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Universal Design for Learning: Accessibility in Higher Education

A photo shot from behind a student wearing a backpack on Meredith's campus
Photo by Madison Sholar

Online learning has become a reality for students and professors due to COVID-19, and challenges in accessibility for students are still present in this learning modality. However, a new educational framework, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), is making online learning accessible. According to the U.S. Department of Education, UDL is “a set of principles for designing curriculum that provides all individuals with equal opportunities to learn” by offering choices in modality.

Karen Coffey, a disability counselor at Meredith College’s Disability Services, stated, “The platforms themselves are built to be accessible. It is the information placed there [that needs to become more accessible].”

Dr. Tina Romanelli, Director of the Learning Center and English professor, said, “Everyone is different, every faculty is different, every student [is taught at their own pace]. Raising awareness is huge…being aware that people have differences is critical.”

Dr. Romanelli is also an advocate of accessible instructional materials. She explained, “At my position in the Learning Center, I am constantly learning how to make material accessible for my students to make sure they have a choice in the modality [in which] it’s given.” Coffey agreed that “faculty and students need to encourage methods for universal educational material.”

However, within the last thirty years, the United States American Disabilities Act hasn’t updated their accessibility regulations for educational materials to fit the needs of digital learning. As a comparison, in Canada, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), or the similar version to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 in the United States, dictates that all educational material must be accessible.

AODA states, “The Information and Communication Standards had the biggest impact on colleges. They required that by 2015 all educational or training materials producers must ensure the material was fully accessible…By 2020 all multi-media/ digital resources needed to be fully accessible. By Jan. 1, 2021 all videos must be captioned and audio description.” Karen Coffey, Disability Services staff member, says that UDL “is the next big push for accessibility in the classroom.”

Students or faculty in need of resources can contact Disability Services and the Counseling Center by phone at 919-760-8427 or by email at The Counseling Center and the Learning Center are open to all students. Students can contact the Learning Center by phone at 919-760-2800 or by email at

By Laurelyn Ponder, Contributing Writer


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