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Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative

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Vol. 10, No. 3 Summer/Fall 2002

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Universal Design for Learning - A Push For Accessible Digital Formats To Set Literacy In Motion

Merely providing students with digital text on a screen does not guarantee that information is accessible or that learning will occur. In fact, too many digital learning materials and Web sites are not accessible to the widest possible audience.

Electronic learning materials create unnecessary barriers in education as a result of uniformed design decisions. But help is on the way! Accessibility guidelines for designers and Web masters are available from many accessibility and usability experts. The ideal is to create within education electronic learning materials and equipment with few or no barriers right from the start; then, use the power of increased access and the promise of supported personalized learning through UDL to achieve optimal educational results for all students.

In classrooms this would mean a change from narrow fixed materials to those that increase access to curriculum content. It requires a switch from the exclusive use of books that are printed on paper to learning experiences using electronic texts. Research at CAST shows that digital versions of books are much better for many students, including those with disabilities. Why? Because while the content of the books is exactly the same, the difference is in the way that the content is displayed. Printed words on paper are fixed, unchangeable text. In digital versions, the computer presents content in many different ways that students or their teachers select and adjust. Here are some examples:

In the best cases, accessibility occurs via direct access for most students. Products designed to be inclusive with UDL features keep costs down for schools because the materials are usable by large numbers of students. The programs work more smoothly than when equipment is added in order to help learners. However, technology producers are not yet manufacturing truly versatile products so that all can learn.

Most current successes for students with physical and sensory disabilities come in the form of adaptive or assistive technologies. These can be stand-alone or they work as "add-on" programs or devices intended to be compatible with standard computer equipment. Here are some examples:

Currently, even though advancements in technology are appearing each year, there are no completely universally designed products, and assistive technologies play a vital role as learning aids. Screen readers, screen magnifiers, adaptive keyboards, word prediction software, voice recognition software, single switches, and others should be part of a school district's offerings. However, as technology advances, the hope is that assistive technologies and adaptive devices would become standard options within multimedia programs.
With product usability in mind, school districts that aim to achieve new literacy should purchase flexible and accessible instructional materials that are designed to reach as many students as possible. Some of these are:

Find more information about these and other literacy resources and to find links to product Web sites, at

This information was reprinted with permission from the CAST website ( In a collaborative agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Programs (OSEP), CAST has established a National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum to provide a vision of how new curricula, teaching practices, and policies can be woven together to create practical approaches for improved access to the general curriculum by students with disabilities. Funding for the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum is provided by the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education.

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