Key Takeaway

By using Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design methodologies and principles in combination, websites can be designed to be accessible for all people. Innovative solutions to website design must be done in conjunction with people with disabilities, in order to ensure accessibility. This will allow all citizens to have access to information without barriers, especially during a pandemic. —Tanya Farrol 

The Need for More Accessible Websites

The pandemic has caused more and more people to rely on the internet to gain access to basic services, like food, education, healthcare, and legal services. This has led to the glaring realization of how inaccessible websites are for people with disabilities and how they can pose a barrier. In 2019 and 2020, over 1 million US websites were tested by WebAim, and 98.1% were found to be non-compliant to legal accessibility standards.1

This article explores the various disability models to the design process, and examines how Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design methodologies and principles can work in combination to design accessible websites for all people.

Over 1 billion people today (15%) of the population have a disability.2 The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) classifies disability as “impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions” and takes into consideration “body functions, body structures, activities, participation and the environment” in the design thinking process.3 The ICF is concerned with providing insight into the “human experience when accessing information online.”

With the creation of the Microsoft Inclusive Design Toolkit for the business and technology sectors, it “redefines what disabilities are and how they happen” (O’Neill, 2021). The toolkit uses a Persona Spectrum Model and explains that there are three types of disabilities—permanent, temporary, and situational.4 For example, the big buttons on an Xbox Adaptive Controller works for someone in a cast (temporary disability), a parent holding a child (situational disability), and a person with one arm (permanent disability).

Ableism is prevalent in our society. We continually devalue disabilities by using a medical model to “fix” the disability. This ableism has led to the lack of accessibility for people with disabilities to participate in our society. Web designers have ability biases where they design based on their own perceptions of the needs and wants of people with disabilities. Instead, we need to invite people with a variety of disabilities to be part of the design process, in order to innovate and improve web accessibility. 

Abilities Design is an umbrella term for the three design disciplines that design for accessibility and for people’s various abilities: Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design. They are outlined briefly below. 

Universal Design

“Universal Design focuses on developing solutions that can be used by everyone without any alterations” (O’Neill, 2021). It is commonly known as Design for One—Design for All. It has 7 principles: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach to use.5

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL is founded on the earlier work of Universal Design and is a framework to improve teaching methodologies based on how people learn. It has three principles:

  • Engagement—motivating students to learn—the why of learning
  • Representation—presenting information in different ways—the what of learning
  • Action and Expression—differentiated ways to express learners knowledge—the how of learning6

Inclusive Design

Inclusive Design is a methodology that provides adaptive solutions in their designs for various people. The framework centers around:

  • recognizing that the design must take into account each person’s ability and uniqueness;
  • using  “open and transparent processes” and co-designing with the people “who will be most affected by the design solution;”7
  • designing in a “complex adaptive system” that “suits the needs of different people.”8

Case Study: Two Judicial Websites

O’Neill (2021) performed a case study into the accessibility of two judicial websites, the US Southern District of Mississippi and the Sixth Judicial District of Minnesota, used the three disciplines of Abilities Design. For Universal Design, there were too many drop-down menus, which made it difficult for people with sight impairments or learning disabilities to find information. For UDL, there was too much written text, making it challenging for people with dyslexia or those whose first language was not English. In the Inclusive Design, there was a strong need to adapt the website and put in an accessibility panel that would give people greater control over the website, e.g. adjusting color contrast or changing the size of the font.

There are some great resources used by the US government to build accessible websites that adhere to the Abilities Design disciplines.

  • The US Web Design System (USWDS)—has good design principles and page templates to build accessible websites.9
  • The US General Services Administration created Accessibility for Teams—a quick, online guide for how to use inclusive design practices for accessible websites.10

Abilities Design is the way forward in using a combination of the principles and methodologies of Universal Design, UDL, and Inclusive Design to create access to digital information. By focusing on the abilities of people with disabilities and including them in the design process, we will innovate and create a more inclusive society. 

Summarized Article:

O’Neill, J. L. (2021). Accessibility for All Abilities: How Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design Combat Inaccessibility and Ableism. J. Open Access L., 9, 1.

Summary by: Tanya Farrol – Tanya believes that the MARIO Framework is a personalized learning experience that develops skills and empowers learners to become an integral part of their learning journey.

Additional References:

  1. The WEBAIM Million: An annual accessibility analysis of the top 1,000,000 home pages. WebAIM. (2020, February). Retrieved November 1, 2021, from 
  2. World Health Organization and World Bank. (2011). World Report on Disability 2011. World Health Organization. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from 
  3. World Health Organization. (2002). Towards a Common Language for Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). World Health Organization. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from 
  4. Microsoft. (2016). Inclusive Microsoft Design 2016. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from 
  5. The 7 principles. Centre for Excellence in Universal Design. (2020). Retrieved November 1, 2021, from 
  6. CAST. (2021, April 20). About universal design for learning. CAST. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from 
  7. Bjögvinsson, E., Ehn, P., and Hillgren, P.-A. (2012), Design Things and Design Thinking: Contemporary Participatory Design Challenges, Design Issues 2012, vol. 28, no. 3, Summer 2012, pp. 101–16.
  8. Treviranus, J. (2018, July 10). The three dimensions of inclusive design. Medium. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from 
  9. US General Services Administration. (n.d.). USWDS: The United States Web Design System. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from 
  10. US General Services Administration, Technology Transformation Services . (n.d.). Accessibility for Teams. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from 

Key Takeaway: This article highlights whether the use of a teacher evaluation tool encourages instruction that responds to the needs of students with learning disabilities. The authors suggest a tool that cultivates the teaching of skills to learners in sequences to allow for practice and reflection, consequently leading to mastery, and the inclusion of direct and explicit instruction to allow educators to react and adapt to the individual learner’s needs as they progress through their learning journey. —Frankie Garbutt

Danielson’s Framework for Teaching

“All teachers are evaluated using the same tool, regardless of the teacher’s role, suggesting that the instructional approach supported by one tool would meet the needs of all students,” say Hannah Morris- Matthews, Kristabel Stark and Nathan Jones (Boston University), Mary Brownell ( University of Florida) and Courtney Bell (Educational Testing Service, Princeton) in this Journal of Learning Disabilities article. The authors investigated whether Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (FFT) is a teacher evaluation tool which encourages instruction that adequately responds to the needs of students with learning disabilities.

Review of the Literature

The use of observation tools, to evaluate teacher practices and identify professional development needs, can be “agnostic and universal,” thus creating the assumption that one instructional approach benefits all learners. The academics rooted their research in the Load Reduction Theory (LRI) because previous studies suggest that students with learning disabilities benefit from direct and explicit instruction. LRI practices “avoid overburdening the working memory, and facilitate productive interaction between long-term and working memory.” This is achieved through using the pillars of LRI teaching practices (intensive, explicit, systematic and individualized instruction) in order to support learners with cognitive disabilities.

The Findings

The study addressed two questions: 

1. What assumptions about instructional quality are present in Danielson’s FFT? 

2. To what extent does Danielson’ FFT make practices associated with LRI visible?

The methodology of the study looked at the language of the observation tool due to its role in “defining, evaluating and developing good teaching.” Their analysis found that practices that reduce cognitive load are rare and instead favour practices which are student-driven and focused on making sense of complex content. They concluded that “observers using FFT would direct these teachers to practices that would likely serve as barriers to equitable and efficient learning opportunities.”


Nonetheless, the limitations of this study were acknowledged as it had not investigated “how FFT might operate in practice” because the analysis “does not provide insight into the ways that raters make use of the tool.” Moreover, the focus “foregrounds the needs of students whose disability influences cognitive processing,” and thus, “does not explicitly speak to the needs of all students with disabilities.” Consequently, it was suggested that further research is required into how the framework is used as a whole and not just segments of the teacher evaluation tool. The authors suggest that future researchers “query how observers use and make sense of the rubrics to better understand the processes through which they arrive at ratings and determine directions for professional development.”


The conclusion was that FFT as an instrument “may not be an appropriate mechanism through which to support a continuum of effective instruction for students with learning disabilities and other struggling learners.” The researchers proposed to root observation tools in the cognitive load theory, recognising the need for a diverse tool box with practices that can respond to learners’ needs.

Article Summarized:

Morris-Mathews, H., Stark, K. R., Jones, N. D., Brownell, M. T., & Bell, C. A. (2020). Danielson’s Framework for Teaching: Convergence and Divergence With Conceptions of Effectiveness in Special Education. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 54(1), 66–78.

Summary By: Frankie Garbutt- Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

Article Abstract

Design thinking is generally defined as an analytic and creative process that engages a person in opportunities to experiment, create and prototype models, gather feedback, and redesign. Several characteristics (e.g., visualization, creativity) that a good design thinker should possess have been identified from the literature. The primary purpose of this article is to summarize and synthesize the research on design thinking to (a) better understand its characteristics and processes, as well as the differences between novice and expert design thinkers, and (b) apply the findings from the literature regarding the application of design thinking to our educational system. The authors’ overarching goal is to identify the features and characteristics of design thinking and discuss its importance in promoting students’ problem-solving skills in the 21st century.

MARIO Connections

Razzouk and Shute’s study articulates how design thinking might be applied in educational settings. MARIO embraces this study’s exploration of how the incorporation of design thinking can influence student responses to challenge. 

Article Abstract

There are many promising psychological interventions on the horizon, but there is no clear methodology for preparing them to be scaled up. Drawing on design thinking, the present research formalizes a methodology for redesigning and tailoring initial interventions. We test the methodology using the case of fixed versus growth mindsets during the transition to high school. Qualitative inquiry and rapid, iterative, randomized “A/B” experiments were conducted with ~3,000 participants to inform intervention revisions for this population. Next, two experimental evaluations showed that the revised growth mindset intervention was an improvement over previous versions in terms of short-term proxy outcomes (Study 1, N=7,501), and it improved 9th grade core-course GPA and reduced D/F GPAs for lower achieving students when delivered via the Internet under routine conditions with ~95% of students at 10 schools (Study 2, N=3,676). Although the intervention could still be improved even further, the current research provides a model for how to improve and scale interventions that begin to address pressing educational problems. It also provides insight into how to teach a growth mindset more effectively.

MARIO Connections

Yeager et al.’s study provided a model for MARIO when defining what innovation within the Framework might look like. The direct application of a design thinking process to improve educational outcomes is discussed and creates a potential roadmap to be replicated by individual educators.