Inspired by Universal Usability…

One of the first books I read when doing postgraduate studies at Dublin City University (2005 – 2007) was Leonardo’s Laptop, Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies, written by Ben Shneiderman (2003). It was in those pages, after over two decades of teaching, that I was first introduced to the principles of universal usability.

Shneiderman wrote (now twelve years ago), Universal usability is sometimes tied to meeting the needs of users who are disabled or work in disabling conditions. This important direction is likely to benefit all users. The adaptability needed for users with diverse physical, visual, auditory or cognitive disabilities is likely to benefit users with differing preferences, tasks, skills, hardware, and so on (Shneiderman 2003 p. 41 my emphases).

Shneiderman hit the nail on the head, and with the advent of the iPad in 2007, and its many incarnations and variants since then, the benefits of universal usability in the digital space are clear for all to experience.

I remembered Shneiderman recently when I was  reminded of the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) when planning curriculum developments.  There appear to be two main organisations promoting UDL (I stand to be corrected here!)

  1. The National Centre on Universal Design for Learning Center
  2. CAST, the Center for Applied Special Technology

They have similar ideas about the advantages of universal design for learning

  • UDL provides multiple means of representation
  • UDL provides multiple means of action and expression
  • UDL provides multiple means of engagement

UDL and the whole concept of universal usability appeal to me because they allow multiple means of expression. This has been an interest of mine over the past decade in allowing students to find many and differing ways of representing knowledge.

Multiple means of expression are necessary in education systems, to leverage the capabilities in most students pockets, to (re) present information and knowledge and to allow students of all abilities to articulate those means in educational settings.

The image below captures many aspects of universal design for learning (Credit Giulia Fotsythe via Flickr)

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