountered during his exclusionary educational history. He views Universal Design for
Learning (UDL) as a paradigm shift away from the traditional practice of diagnosing and treating learners
differentially. Richard insightfully described how UDL provides a transformative and empowering
framework for analysing and changing learning environments, allowing learner potential to be expressed
and realised. Uncovering this potential is largely achieved through technological innovation and advances
in the learning sciences. He concluded that we are living in the best of times for learner potential to be
fulfilled, thanks to these innovations and inclusive design-based thinking.

The keynote began with a juxtaposition of the view of people with disabilities as either heroes overcoming barriers or vulnerable individuals needing others’ support. Richard emphasised the importance of self-determination and a positive self-identity, a recurring theme of the 7th International IQEC UDL conference at the University of Worcester.

Professor Jackson highlighted the opportunities afforded by online learning and the technological
advancements driven by the global pandemic. He noted the control over visual support, acoustic access
through subtitles, and volume control that the online environment provides, enabling many learners. He
stressed the need to continue leveraging technology to enable every learner.

We were taken on a journey through his lived experience of discrimination, misunderstanding,
misconception, and underestimation. The digital evolution over the years has made it possible to release
every individual’s potential, shifting how we enable access and inclusion and challenging our perceptions
of what is possible. Professor Jackson’s life work stands as evidence of the power of potential and what is
achievable when we recognise the unique talents of every student in our educational settings.
Richard encouraged us to consider, “What is potential?” He urged us to see the underlying undeveloped,
unrealised capacities, abilities, and gifts of each individual as we engage with our learners across
disciplines. By designing our courses through the lens of UDL, we can provide a quality education
responsive to all needs, opening minds to new ways of enabling learning and to the unlimited
environments for learning. This also includes capturing these experiences through inclusive forms of

In response to an audience question, Professor Jackson expressed that he has found his community in
the UDL and INCLUDE network. The entire conference felt a sense of warmth following his keynote
presentation, reinforcing the high sense of belonging, support, and collaboration across the global

UDL is indeed a framework for a paradigm shift, widening participation and moving away from the idea of
sorting people based on labels and needs. It redefines the roles of teachers and learners, creating
opportunities for potential to be realised.

As educators, our commitment is to work as universal designers, fostering an environment where
every learner’s potential can flourish.

Thank you for sharing your story, Professor Richard Jackson. We are all proud to share this