Thinking about Accessibility, Design, and Universal Content


The goal of OER is to increase educational access to all students by offering free and affordable textbooks and educational resources. However, even free educational resources will not be accessible to all students without effective formatting, style, and design techniques.

The Accessibility Toolkit by Amanda Coolidge, Sue Doner, Tara Robertson, and Josie Gray is a great (and free) resource for content creators to learn key concepts such as Universal Design and best practices for organizing and formatting content. The toolkit teaches users about general accessibility requirements, but also includes specific instructions for working in Pressbooks.

Accessibility Advocacy

Beginning your OER accessibility design journey

Always perform a user analysis asking “Who is this for?” That helps to keep the human at the center of the process.  The answer to this question informs you as an author of how to approach accessibility issues to your textbook.

  • Do I have visual materials that present core concepts that not all students may be able to see or understand?
  • Do I have multimedia (audio, video) materials that present core concepts that not all students may be able to be hear, see, or access?
  • Do I have documents that present core concepts in a format that not all students may be able to access?

Universal Design

Universal Design is the process of creating products (devices, environments, systems, and processes) that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations (environments, conditions, and circumstances). Universal Design emerged from the slightly earlier concepts of being barrier-free, the broader accessibility movement, and adaptive and assistive technology. It also seeks to blend aesthetics into these core considerations. Universal instructional design is one form of Universal Design.

Definition of Universal Instructional Design

Universal Instructional Design (UID)

is an approach to designing course instruction, materials and content to benefit people of all learning styles without adaptation or retrofitting. UID provides equal access to learning, not simply equal access to information. UID allows the student to control the method of accessing information while the instructor monitors the learning process and initiates any beneficial methods. It should be noted that UID does not remove academic challenges; it removes barriers to access.

Inclusive Design

Inclusive design doesn’t mean designing one thing for all people. Rather, it means that you’re creating a lot of different ways for people to participate, so that as many people as possible can feel as though they belong to the learning process.

Inclusive Design


Inclusive design is about making informed design decisions, by better understanding user diversity, which helps to include as many people as possible, particularly groups who have traditionally been excluded.


See the following YouTube video for a discussion of Inclusive Design.

Jess Mitchell discusses the principles of inclusive design. She’s Senior Manager, Research + Design, at Inclusive Design Research Centre, OCAD University in Toronto.

Culturally Responsive Content, OER, and Academic Freedom

One of the best reasons to create your own textbooks–or to adapt content from pre-existing OER textbooks–is the ability to customize educational content for diverse student groups. In this way, OER textbooks increase instructors’ academic freedom by decreasing dependence on pre-packaged instructional materials and increasing the ability to implement a student-centered, culturally responsive pedagogy.

The following is a free guide to culturally responsive, student-centered teaching practices provides helpful advice and a variety of strategies that will help content creators generate ideas for capitalizing on the endless possibilities offered by OER and Pressbooks.



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University of Arkansas OER Style Guide Copyright © 2023 by Lora Lennertz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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