Colleges originally served a small and relatively homogeneous student population. However, these institutions continue to serve a much broader group of students as individuals from increasingly diverse backgrounds have come to occupy college campuses. There has been an increase in the diversity of cultural and ethnic backgrounds of college students, as well as an increase in students with disabilities on college campuses.
Universal Design is an attempt to make education more accessible to individuals of all backgrounds. One major tenet of Universal Design is that teachers and professors have the skills and knowledge to effectively teach students from a diverse array of backgrounds and abilities. Students are treated as unique and individual learners, and teaching strategies are adapted accordingly. The goal of Universal Design for Learning is to create a classroom that is free of barriers to learning.
Universal Design for Learning was adapted from theory and policy for architects. The purpose of this policy was to promote accessibility for everyone. All rooms in a building that is universally designed will be accessible to all individuals, regardless of their individual profile of ability. Likewise, courses that are universally designed will include materials, assignments, and assessments that are accessible regardless of student ability.
However, there are many more benefits of these policies than just accessibility. A universally designed course will allow more choices for engaging with the material, in a variety of ways. Not only does an audio format benefit a student who cannot see, but it also benefits a student who may learn best with an audio format as opposed to a visual one. In this way, Universal Design can expand the effectiveness of courses and instructors.