Making Makerspaces Accessible with UDL

When it comes to libraries, the term “accessibility” might bring to mind physical and virtual access to library spaces such as ramps, wide aisles, adaptive technologies, and even 508 compliance. But what about learning? How can differently-abled individuals access the kinds of learning opportunities that libraries offer to the public?

That’s where UDL (Universal Design for Learning) comes in. And to illustrate how UDL can be applied to library learning events, I will use makerspaces as an example. In the table below are the three principles of UDL, along with suggestions for application to maker activity design.

UDL Principles

Maker Activity Design Suggestions

Principle I. Provide Multiple Means of Representation To embrace this principle, instructional or informational materials for makerspace activities should be provided in multiple forms (or in multiple ways) to facilitate differences in information processing. For example:

  • Break down instructions into simple, discrete steps
  • Provide instructions in multiple languages if necessary
  • Add simple visuals to enhance comprehension
  • Oral directions can be provided via screencasts, YouTube videos, or audio-enhanced static instruction
  • Hand-over-hand prompting can be useful for individuals with a variety of impairments
Principle II. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression Learners should be give the freedom to express themselves in a way that is least restrictive to their disabilities. To embrace this principle, offering maker activities through multiple modalities should be a priority. For example:

  • Offer a selection of maker activities to choose from, both digital and physical
  • Provide a variety of materials for physical maker activities, e.g., different widths of yarn and sizes of needles for knitting
  • Adaptive technologies, such as voice-to-text software (e.g., Dragon Dictation) improve accessibility for digitally-based maker activities
  • Devices with touch screen capabilities are easier to interact with for individuals with a variety of impairments
Principle III. Provide Multiple Means of Engagement To embrace this principle, provide choice for level of engagement. For example:

  • Offer a quiet space for individuals with sensory issues to work alone
  • Identify individuals working on the periphery, or who seem to be “left out,” and pair them with partners to promote communication and collaboration
  • Offer maker activities that pique a wide variety of interests, e.g., technology, arts and crafts, science, language and culture
  • Ensure plenty of constructive feedback to motivate learners and foster self-regulation

The beauty of UDL is that it increases accessibility to learning for all individuals. This is especially important for libraries, where equity of access is a vital issue, yet awareness (especially for invisible disabilities) and expertise is often lacking.

Useful sources:


Achievement Products

National Center on Universal Design for Learning


Library Trends for 2015

Happy New Year! I love the beginning of a new year, and one of my favorite things is to check out predictions about ed tech trends for the coming year. I’ve looked over several lists, but my hands-down favorite this year comes from Teach Thought. It was actually posted last May to predict three categories of 30 ed tech trends for the 2014-15 school year. The post identified 30 trends each in the following categories:”Trending Up,” “Awkward Middle Ground,” and “Trending Down.” Here is a rundown of the trends that directly impact libraries and librarians, along with my thoughts (I’ve numbered them according to their place on the list. Some are quite amusing.):

“Trending Up”

5. Digital citizenship. This has been a trend for so long that I don’t think of it as a trend anymore. Librarians know that in order for students to function in a digitally-rich world, they need to develop digital citizenship skills. Maybe classroom teachers are finally coming around to this not-so-new concept.

6. Focus on non-fiction, digital media. We can thank the Common Core for this, and I do see it as an important trend in school libraries specifically. Age appropriate, high quality non-fiction sources are needed to help build research skills in younger students, and digital media is part of that. When it comes to academic research though, I think there is still a “just Google it” mindset by many classroom teachers. That’s why librarians are more important than ever.

12. Digital literacy. Digital literacy and digital citizenship go hand in hand, as do digital literacy and information literacy. Is the librarian’s central role in this recognized? Not enough, but if couched in terms of digital citizenship we may get there sooner rather than later.

13. Focus on learning spaces. Yes, I think the movement toward a learning commons model of the library is definitely a growing trend.

14. Design thinking. I don’t think this is a trend yet because not enough people even know what design thinking is. The concept of design thinking is an important one for information literacy instruction though. See my post titled Information Literacy by Design [Thinking].

18. Genius hour, maker hour, collaboration time. Maker spaces in libraries is most definitely a growing trend. Are genius hours, maker hours and collaboration time a growing trend in education? I don’t think so, at least not yet. Of course, the library is the natural hub to host those events.

23. Librarian as digital media specialist. Really? This is a growing trend? To me, this is an established fact!

“Awkward Middle Ground”

5. Computer coding. I’m in agreement with this. Where does computer coding belong as an ed tech trend? Is it really the new literacy? I don’t think so. I do think the development of design thinking skills (i.e. creative problem solving), which is an outcome of learning to code, is the real trend.

6. Traditional reading lists of truly great literature. What? This might be going away in the classroom, but librarians will never stop promoting reading of “truly great literature.”

23. Librarian/DMS as bibliophile. That’s crazy talk. I have NEVER met a librarian who was not a bibliophile.

24. Online encyclopedias. I’m not sure if this refers to Wikipedia or actual subscription-based online encyclopedias. Neither is going away any time soon.

“Trending Down”

1. Mass education publishers. It’s wishful thinking to believe this trend to be dying. It is alive and well. Standardized testing, anyone?

5. Draconian district filters. I truly wish this trend would die. It is the bane of every librarian’s existence. But I can tell you it’s alive and well, at least in my daughter’s school district.

6. Humanities. Think digital humanities. No, not “trending down.”

8. “21st century learning” as a phrase or single idea. Who has ever thought of “21st century learning” as a single idea? Bill Gates, maybe? Librarians and educators who teach 21st century skills certainly don’t.

20Flash drives, hard drives, CDs, emailing files. No, not “trending down,” with the exception of CDs maybe. The cloud is great, but not the end-all-be-all, especially in light of recent cloud hacking events.

23. Librarian as no-nonsense, ruler-wielding taskmaster. Seriously? I’m insulted (although, I think we all know that ONE librarian who perpetuates the stereotype).