Virginia Commonwealth University
September 17, 2009
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By Fran Smith, Ed.D., CVE

These are exciting times for the growth and understanding of universal design for learning (UDL). National organizations are helping to buoy the awareness of the benefits of applying UDL across educational contexts. This article presents a brief overview of recent activities, links to the current work that is being done related to UDL and opportunities to get involved.

Teacher on a computer

Teachers have access to a number of online resources designed to encourage the growth and understanding of universal design for learning.

In 2006, the National UDL Taskforce brought together national partners and facilitated dialogue about the UDL framework to create a shared understanding of its components, possibilities and opportunities for application. Currently, the National UDL Task Force represents the collective voices of more than 30 national associations. Early efforts of this advocacy group provided recommendations for the recently reauthorized Higher Education Opportunities Act of 2008 (HEOA). This is the first federal legislation to include specific language that defines UDL as:

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 with limited English proficiency (HEOA, 2008).

Including UDL in the HEOA underscored the importance of preparing teacher educators who are knowledgeable about the principles of UDL and approaches that support the framework. The task force’s ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the UDL framework include recommending the inclusion of language describing UDL in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004.

Another partner in these growing efforts is the IDEA Partnership. At the beginning of 2009, individuals representing more than 50 national associations gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss and promote IDEA’s participatory framework for applying research and policy to educational practice. These groups continued to work at a second meeting in August of 2009; one of their emerging community activities focuses on encouraging dialogue around targeted questions on UDL, expanded conversation on UDL and transition and a planned UDL practice group through an online portal. The fruits of these efforts will evolve over the coming year.

In addition to these collaborative groups, the National Center on Universal Design for Learning was launched earlier this year. This comprehensive Web portal offers access to many resources concerning UDL from the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), connections to related activities of a variety of national organizations and centers, links to national reports and research and a new UDL spotlight. To help education professionals at all levels stay abreast of the developments, the Web portal offers free registration for access to e-mail updates and more. This national center will continue to evolve as more programs are developed and best practices that embrace the UDL framework are shared.

If you are new to the language of UDL, visit the Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age Web site or the Web site of its creator, CAST. The VDOE  T/TAC at Virginia Commonwealth University and assistive technology blog also include links to numerous resources pertaining to UDL.
As education practitioners and policymakers across the nation continue to build their understanding of how the UDL framework can improve our ability to support all students from birth to adulthood, momentum is building. Opportunities will continue to develop around celebrating individual strengths and abilities and focusing on a goal of ensuring access for all.

References
Higher Education Opportunities Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-315, H. R. 4137.

 

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