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How Else Can we Assist Students With Disabilities(SWDs)

This site is a work in progress and will be updated periodically, therefore if you revisit us you may find additional resources each time you visit. We hope that you will become as invested and as interested as we are in moving towards a Universal Design for Learning approach and learning about how assistive technology can help our students with disabilities.


Syllabus Disability Statement

One of the first steps to assisting students with disabilities is to get them connected to Access-Ability Services and to that end we have provided sample disability statements below.

A Disability Statement is placed on course syllabi to alert students with disabilities to the reasonable accommodations available to them. The statement is an invitation to students who have disabilities to meet with Access-Ability Services, in a confidential environment, to discuss their need for accommodations.

· A statement on the syllabus and an announcement in class acknowledge that it is not unusual to have students who require accommodations in the classroom.

· The statement can be altered, with advice from Access-Ability Services, to meet the specific needs of your department/courses.

· It is recommended that instructors for multiple section courses and labs come to an agreement on the syllabus statement to be used.

Examples of disability statements that may be used/adapted for course syllabi:

1. "It is college policy to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. Any student with a documented disability who may need accommodations in this class is requested to speak directly to Access-Ability Services, D-205, (718) 368-5175 as early in the semester as possible. All discussions will remain confidential."

2. "Students with disabilities who believe that they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact Access-Ability Services, D-205, (718) 368-5175, as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion."


What is Universal Design for Learning?

The term "universal design" was coined by Ronald L. Mace (1941-1998), a fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Universal Design (UD) is the design of products and environments to be usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life, without the need for adaptation or special design.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL), as defined by the National Center for Universal Design for Learning, is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

Why is UDL important?

  • Our learners have vastly diverse backgrounds, many come from different cultures, different types of educational environments and different soico-economic statuses. 
  • Our learners have diverse strengths and learn in very different ways, some buy seeing, some by hearing and others by doing. 
  • Our learners have diverse challenges such as lack of interest or engagement, returning/age, family responsibilities (nontraditional students), learning disabilities, sensory and physical disabilities (e.g. blind, deaf, limited mobility), psychiatric disabilities, language barriers, time constraints.

Principles of UDL

Principle 1

Multiple means of representation

  • There is more than one way to present information that is optimal for all students. Options may include: lecture; video; reading assignments; knowledge sharing groups.

Learners differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information that is presented to them. For example, those with sensory disabilities (e.g., blindness or deafness), learning disabilities, language or cultural differences may all require different ways of approaching content. Others may simply grasp information quicker or more efficiently through visual or auditory means rather than printed text. Also learning, and transfer of learning, occur when multiple representations are used, because they allow students to make connections within, as well as between, concepts. In short, there is not one means of representation that will be optimal for all learners; providing types of representation is essential.

Principle 2

Multiple means of expression

  • There is more than one way to express knowledge that will be optimal for all students. Options may include: presentations, papers, role playing, technology demonstrations, and projects. 

Learners differ in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know. For example, individuals with significant movement impairments (e.g., cerebral palsy), those who struggle with strategic and organizational abilities (executive function disorders), and those who have language barriers may approach learning tasks very differently. Some learners may be able to express themselves well in written text but not speech, and vice versa. In addition, action and expression require a great deal of strategy, organization, and practice; these are areas in which learner skills can differ. In reality, there is not one means of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners; providing options for action and expression is essential. 

Principle 3

Multiple means of engagement

  • There is more than one way to engage and motivate students. One option might be to pull prior knowledge from students.
Affect represents a crucial element in learning, and learners differ markedly in the ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn. There are a variety of sources that can influence individual variation in affect including neurology, culture, personal relevance, subjectivity, and background knowledge, along with a variety of other factors. Some learners are highly engaged by spontaneity and novelty while other are disengaged, even frightened, by those aspects, preferring strict routine. Some learners might like to work alone, while others prefer to work with their peers. In reality, there is not one means of engagement that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts; providing multiple options for engagement is essential.
~The above information adapted from and 
Get the UDL Guidelines in full-text format (Word) as presented by

Get a Graphic Organizer with the UDL Guidelines (PDF): A multi-colored one-page view of the UDL principles and checkpoints as presented by

Get an Educator's Checklist with the UDL Guidelines (Word): A worksheet listing the UDL principles and checkpoints with space for note-taking as presented by 


Instructional methods and UDL Approaches

It is important to consider the strengths and challenges that students face when information is presented to them in various formats, below we have provided a short summary of basic instructional methods, the challenges they pose and a Universal Design for Learning alternative.


~Challenges: requires sustained concentration, retention of information, fluency of the spoken language, note-taking skills, effective presenter and auditory acuity. 

~UDL Approach: Notes can be posted on an accessible site (site that has been formatted for a Screen Reader and open to all students), breaks can be provided as well as interactive opportunities, sign language interpreters or captioning, leave ample time for questions and clarification. 

Group Work

~Challenges: Requires substantial space, printed materials are often used and not accessible to some, sustained concentration, interpersonal and writing skills necessary which may cause anxiety in shy or socially awkward students.

~UDL Approach: Assignment can be designed so that individual differences are mediated through delegation of different portions of assignment, physical space must allow for accommodations (e.g. space for a wheelchair, interpreter, not taker etc.), minimize physical distractions.

Video/Film/Power Point

~Challenges: requires processing of various visual aspects such as color and size, organization of materials must be accessible, pace of presentation of slides can be daunting, lighting is important, requires visual acuity and/or auditory acuity.

~UDL Approach: Caption all audio-visual media, slides should maintain a sufficient contrast for students to differentiate text from background, graphics etc. Font should be at least 32-point font in Arial or Times New Roman.  Slides and video should be described/read orally.

Written Exercises

~Challenges: requires reading and writing at a designated pace, ability to access print materials and English language proficiency.

~UDL Approach: assistive technology should be readily available (screen readers, dictation software), use intuitive language when presenting assignment and avoid unnecessary jargon.  


~Challenges: Often requires physical activity, auditory and visual acuity, English language fluency, can cause anxiety, may compromise accommodations and limits control of environment (noise, space, lighting).

~UDL Approach: weigh value of activity vs. range of potential barriers and consider other optiosn that may attain same goal.  Provide adequate space for movement and if possible consult with experts to gauge inclusiveness of activity.


~Challenge: English proficiency, audio and visual acuity, note taking skills, sustained concentration, may cause anxiety and compromise accommodations.

UDL Approach: provide options for participation (such as note cards), provide summarization of key points, design seating for face to face communication and ensure that acoustics are appropriate. 


Web resources for further information

  • "Fast Facts for Faculty: Universal Design for Learning" the Ohio State University Partnership Grant.  A brief description of UDL and it's principles and applications.

  • For more information and to complete professional development modules about Universal Design for Learning Strategies visit the University of Hawaii Center on Disability Studies Professional Development training website at:

       or their training module at

  • CAST is a nonprofit research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through Universal Design for Learning.

  • Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research.  Implementing Universal Design for Learning in a Post Secondary Classroom. Site contains videos on implementing Universal Design in the classroom, for materials and even for web resources. 

  • EnACT Ensuring Access Through Collaboration & Technology

  • Universal Design for Instruction in Postsecondary Education at University of Connecticut

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