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Accessible Learning Environment Faculty Resource

Section 1: Rationale & Background

The art of the teacher is an essential component of every classroom. At Sheridan our classrooms include a rich student body with diverse needs. While it would be impossible to meet the needs of all these students all of the time, we do have a duty to accommodate those with disabilities and a responsibility to engage all learners. By embracing the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), we can create innovative curriculum, inclusive delivery, and fair assessments.

To level the playing field without providing unfair advantage, the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) developed three key UDL principles:

Provide multiple means of

  1. Representation
  2. Expression
  3. Engagement

Everyone sees, hears, and reads information differently. Rather than relying on the retrofitting the learning environment to meet an individual’s needs, build accessibility in from the start (Dolan & Hall, 2001). The principles of UDL make it easier to meet this breadth of needs as co-founder of CAST, David Rose, explains in a two-minute video.

Section 2: Planning

Planning is a crucial step to ensuring your students are able to meet the learning outcomes of your course. The three principles of UDL will help you and your students meet this goal.

Multiple Means of Representation

It is always important to identify and clearly express the essential course content. To ensure all students understand this information, present it in multiple formats (e.g. online and in the classroom). Do not assume that just because you posted something online means everyone understands it. Take the time to present the information in other formats so that all students can engage. Supplementary reading material should be available in electronic format to facilitate greater access.

Multiple Means of Expression

Let students know how and when you are going to communicate with them (e.g. SLATE, emails). Use multiple channels of communication and ensure students have appropriate preparation time to review any materials you circulate or post. Your content must reflect learning outcomes and set realistic expectations. Course outlines should also clearly reflect this information.

Multiple Means of Engagement

Consider multiple ways for students to demonstrate concepts. UDL respects that every learner absorbs information differently. In turn, learners should have options to demonstrate their competence. Through group projects, podcasts, demonstrations, and group work, you can keep students engaged.

When planning for your course, it is important to establish class routines and consistency in course design. Build in discussion forums for questions about course content. One way to do this is to include stop, start, and continue surveys for students to provide feedback on course content and delivery.

You should also consider different methods of assessment. Think about using oral, written, or audiovisual components and give your students choices when possible.

Section 3: Delivery

There are four main methods of instruction. The first three are in-person lectures, slideshows and print documents. The fourth method involves the online delivery of classroom information. To help you implement UDL in your classroom we have developed an Accessible Course Delivery Guide. Following this guide will ensure you are incorporating multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement in your course delivery.

Multiple Means of Representation

When designing content for your course in the learning management system, it is important to consider multiple forms of media. At Sheridan, our learning management system is SLATE2. It has many rich accessibility features including audio capture; support for screen magnifying and zooming; a colour contrast checker; keyboard-only navigation support; and accessible HTML templates. Our faculty and students can record a one-minute audio file to post in the discussion forums providing an alternative based on learner ability and preference. To find out more about these accessibility features, please refer the Help Guide within SLATE2. Filed under the “Learning Environment” section is a series of resources dedicated to accessibility including:

  1. Organizing Your Course Accessibly
  2. Accessible Course Design
  3. Accessible HTML Templates

Multiple Means of Expression

Where possible, it is a best practice to use the HTML editor to create content files. When files are uploaded as Word, PDF, or PowerPoint, for example, they require an extra step for students to download and cause a second software to open on their computers. The HTML editor allows for robust content, such as hyperlinks, photos, videos, audio files, and animations. Additionally, mathematical operations can be written accessibly in the HTML editor. HTML content works best with assistive technologies, like screen readers. HTML is the most flexible content; it can be printed out or saved into a document. Still, there may be times when uploading a PDF just makes more sense, like a 3rd-party poster for a competition or event. If there is a concern for intellectual property, a faculty member may choose to upload a document with a copyright statement.

Multiple Means of Engagement

Regardless of the delivery mechanism that is chosen, providing content in a variety of media—text, graphics, audio, and video—can increase engagement and the retention of information. In addition to instructor-delivered content, students can be more engaged through peer-to-peer teaching in discussion forums, jigsaws, and fishbowls. These learning activities facilitate a variety of interactions, from individual to pair work to group work. Use a variety of methods to keep the content both challenging and engaging.

PowerPoint is very popular software, and it can be tempting to upload new or existing PowerPoint presentations directly to SLATE2. PowerPoint was always meant to be an audio-visual aid to a live presentation. When used with narration, it can simulate that face-to-face element. Without narration and proper formatting, however, PowerPoint presentations can pose significant barriers to those using assistive technology. Instead, use the HTML content editor to achieve the same results as a live PowerPoint presentation without the added barriers.

It is also important to assess your physical classroom in terms of layout, size, accessibility, noise, and other distractions. Think about how you can prevent distractions and present your lectures to minimize both visual and audible obstructions.

Instill inclusive class values of professionalism and mutual respect to ensure students feel your classroom is a safe space.

Monitor the audience and check in with students who may be struggling. You can also use classroom assessment techniques to gauge how well your students understand the lesson.

Section 4: Assessment & Evaluation

Assessment is an interactive process of diagnostic and formative measurements. Evaluation is a process of grading learning through summative measurements. In order to prepare students for success, conduct an assessment early in the course to determine what students need in order to achieve the learning outcomes. Throughout the course, it is important to have a variety of formative activities, assignments, and tests that help students gauge their progress towards the learning outcomes. By the end of the course, it is important to have summative culminating performance assignments, projects, or exams that indicate whether students have achieved the learning outcomes.

Multiple Means of Representation

Teaching time management, goal setting, study skills, coping skills, and self-reflection techniques help students prepare for evaluation and make them more likely to achieve learning outcomes. To prepare students for course work, conduct needs assessments and reviews using diagnostic quizzes, self-assessments, and survey/polls.

When writing instructions for a learning exercise or evaluation there are a number of ways to ensure your instructions are clear. For example, show samples of before and after work, model and demonstrate steps and sequences, write instructions in the affirmative, and use rubrics and rating scales.

The structure of evaluations and assessments should make benchmarks clear and involve learners in academic goals. For example, break large assignments into smaller components. This strategy allows students to submit drafts and receive incremental feedback while also encouraging a reflective writing process.

As appropriate for various disciplines, learning portfolios can help students choose showcase pieces to demonstrate learning outcomes as well as creates course take-aways.

Multiple Means of Expression

Give students choice and autonomy in assignments. Encouraging options like an essay, slideshow, or podcasts provides multiple means of expression of student learnings. Model this behaviour by utilizing multiple media and strategies including text, speech, illustrations, comic books, storyboards, dance, music, film, art, 3D models, blogs, chats, and discussion forums to express course learning.

Students with disabilities and those for whom English is a second language often benefit from using assistive technologies. These technologies may include spelling and grammar checkers, word prediction software, text-to-speech and voice recognition software, graphic calculators, geometric sketchpads, outlining tools, concept mapping tools, mathematical notation software, wikis and more (CAST, 2012). Permitting students to use these technologies, where appropriate, encourages a level playing field for all students to succeed. Multiple choice quizzes are a popular tool in today’s classroom. However, this format and the language used can significantly disadvantage learners with disabilities and/or for whom English is a second language. Maximize the available features of multiple choice quizzes to ensure an fair assessment. For example, consider creating collaborative and/or open book quizzes. Create questions using question stems, plausible distractors, and higher order processes (DiBattista, 2010) (DiBattista, 2011). Identify any problem areas in your quiz using tools in the LMS (SLATE), like feedback options.

Multiple Means of Engagement

It can be difficult to keep students engaged, even when it comes to evaluation and assessment. Using relevant assignments like role plays, debates, case studies, labs, and simulation games can help.

Keep students engaged by varying the pace, length, novelty, difficulty and social organization (e.g. individual, pair, and group work) of assessments. However, when doing so, be careful to avoid multitasking activities (DHHS, n.d.) (WebAim, 2012), which make learning difficult for just about everyone as one can see in the WebAim Distractibility Simulation. Other techniques to consider include group work, peer critique, and study groups.

Self-monitoring is another important skill to encourage in students. Providing regular and timely feedback with prompts will help. Feedback should incorporate three items: something to Appreciate, something to Critique, and something to Encourage (ACE). This technique can help students identify patterns of errors. Remember to take advantage of the many tools available to faculty by using electronic feedback as well as the LMS Grade Book, drop box, and email.

Incorporating these best practices and the principles of UDL into your courses may seem overwhelming at first. Kari Kumar, a Health Sciences Lecturer, with the University Of Ontario Institute Of Technology, explains how she came to understand and implement UDL in an eight-minute video interview:

Section 5: Resources & Supports

There are a number of resources available to you here at the College, follow their links for more information:


The Faculty Development Group at CTL provides faculty and staff with information and resources on UDL as it relates to teaching and learning. As well, UDL workshops may be arranged as requested.

Accessible Learning Services (ALS)

The Accessible Learning Services Office facilitates equal access for eligible students with documented disabilities by coordinating reasonable academic accommodations and support services. Accommodation plans and services are tailored to correspond with the disability related needs of each student and are determined based on the documentation provided and program specific requirements. ALS places emphasis on students' ability and independence to empower them to realize their academic potential and personal responsibilities.

For more information about these services go to the ALS website.

Organizational Accessibility Manager

The Organizational Accessibility Manager is responsible for corporate accessibility issues and facilitates support for Sheridan employees as well as the wider community. For more information, go to the Accessibility at Sheridan website.

Student Advisement Centre

Student Advisement provides answers, information, and referrals to help our students have a successful Sheridan experience. For more information about the services provided, go to the Student Advisement Centre website.


Sheridan’s librarians and staff provide many supports to faculty, including:

  1. Providing in-depth reference assistance
  2. Guiding Faculty on issues concerning Copyright
  3. Delivering curriculum-integrated instruction
  4. Creating effective library assignments and tutorials
  5. Developing the library collection to support courses and programs

For more information, visit the Faculty Services Guide or go to the Library website.

Additional Learning Resources:

Creating Accessible Documents Tip Sheet


  1. Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2012). About UDL. Retrieved from
  2. Council of Ontario Universities (COU). (2012). Tools for compliance. Toronto, ON: Council of Ontario Universities.
  3. DiBattista, D. (2011, November). Proceedings from Curriculum Development Affinity Group (CDAG) Conference, Niagara College: Designing effective multiple-choice questions. Niagara Falls, ON.
  4. DiBattista, D. (2010). Tips for constructing multiple-choice items. Scarborough, ON: Nelson Education
  5. Elias, T. (2011). Universal instructional design principles for mobile learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 12(2).
  6. Teaching Advantage (NETA). iEARN. (n.d.). Collaboration Centre. Retrieved from
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). (n.d.). The research-based web design & usability guidelines. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved from
  8. WebAim. (2012). Distractibility Simulation. Retrieved from