Universal Design as Verb

The fourth chapter used "Universal Design" (UD) as a metaphor to describe "the priority and the activity of UD as a process and mode of becoming" (p. 115). Basically, UD was defined as "a way of designing a building or facility, at little or no extra cost, so it is both attractive and functional for all people, disabled or not" (Mace, 1985, p. 147). Historically, UD was used as a "noun" such as "accessibility." In contrast, Dolmage reanimated UD as a "verb" because UD became a "process" for university architects and planners.

For example, we could apply UD as "noun" for one of the seven Universal Design principles: "Equitable use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities" (p. 116). In this case, we would add UD in the form of closed captioning (accessibility) for not only Deaf students, but also for international students or English as Second Language speakers. In contrast, Dolmage used UD as "verb" for "equitable use" in the classroom: he would give time for students to think through their ideas and answers and to use writing (involved process), instead of asking students to raise their hands (limited process). Additionally, Dolmage explored different areas of UD: the principle, the history, disability studies, usability, neoliberalism, and digital lives.

Understanding by Design as Verb

In chapter four, Dolmage suggested utilizing "Universal Design for Learning (UDL)" instead of "Universal Design of Instruction," because UD pedagogy was not about an instruction (noun), but a learning process (verb). At this point, I would like to expand on his definition by introducing "Understanding by Design (UbD)" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), which is often adapted to teaching curricula. This concept focuses on designing the curriculum to allow students to understand the content (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), while UDL focuses on designing the curriculum to merely be accessible (Bowe, 2000). This subtle difference could produce a starkly different process: If the curriculum was accessible, but hard to understand, would it still be as UDL?

As a teaching assistant, I have taught an online course, Introduction to Assistive Technology, at UIC. My teaching is related to assistive technology available for deaf/hard of hearing people. I provided a PowerPoint lecture with a transcript to make UDL accessible. I provided a roadmap which gave clear directions for online exams as UbD. However, a few students contacted me to clarify the specific question on exam, asking why "the person who suffers from hard of hearing" was not in the person-first language. Although my slide mentioned that "deaf/hard of hearing is considered person-first language," these students interpreted person-first language as the "person-first format," but not as being the "respective defining of the person." At this point, I noticed that my UbD was not sufficient enough to describe the definition of this use of person-first language. In this way, I came away from Dolmage's book with the conclusion that the development of curricula must link both UDL and UbD as concepts derived from defining learning and understanding as a process (verb).

raising hand in classroom
Raising hand in classroom (Photograph by Elizabeth Monge, 2016)