Making Universal Design a Reality

This article reports on a project at Renton Technical College in Washington State with a goal to provide a complete LD service system that creates a learner-friendly environment for students with learning disabilities.

Deborah Reck
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Tacoma Community House
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages
What the experts say

Value to the field of adult education 

The article briefly presents the processes of systemic change and demonstrates the quality of service that can be achieved.  The approach used removes the label and the fear of disclosing a “special education” background, treating all adult learners equally as individual learners.  It focuses on a positive structure as opposed to what could be seen as a negative one.  

Potential use

Administrators and instructors may find this interesting when looking at learner performance and improvement.  This combined with other data could substantiate similar projects in other environments and states.

Most significant or useful features

The design that is laid out (inverted triangle of services – Tier 1, 2, 3) and the timelines for systemic change to take hold.  The project demonstrates the need for dedicated resources – not just money and training, but people and supports.

Those interested in updates to the project may want to visit the project website:

As a resource, the usefulness of the article lies in the concept of support described in this article—the upside down pyramid of accommodation, support and services provided by implementation of real Universal Design.  The prominent advantages of this model as described by the author are a wise use of limited resources to reach a wide range of students in a setting where a great many students need more than average support, as well as the reduction of the stigma for those students needing accommodation or learning somewhat differently. 

Among the most laudable aspects of the concept of providing wide access to technology and other resources is the lending library of accommodation devices and software.  This idea addresses two significant problems that adults with LD usually face: First, having someone else decide or prescribe what accommodations the person with difficulties should use or try, which is the model that has been used for decades and which is the expected content of part of a diagnostic report.  This model not only removes autonomy from the individual who has been diagnosed, but depends on the knowledge and experience of the diagnostician or other person making the recommendations.  If that person is not aware of every aspect of all available resources, then he or she is necessarily limiting the learning options of the person with the diagnosis of LD.  A second problem with the more common approach of prescribing interventions for students is that the person with LD is often obliged to get trained in or buy equipment or software that in the end does not serve his or her needs very well or may be expected to use some accommodation method or technology that is not to his or her liking.  Thus the lending library not only assures personal choice in the accommodations, but also saves everyone money in the long run.

Some reservations regarding this article: On the one-hand we have an exceptionally forward thinking program providing a truly inclusive learning environment for students on the whole spectrum of learning; on the other hand, the impetus for this inclusive environment can be perceived as an outmoded view of learning difficulties.  Newer views of the issues and intense research on the diagnostic procedures, as well as on the concept of LD, tell us that what has commonly been thought of as LD is often not the type of problem caused by neurological impairment, which is considered to be the base definition of LD.

This resource is included in the 2007 Focus on Basics special learning disabilities' issue. 

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