Skip to content

The Principles of Universal Design for Learning and Accessible Learning

The mandate to make curricula accessible to all learners has been embedded into recent educational legislation that defines and endorses the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the 2016 National Education Technology Plan build on the work of The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). UDL was first defined in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) as follows:

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that — (A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and (B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient. (HEOA, P.L. 110-315, §103[a][24])

CAST has spent decades developing and refining the UDL framework to make learning more accessible to students with disabilities (SWD) and learners with other potential challenges. The inclusion of UDL into recent legislation makes clear that educators at local and state levels must use the principles of UDL to make goals, methods, materials, and assessments accessible to learners with a variety of needs and strengths.

The UDL framework is broken down into three main principles with specific guidelines under each (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Universal design for learning principles.


© CAST, Inc. 2009-2012. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Click on the image above to access the complete updated framework.
(CAST, 2011; Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014)

The goal of making learning more accessible to all learners is accomplished by using the UDL principles to develop learners who are purposeful, motivated resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed, (CAST, 2011; Meyer, Rose & Gordon, 2014). Technology tools available today provide more options than ever to develop multiple means of engagement, representation, action, and expression, but the use of technology does not necessarily equal accessibility.  A number of low-tech methods may also be used to accomplish the promise of UDL. Educators must carefully evaluate resources and tools for barriers, whether they include technologies or not (Rose, Gravel, & Domings, 2010).

While it may take some time for local and state educational agencies to offer curriculum frameworks and state assessments that fully incorporate the UDL principles, teachers at the classroom level, both special and general educators, can and should attempt to make day-to-day learning more accessible to all learners by using the UDL principles to design daily instruction and teacher-made assessments. UDL does not represent the traditional approach to retrofitting learning for the most challenged learners; instead, it represents an accessible and flexible design from the very beginning that anticipates the needs of a diverse group of learners in every classroom.

Educators can access professional development resources to learn about UDL and find free UDL curriculum tools at The National Center on Universal Design for Learning and CAST websites. These resources and tools are designed using the UDL principles, so that educators can actually experience the flexibility of resources built to meet the variable needs of diverse learners.


CAST. (2011). Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.0. Wakefi­eld, MA: Author.

Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. Public Law 110-315 §103(a)(24).

Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. (2014) Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST.

Rose, D. H., Gravel, J. W., & Domings, Y. M. (2010). UDL unplugged: The role of technology in UDL. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *