Allow me to be metaphorical–a learning space and tools without universal design in mind (especially in 2016) is like building a new community centre that isn’t wheelchair accessible and allows smoking inside.

laurentien2Universal design is simply the idea of designing something to help a few people who need something a specific way, but the design overall is helpful to everyone. Every video and article I’ve read today discusses the example of curb ramps and how they’re good for people in wheelchairs but helpful to everyone else. I used to be really good at jumping my bike over sidewalk curbs–out of necessity. I wonder if today’s youth can imagine a world without them. I’m at the point now where I could never imagine ignoring it in my teaching practice.

I spent two hours considering universal design today, at work. I realized, in my e-learning courses, that while I spend a lot of time making audio files, visual aids and music for my courses, I hadn’t considered something simple: THE COLOURS. I read an article today that discussed the University of Arkansas’ Ten Simple Steps toward Universal Design of Online Classes.‘ It’s a rather straightforward list, but their #6 is “use colo[u]r with care.”

Here’s an example. A student who is colourblind, or has colour vision deficiency, might have trouble seeing specific colours, or differentiating specific colours. I love colour. I like my courses to be bright, pretty, and fun. But what I wasn’t taking into consideration was how green text on a blue background might look to someone–or red might look with orange, or anything like that. So if a student in my class, Carl, is working on my course from home, he might struggle to navigate certain tasks in the course, because he just can’t see them. And then, he might not tell me that he can’t see them. And then, he either won’t be successful, be less successful, or be miserable; or a combination of all three.

The fix: Contrast. I have a friend who has colour vision deficiency, and the easiest way to accommodate her is to have a night dark colour with a light one. Tonight, in my courses, I’m checking to make sure everything is dark words on a light background, and that there is lots of contrast. So, if Carl signs up for my course, he will be able to distinguish words from background.

This is also helpful for students who aren’t colourblind. If something is too busy or has too many colours, students might find it distracting or hard to follow.

Check this out:

Photo credit: Here