Skip to main content

Universal Design Cycle for Learning Materials

Creating digital accessible learning materials in inclusive settings is an ongoing process, especially as student access requirements, accessibility standards, and curricula evolve. This is why the procedure outlined below is an iterative process best represented as a cycle – learning materials need to be responsive to changing learning processes and developments in students’ access profiles (e.g., new access technology, changing preferences).

While this universal design cycle centers the perspectives of students as users, it assumes that the educator will be responsible for designing and implementing digital format learning materials. As student and educator capacities grow across time and iterations of the cycle, the process may reorient from an educator-driven design process (universal design) to a co-design process where students play a direct, meaningful role at each stage (inclusive design). See this resource from the Inclusive Design Research Centre on how to promote inclusive practices through co-design.


Cycle diagram with four steps. The first step is for the educator to consult with students. Second, create, remediate, and curate learning materials in digital formats. Third, check materials for accessibility using automated tools. Fourth, implement materials with students. The cycle starts again at the first step.

Number one paired with an icon of three silouettes, one with its hand raised.

Consult with Students

  • Seek insight from students on their experiences accessing learning materials in digital formats. Are there certain file types that they prefer or avoid? What features or functionality improve their experience? Essentially, what does do students need in terms of access to learning content for that access to be meaningful, efficient, and appealing?
  • Consult also with those with specialized knowledge on students’ access requirements. For example, learning resource teachers, access technology specialists, alternative and augmentative communication specialists, and teachers of students with visual impairments will all have some specialized expertise in accessibility for learning that may be informative.

Number two paired with an icon showing a pencil poised above a sheet of paper

Create, Remediate, and Curate

  • Create. Whether authoring a handout package in Microsoft Word or a presentation in Google Slides, use key insights from consultation with students to guide the creation of learning materials in digital format. Consider that accessibility is a multi-dimensional process and not an end-state that is achieved only by meeting technical specifications.
  • Remediate. There will be useful learning materials that were created in the past that will require updates or reformatting in order to be accessible. For example, an old image scan of a print handout in PDF can be converted to a PDF with machine readable text or a Word file.
  • Curate. Educators evaluate and assemble learning content that is created by others. Based on insights from learners, critically examine potential digital resources and learning materials. Check for accessibility statements from content publishers to get a sense of what features and functionality the user can anticipate and the degree to which the content was designed with inclusion in mind.

Number 3 with universal access symbol - a human figure with arms and legs outstretched.

Check for Accessibility & Update

Number four paired with a rocket ship icon


  • Engage students with the learning material. Observe and note any access challenges during students’ in-class use of the material. Seek student feedback on accessibility features and barriers (see Consult with Students).
  • Gather feedback from learners about their access experience. What factors improved their experience? What barriers did they encounter and what impact did they have?
  • For curated materials, consider sending feedback to the content developers and/or publishers. Accessibility is a shared project and providing feedback to those who create learning materials communicates that digital accessibility is a high priority in the K-12 education system.