Accessibility, Diversity, and Inclusion

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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 concept of being barrier-free, the broader accessibility movement, and adaptive technology and assistive technology. It also seeks to blend aesthetics into these core considerations.

Inclusive Design Survey

When we consider designing learning resources that are accessible UDL is a good place to start as it moves beyond the notion of accessible resource design as a checklist that we go through when we develop resources, but instead asks us to consider how the resource we are developing can be as usable as possible by all users. In our description below we look at accessibility in the broadest terms possible in-line with UDL Principles.

We frame the practice of using Universal Design in a holistic and manageable way and begin by addressing the barriers that are easy to anticipate and proactively remediate. This toolkit, therefore, will provide guidance if the answer to any of the following questions is “yes.”

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


One of the basic premises of open education is access. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) believes:

"…that universal access to high quality education is key to the building of peace, sustainable social and economic development, and intercultural dialogue. Open Educational Resources (OER) provide a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of education as well as facilitate policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building" (Open Educational Resources, UNESCO)

Accessibility Toolkits and Guides

Reasons to Adapt an Open Textbook in the BCcampus Open Education Adaptation Guide.

Access in this context refers to the ability for students, instructors, and others to obtain access to education. Releasing textbooks and other educational resources with open-copyright licenses is a big step toward removing barriers, as it makes these materials free of cost and free to use, distribute, and change. But there is more that goes into accessing a resource than it just being free and online. For a textbook to be truly accessible, people of all abilities need to be able to access the content. This means designing a textbook that accommodates people with diverse needs and ensuring the content can be accessed by all, regardless of ability. It also means creating materials that include diverse viewpoints and voices.

Barriers to Access

Listed below are some of the barriers students face during their education, as well as some solutions and examples of how to overcome these barriers in the resources you create.

Barrier Type Challenge Solution Example
Physical Impairments Low vision or blindness Use alternative text (alt-text) to describe an image’s content or function that can be read by a screen reader. All images in Introduction to Psychology – 1st Canadian Edition have alt-text.
Hearing impairment or deafness Add transcripts and captions to all audio content. The instructional videos [YouTube – New Tab] created for Concepts of Biology-1st Canadian Edition are all captioned.
Motor-skill impairment, immobility Provide file formats that can be uploaded into a variety of mobile devices. Introduction to Tourism and Hospitality in BC has a number of file types available.
Learning Disabilities Difficulty absorbing information via reading or difficulty concentrating (ADHD) Add audio clips to printed text that student can listen to while reading along. Common Core Trade series (23 books) has audio files that accompany the text content.
Language Comprehension Low literacy: adult basic education (ABE) student or English language learners (ELL) Provide a print copy with increased font size or provide formats that allow the font size to be adjusted. The PDF of BC Reads: Adult Literacy Fundamental English – Reader 1 uses large text.
Limitations of Time and Place Working, parenting, or live far from a college or university Provide a version of the textbook that can be accessed from anywhere online. All books in the B.C. Open Textbook Collection can be accessed online.
Unreliable or no access to the Internet Set up a service that can supply a print-on-demand copy. See the print-on-demand option for Principles of Social Psychology – 1st International Edition.

Tips for accessibility

Here are some tips that can help making the textbook more accessible:

  • Use clear, straightforward language. Make the content understandable.
  • Provide multiple formats whenever possible. This will allow different users to access the resource in different ways.
  • Use a clear organizational structure to guide readers through the resource.
  • Provide proper information and resources to make the content readable and understandable for users (ie. Glossary, Abbreviation list).
  • Use personas to 'test' out draft resources for different users.
  • Develop an accessibility statement to show ways that the resource has been made more accessible and way for users to contact you with suggestions to improve accessibility.
  • When requesting peer reviewers, make sure to highlight the importance of accessibility, diversity, and inclusion.
Orange Download.png Downloadable Templates

Diversity and Inclusion

UBC Example - Psychology

Dr. Benjamin Cheung has been working on adapting Principles of Social Psychology by Dr. Charles Stangor in order to replace the images with ones that show more diversity. This reflects the current diversity of the average classroom. His current revisions are focused on replacing gender pronouns to be neutral.

In the context of writing an open textbook, diversity means including a wide range of perspectives in your textbook. This can help ensure that more readers identify with and relate to the material. Some benefits are:

  • Engaging more students because they recognize themselves or their life experiences in the material
  • Appealing to instructors in a variety of educational settings
  • Creating a more interesting reading and learning experience


Whether intentional or not, ethnocentrism (“a tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own” - ethnocentrism, can creep into the content and presentation of a textbook, and it is something all authors should be aware of. This doesn’t mean you must write a book that fits every culture and perspective, only that you are respectful.

Adaptation Statements