Inclusive Teaching | Disability & Learning Support Service

Guidelines for Inclusive Teaching and Universal Design

Recognising and accommodating the individual learning styles, preferences and learning needs of all students. To ensure equitable access to the learning environment, academic staff should consider the diversity of the student body in the design, delivery and assessment of courses and modules. 

The DLSS work closely with the Teaching Enhancement Unit in DCU to promote Universal Design for Instruction which is an educational framework that applies the principles of universal design to the teaching environment.

The Centre for Universal Design in Education ( CUDE) at the University of Washington expanded the concepts of universal design to consider teaching methods and materials, creating the Principles of Universal Design in Instruction.

The Disability & Learning Support Service in 2015 received funding through the DCU Quality Improvement and Development Fund and commissioned 9 short videos based on Universal Design for Instruction. We are delighted to present them below!

  1. Equitable Education Experience
  2. Flexible Material & Instruction
  3. Predictable Structure & Instruction
  4. Perceptible Information
  5. Mistakes are Tolerated
  6. Eliminate Unnecessary Physical Effort
  7. Size & Space for Approach & Use
  8. A Community of Learners
  9. Class Climate 

Practical strategies to create and maintain inclusive teaching practices 

Effective Interaction with students

  • Keep your profile up to date so students can find your contact details easily.
  • Make information available to students about when it is best to contact you for example your office hours and contact details.
  • Make clear how your role as lecturer or personal tutor supports their learning.
  • Get to know your students a little better so that you can identify particular needs. Check out the class list to see who is registered with the Disability Service. Use the web site to learn how best to support specific disabilities. 

Programme or module design and delivery

There are a number of adjustments that can be made to the structure of a course to make it more inclusive.

  • Explain clearly to students what is expected of them within your module. Explain any policies relevant to your area, such as attendance policies or policies covering late assessments.
  • Students learn better when presented with information that best suits their learning style. Use a range of teaching methods – discussion forums, group work, questionnaires, and project work. Encourage integration in groups.
  • Provide reading lists in advance to facilitate early reading and planning. Indicate the most important books on a reading list and direct students to key points in their readings.
  • Ensure all information is accurate and up to date.
  • Speak clearly and not too quickly. Avoid jargon.
  • Avoid using unexplained colloquialism/slang.
  • Only use acronyms and abbreviations when they are clearly explained.
  • Provide a clear overview when introducing a new topic so students know what to expect – highlight the main argument and key points.
  • Assignment topics should be provided early. Additional follow-up may be required to reinforce the deadline and to clarify what is expected.
  • Allocate time at the end of each lecture for students to ask questions. Ensure that all students can hear the question being asked.
  • Facilitate the task of support workers, such as note takers and personal assistants.

 Physical Environment

Good physical environments can aid student learning. An inclusive learning environment is accessible to all students, pleasant to work in, and uses appropriate teaching and learning methodologies.
  • Ensure that timetabling gives all students sufficient time to move between teaching venues.
  • Ensure that you can hear, and be heard by all students.
  • Ensure suitable lighting. Make sure all students can see you and any teaching props being used.
  • Consider the physical layout of the room when planning practical activities or group work.

 Making assessments more accessible

  • Identify the learning outcomes to be assessed. What is the best way a student can show this knowledge? Is there more than one way the knowledge can be assessed?
  • Remember that the assessment process should reflect an inclusive and flexible approach to measuring outcomes, rather than trying to fit all students into existing assessments.
  • Document the marking criteria for assignments and communicate this to students.
  • Discuss the instructions for examination papers with students well in advance of the exam.
  • Identify any part of the assessment process that could pose specific difficulties for students. Consider an alternative form of assessment that could equally measure the learning outcomes. What reasonable adjustments could be made?

 There are a number of ways to make reasonable assessment changes:

Making an adjustment that does not change the proposed assessment

This may involve producing exam papers in an enlarged print or allowing extra time to complete the assessment. The rationale for this is that reasonable accommodations compensate for any disadvantage during the assessment process and allow the student to complete the assessment in the same manner as other students

Modifying the assessment

This means changing the assessment to make it more accessible. An example would be allowing a student with Asperger’s Syndrome to complete group work online rather than in person.


Alternative assessment

This means substituting the proposed assessment with an alternative assessment. An example would be substituting an oral presentation with a written assignment for a student with speech difficulties.


No change to the assessment process

Current legislation states that the decision not to change the assessment process may be justified if:

  • academic standards are compromised
  • there is a significant financial implication
  • there are concerns regarding health and safety
  • the adjustment is not practical

To comply with the legislation, electing ‘no change’ must be considered on a case-by-case basis.


 Placements and Field Trips

  • Forward planning is essential to ensure a student has a successful off-campus teaching and learning.
  • Students should be invited to discuss reasonable accommodation options with staff before field trips or work placements.
  • Identify possible barriers to participation, and work on seeking solutions for example modifying the venue or modifying the activity. In some cases, it may be necessary to agree an alternative learning opportunity for affected students. If necessary, liaise with colleagues specialising in disability support and seek advice from them.
  • Give students adequate notice of off-campus teaching and learning opportunities.
  • Ensure that off-campus providers are aware of any additional needs among your student.


Tips for preparing handouts and presentations

Across the campus, lecturers, tutors and administrators are involved in the production and uploading of digital documents. There are some very simple things that you can do to make your documents accessible to a diverse range of users. Many of the small changes that you make when creating your documents can improve the navigability of the document for all users and can also save you time.

Preparing clear handouts

  • Distributing handouts at the start of a lecture can increase student engagement in the lecture. Ideally lecture notes/PowerPoint slides should be available in advance of the lecture and ideally in an electronic format.
  • Course materials should be designed so they can be produced in an accessible format on request. For example, electronic notes can be made accessible more easily than hand written notes.
  • Display information in different ways in your handouts – a  picture, chart or table can be more effective than a paragraph of text.
  • Use an accessible font such as Arial, Tahoma or another sans-serif font so that the text is clearly defined and spaced.
  • Avoid underlining words or putting them in italics, as these make it more difficult to recognise letter shapes. Avoid writing a full sentence in CAPITAL LETTERS, as they distort the word’s shape.
  • Use a font size 12+ for printed handouts
  • Use a colour that is highly visible and contrasts with the background.
  • Avoid using underlying background images, patterns or textures.
  • For additinonal guidelines on producing clear handouts in third level education please go to the NCBI website here (external website)

 Preparing presentations

Use concise ideas and content. Use bullet points and lists.

  • Add variety to your slides by using pictures, diagrams or charts. Integrate accessible multimedia features into your presentations such as sound or video.
  • Use a font size minimum 24.
  • Use a clear accessible sans serif font. Avoid underlying words or putting them in italics. Use boldto highlight key points.
    • Choose a high colour contrast between your background and text. But avoid black on white.
    • When selecting a layout for your design it is important not to select the blank template. In choosing the blank template you are removing all the in-built headings and structure that a design layout provides. Heading and structure are needed by those with a visual impairment to navigate the presentation quicker and easily.

 For further information and advice contact us:  Telephone: 01 700 5927    Email: