Universal design

In a comment to my recent post about accessibility and equity Leigh has suggested that incorporating the principles of universal design will help to address these issues. so I looked this term up and found a useful explanation of this in relation to flexible learning on the Australia flexible learning network web site.

Universal design is about making sure that the needs of everyone including people with disabilities are considered within the course design. The same resources are available for everyone. Any stigma of special resources being required for those with a disability disappears. This makes absolute sense to me. I want to look at how the midwifery course could be designed to accommodate the philosophy of universal design as described by the Australian flexible learning design framework (AFLDF). The italics below are from the AFLDF and the ordinary text is mine.

  1. Equitable Use, seeks to maximise the usefulness of design for everyone, identical whenever possible and equivalent when not, so that it avoids segregating or stigmatising any users. We need to consider how people might interact with the teaching and learning resources we are using in our courses. We could perhaps seek an opinion from those with experience of working with those with disabilities, for example disability support.
  2. Flexibility in Use, values design that accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. Considering all learning styles and make sure that our learning resources will support a variety of styles. Provide audio, visual and written or printable material as well as engaging students in activities which might allow artistic or creative learning to occur. Also allowing the opportunity for hands on interactive learning and encouraging group work and learning communities to develop.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use, seeks to create ease of understanding for users, regardless of their experience, knowledge and language. Make sure that the language that is used is simple and that more complicated technical terms are explained in simple understandable language. Make sure that the flow of the material is obvious and that it is easy to move forwards and backwards through the course material.
  4. Perceptible Information, seeks to ensure that design allows information to be communicated effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities. We plan to send online resources to students on DVDs or CDs so that they will not be reliant on internet and broadband access. There could be other ways to do this too. For example PDAs or cell phones are used to deliver course material in some schools
  5. Tolerance for Error, seeks to minimise hazards and the negative consequences of accidental or unintended actions. We need to identify students who are having difficulties and offer support and assistance.
  6. Low Physical Effort, seeks to ensure that interaction with the environment can occur efficiently and comfortably and with minimal fatigue. Make sure that clear instructions are included each step of the way and that students are able to work at their own pace wherever possible
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use, seeks to maximise approach, reach and manipulation capabilities of users irrespective of their size, posture and mobility. This could require some extra consideration if there are individual physical characteristics to be taken into account in the midwifery practice setting. It is possible that some people may be precluded from midwifery practice because of a particular physical disability. It is hard to see how a student in a wheelchair for instance would be able to meet all the requirements of the job.

The Australian flexible learning  framework goes on to provide some implementation tools for universal design in a flexible program. As follows, once again italics are form the AFLF site and normal font is mine.

  • Plan for accessibility: An accessible website is a product of careful planning and design. It is unlikely to happen by chance. It has to be planned from the conception of the project. It will be important to think of these issues at all stages of preparing the courses for flexible delivery in the Bachelor of Midwifery program
  • Choose accessible tools: Authoring tools play a critical role in ensuring web accessibility. I am not entirely sure what this means. It has been decided that the course material will be delivered to the students through the Moodle learning management system. When I looked authoring tools up online I found a too WBTExpress which i am now downloading to see what it does. apparently it allows integration of learning objects within the moodle platform. The decision on these aspects of the course are outside my level of expertise however and thankfully we have others on staff with much greater IT experience than I have. None the less having some knowledge of what is possible is always useful.
  • Follow design guidelines: This section lists design elements, outlines possible access barriers for users and provides Guidelines for overcoming these. I do not have access to these guidelines once again the overall design will be outside my sphere of practice
  • Test for accessibility: Testing can be conducted with validation tools and with users. It is advisable to do a preliminary test once a prototype is ready and a full test when the entire site has been developed. I believe this is an important aspect and i would like to be able to test our resources with one or two people who have not particular knowledge of computer or information technology  to see it they can manage to navigate around the resources and if there are any technical problems for them. This is different to an analysis of the content of the course which will be assured through the academic approval processes.
  • Inform users of site’s accessibility: This covers both informing users of accessibility features of a site, as well as things which users can do to improve their own web access which they may not be aware of. Another important aspect is how we inform users about how they can access and use the course material. In a flexible course with a component of distance learning I think it is important to make sure that these things are clearly outlined each step of the way.


It has been a useful exercise to look at these aspects of preparing a course for flexible delivery although this is a very brief perusal. I find the many things that need to be considered in flexible delivery to be quite overwhelming. I can see how important it is to consult with others and seek feedback to make sure that the course is meeting the needs of students and also the midwifery profession.

Leave a comment


  1. Glad you took a look.. a big look.. 🙂

    How you think to encorporate it will be interesting

  2. Oh, Thanks! Really amazing. Big ups!


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