Transition can be a complicated topic to cover in a book that is not a textbook per se: How can one text possibly cover all the types of transition from secondary education, including community living, employment, postsecondary education, and social domains? To what degree can one transition framework address transition planning for diverse students with disabilities? These are the daunting tasks that Thoma, Bartholomew, and Scott tackle in their book, Universal Design for Transition: A Roadmap for Planning and Instruction. As the first authors to systematically apply universal design to transition, they create a practical workbook for educators that, in many ways, appears to be work in progress, but work with promise.
The authors have divided the book into two sections, with the first four chapters explaining universal design and the new universal design for transition (UDT). Chapter 1 explains that universal design in education seeks ways to ensure teaching and learning are accessible to students with disabilities, while reaching the maximum diversity of learners with or without disabilities. Universal design uses multiple ways of flexibly presenting information, giving students a chance to show what they know through assessments, and keeping students engaged while they learn. UDT applies universal design to the “design, delivery, and assessment” of the transition from school to postschool lives for students with disabilities (p. 9). It also creates “links between the academic content and transition planning, instruction, and goals” (p. 9). In essence, instead of assuming that students will learn academic content and transition skills separately, UDT finds ways to infuse transition planning, goal setting, functional skill development, and other aspects of transition into academic lessons. For example, in one lesson, students learn about hurricanes but also meet community-living transition goals of learning about safety, preparing for natural disasters and emergencies, and understanding reports about hurricanes. The authors of Universal Design for Transition are experienced in their field, and it shows through UDT's seamless incorporation of several time-tested ideas: connecting transition with Individualized Education Plan (IEP) development (the authors devote all of Chapter 4 to this topic); Wehmeyer, Agran, and Hughes' (1998) self-determined learning model of instruction to build self-determination skills; and person-centered planning. In many chapters other experts serve as coauthors, which also lends credibility and breadth to the book.
Explanations of UDT model universal design in many respects. Universal Design for Transition engages readers through clear and easy-to-understand language and multiple voices of students and teachers. There are concrete examples and step-by-step instructions (including worksheets for duplication) that demonstrate UDT's flexibility through three fictional students with very different postschool plans. The third co-author (L.S.) also describes his use of UDT in the classroom and aspects of UDT that were particularly helpful. There are lesson plans for self-contained classrooms like Scott's and other lesson plans for inclusive classrooms with coteachers from special education and general education. Every chapter ends with a list of resources that complement the main text, including Internet resources. For some professionals and parents, these quality resource lists may be worth the price of the book.
The second section applies UDT to different transition areas, allotting a full chapter to each. These include employment, postsecondary education, community living, and recreation and leisure. A final chapter in the second section also discusses ways to use technology and assistive technology while implementing UDT. Like Section 1, these chapters are full of examples, worksheets, and resources.
The authors note that UDT is still “under development” (p. 23) and that is clear in various places throughout the book. One particularly problematic area is the struggle about how to address the “universal” aspect of UDT. Contrary to my expectations when I first picked up the book, it is not about practicing inclusion of students with disabilities. It is also not about ways that students without disabilities may benefit from learning transition material designed for students with disabilities. There are a few examples of UDT for inclusive classrooms, and the postsecondary transition chapter discusses how students with and without disabilities may have similar needs. However, most of Universal Design for Transition is about transition for students with disabilities, especially those with intellectual and developmental disabilities in self-contained classrooms. I was disappointed by this: The authors had an opportunity to show how academics and transition goals can be collaboratively (i.e., “universally”) addressed in general education classrooms, and, for the most part, they did not seize this opportunity. At the same time, many of the worksheets are too abstract for students with intellectual disabilities to complete on their own without significant support, the chapter on postsecondary planning did not explicitly talk about students with intellectual disabilities or include resources for this population, and the authors constantly talked about transition for “adult lives” (ignoring the fact that many high school students are adults ages 18 to 21). So is UDT for students with significant disabilities, for students with mild disabilities, or both? For segregated classrooms or inclusive ones? These inconsistencies are distracting and suggest that the authors are not yet able to offer a thorough critique of UDT's limits and possibilities in different applications. Another difficulty is that, like many books about universal design in education, the emphasis on technology may frustrate urban educators dealing with limited resources. The book frequently assumes that computers, assistive technology, personnel, and other resources are readily available. This assumption also undermines some credibility for the universal aspects of UDT and forced me to question how much of UDT would work in inner-city schools.
Regardless of these issues, the authors present a new perspective on transition that is a welcome addition to the literature. UDT also pushes others to ask how universal design could be applied to education in innovative ways, like the authors have done here with transition. Even though this book is for teachers and professionals, parents and students may also find it helpful in planning for transition and IEP meetings and in finding new ways to advocate for themselves. Trainers and those doing professional development could also easily share Chapter 1 (explaining universal design and UDT) and then use any other chapter as a stand-alone resource. Even though the book has several limitations, it is still valuable and thought provoking, and I look forward to learning more about UDT as it evolves and becomes as universally designed as possible.