Instruction Section 2019 ALA Midwinter Virtual Discussion

Make Small Changes, Get Inclusive Results: Bringing Universal Design into Library Instruction

Discussion Conveners:

Samantha Cook, Instructional Design Librarian & Kristina Clement, Student Success Librarian both of the University of Wyoming

Virtual Discussion to take place on Thursday, January 17 at 11-12PM PST / 2-3PM EST

Register now, as space is limited:


The percentage of the U.S. population who identify as having a disability is steadily increasing. The US Census Bureau data shows that this number has risen from 11.9% in 2010 to 12.7% in 2017. This gradual increase in the number of people with disabilities means that colleges and universities are enrolling more students with a wide variety of disabilities that may affect learning styles and capabilities; for example, invisible disabilities, ADHD, dyslexia, cognitive disabilities, and many more are becoming more common and all require different accommodations (Chodock & Dolinger, 2009).

In response to this growth in disability, colleges and universities are beginning to adopt Universal Design Learning (UDL). UDL promotes accessibility in the classroom by designing courses to be accessible for the widest range of abilities. This can range from small changes, such as re-wording parts of a syllabus, to larger accommodations that involve classroom technology. But what does this mean for librarians who often only have a single encounter with a class? How do we begin actively incorporating elements of UDL into information literacy instruction? For example, it is common to demonstrate how to find resources using a computer and projector. What would happen if a student was vision impaired and could not see the screen or had to use a screen reader? Would you know how to quickly change a lesson plan full of activity and moving around the room to be more accommodating to a student in the class who had limited mobility? How would you adapt on the fly to accommodate a disruptive student who may have a learning disability? This virtual discussion will give you an opportunity to think through scenarios like these and share your own stories.

We will discuss:

  • Two perspectives of UDL: one from a librarian who has lived her whole life with an invisible disability and is very familiar with the principles of UDL; and the second from a librarian who is seeking to understand students and co-workers with disabilities in order to make her own instruction more inclusive.
  • Why we can be hesitant to fully understand and actively incorporate UDL into our instruction.
  • Small ways that we can accommodate students with disabilities during library instruction that will have big impacts.
  • Best practices for librarians who seek to understand and incorporate UDL into their instruction.
  • How to adapt on the fly to accommodate a variety of disabilities, including the scenarios mentioned above.

UDL appears occasionally in literature related to library instruction, but the majority of the literature is many years old. Disability accommodations tend to match the speed at which technology changes, which, in this day and age, is fast. Based on the lack of discussion in the library literature, we are falling behind. This virtual discussion seeks to put librarians on the fast track to considering implementing UDL into information literacy instruction.

For additional resources visit the Google Drive Folder and Zotero Library the conveners created on this topic.

Discussion Questions:

  • Have you ever had to accommodate a student disability on the fly in a library instruction session? If so, what happened? Were you caught off guard or did you feel prepared to make the accommodations?
  • How does your library accommodate student disabilities? Could you use any of the assistive technologies or policies effectively in your instruction?
  • What are some small changes you can make tomorrow to the way you teach to incorporate UDL?
  • Where could you make some changes to your instruction pedagogy and activities that would make them more inclusive? Are these changes big ones or small ones? Do you think you could maintain these changes to make your future instruction accessible to all?
  • What do you see as the biggest barriers to incorporating UDL into library instruction? Are these barriers something you can overcome?

Recommended Reading:

Chodock, T., & Dolinger, E. (2009). Applying universal design to information literacy: Teaching students who learn differently at Landmark College. Reference and User Studies Quarterly 49(1), 24-32. Retrieved from

Coyne, P., Bart, P., Dalton, B., Zeph, L.A., & Smith, N.C. (2012). Literacy by design: A universal design for learning approach for students with significant intellectual disabilities. Remedial and Special Education 33(3), 162-172. Retrieved from

Zhong, Y. (2012). Universal design for learning (UDL) in library instruction. College and Undergraduate Libraries 19(1), 33-45. Retrieved from

Webb, K.W. & Hoover, J. (2015). Universal design for learning (UDL) in the academic library: A methodology for mapping multiple means of representation in library tutorials. College and Research Libraries 76(4), 537-553. Retrieved from

Black, R.D., Weinberg, L.A., & Brodwin, M.G. (2014). Universal design for instruction and learning: A pilot study of faculty instructional methods and attitudes related to students with disabilities in higher education. Exceptionality Education International 24(1), 48-65. Retrieved from