With the preponderance of federal, state, and local inclusionary initiatives access to today's general education setting is at an all-time high. However, students identified as having intellectual disability (ID) along with individuals with multiple disabilities are least likely in today's schools to spend the majority of their school day in inclusive environments (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). Instead, they are often placed in segregated, self-contained settings which by definition removes them from their typically developing peers for a significant majority of the school day.
For the last 10 years, researchers have discussed the promise of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a framework to further extend inclusion in the general education curriculum (Copeland & Cosbey, 2008; Hehir & Katzman, 2012; Jackson, 2005; Jimenez, Graf, & Rose, 2007; Shogren & Wehmeyer, 2014). UDL is a set of principles, guidelines, and checkpoints for curriculum and instruction design and development that seek to give individuals, regardless of their disability, equal opportunities to learn. Based on research in the learning sciences, the three UDL principles focus on the what, how, and why of learning (Coyne, Pisha, Dalton, Zeph, & Smith, 2013). Some have specifically focused on the promise of UDL to promote inclusive settings counting among their students those with ID (Hehir & Katzman, 2012; Jimenez et al., 2007; Shogren & Wehmeyer, 2014). Although logically, UDL should promote inclusive practice through curricula designed to meet the needs of all learners including those with ID, it is time to move past that promise and test this hypothesis in practice.
For individuals with ID, investigations on the potential role of UDL have garnered a variety of articles, book chapters, and similar scholarship. In the research arena, scholars have investigated UDL as an element of learning, access to materials, issues of implementation, and similar areas of consideration. Within this topical issue, we concentrate on UDL in four specific parts including, (1) a means to enhance instruction, (2) an understanding of UDL in the postsecondary efforts for individuals with ID, (3) the language teachers use to describe UDL efforts that include students with ID, and (4) a reflection of current UDL research including considerations for future work. We conclude the observations for further UDL considerations by offering steps for enhanced implementation and ways to consider UDL as a meaningful framework for further inclusion of individuals with ID in the preK-12 setting and subsequent postsecondary opportunities.
In the first article, Coyne, Evans, and Karger consider ways to further reading motivation for students with ID and other developmental disabilities (DD). Their qualitative study utilized grounded theory to identify how students in middle school with IDD used and perceived the use of an online literacy tool. Their descriptive findings suggest that age-relevant content, choice, and opportunities to socialize in online discussions motivated students with IDD.
In the second article, Lowrey, Hollingshead, and Howery examine the language of general education teachers implementing UDL in a classroom inclusive of students with moderate to severe levels of impairment. By identifying teachers across the United States and Canada engaged in UDL implementation, the authors sought to understand the language teachers used to discuss practices that included all students, particularly those students with ID. Findings were contrasted with the UDL framework as well as current UDL and inclusive education literature.
In the third article, Scott, Thoma, Puglia, Temple, and D'Aguilar surveyed program coordinators at accredited universities to identify the following: (a) current efforts by educator in those institutions to implement the UDL framework in their university coursework, (b) the extent to which the UDL framework was incorporated into preservice courses in higher education, and (c) how a UDL framework is being utilized to improve postschool outcomes for youth with ID.
Building upon a national agenda to guide teacher practice in UDL application, the study suggests limited efforts in teacher preparation to embed the UDL framework in order to improve postschool outcomes for students with ID.
In the fourth article, Rao, Smith, and Lowrey investigated the current research on UDL that specifically involves individuals with ID. Their review includes an analysis of current research followed by future considerations for the field, particularly in consideration of enhancing meaningful inclusion for individuals with ID.
In the final article, we bring closure to this special issue with a consideration of the UDL framework in driving successful outcomes for individuals with ID. With the number of federal- and state-based initiatives to increase awareness and require aspects of UDL implementation, we discuss implications for individuals with ID. Additionally, we share our perspectives on work that is most needed to promote progress in the area of UDL alignment with the needs of individuals with ID.
Each article offers a unique perspective on the UDL framework and its application in the classroom setting for all individuals. Simultaneously, these articles highlight areas of need and identify implications for future research and practice. As will be discussed, pressing issues remain, including continued research, increased direct support and service, increased personnel development, and the further development of UDL-based materials with a specific focus on students with ID.