Towards Global Inclusion: Reflections from the International Plenary Panel at the UDL Conference

The UDL Conference at the University of Worcester featured a highly anticipated International Plenary Panel titled “Towards Global Inclusion: The Role of Universal Design in Bringing about Systemic Change.” Chaired by Dr Sean Bracken from the University of Worcester, the panel brought together esteemed academics and practitioners from across the globe to discuss the pivotal role of Universal Design (UD) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in fostering inclusive policies and practices.

Panel Overview

The panelists included:

· Professor Klaus Schlünzen Junior, São Paulo State University, Brazil

· Professor Elizabete Costa Renders, USCS, Brazil

· Associate Professor Linda Plantin Ewe, Kristianstad University, Sweden

· Professor Mustapha Aabi, Ibn Zohr University, Morocco

· Dr Lisa Padden, Deputy Director, UCD Access & Lifelong Learning, Ireland

· Dr Frederic Fovet, Thompson Rivers University, Canada

Together, they explored how different jurisdictions—Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Morocco, and Sweden—are developing inclusive practices that make educational, social, and technological spaces more accessible and engaging.

Key Insights from the Panel

Dr Lisa Padden began the discussion by emphasising the need for visibility in the conversation about inclusion. She highlighted the importance of consistent support throughout a learner’s educational journey, ensuring that inclusive practices are not just implemented but also maintained and evolved.

Professor Klaus Schlünzen Junior provided a powerful demonstration of inclusion by describing himself visually and speaking without amplification, allowing those with visual impairments to locate him by the sound of his voice. He discussed the critical role of technology in providing access and fostering dialogue with learners, which is essential for enabling meaningful participation in higher education.

Associate Professor Linda Plantin Ewe reflected on Sweden’s history of commitment to inclusive practices. She acknowledged the progress made but also pointed out the ongoing challenges in ensuring that all students, particularly those in higher education, have access to the support they need.

Professor Mustapha Aabi added depth to the discussion by sharing insights from Morocco. He highlighted the socio-economic and cultural diversity of learners, stressing that these differences should be seen as opportunities to enhance inclusive practices. He advocated for tailored responses that meet the unique needs of each student.

Dr Frederic Fovet from Canada spoke about the importance of authenticity in inclusive practices. He stressed that inclusive practices must be meaningful and genuinely reflect UDL principles to have a real, positive impact on students’ lives.

Professor Elizabete Costa Renders used a metaphor of seasons to illustrate the inclusive learning journey. She explained that just as seasons vary in intensity and experience, so do students’ learning journeys. Understanding and accommodating these variances through UDL helps to create a deeper connection with students and their experiences.

In summary…

The International Plenary Panel at the UDL Conference highlighted the diverse ways in which Universal Design can drive systemic change towards global inclusion. The panellists’ insights underscored the importance of visibility, technology, cultural diversity, authenticity, and metaphor in developing and sustaining inclusive practices. By drawing on transnational learning and valuing individual experiences, we can create educational environments that are accessible, engaging, and enriching for all learners. The discussions from this panel not only inspired but also provided practical pathways for delegates to implement UDL principles in their own contexts, promoting positive learning and social outcomes worldwide.