Universal design - Fleksibel utdanning Norge

All students, regardless of their functional level, should be able to use both the digital learning arena and the digital learning resources. The guidelines are set out in the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act and the Universal Design Regulations. Tutors must make a number of choices relating to how they want to structure and present subject content and assignments, facilitate communication and design their own resources, such as documents and videos, and select content for students from available digital sources. It is thus important for everyone who uses digital tools in teaching to know what the legislation dictates, and how to do this in practice.

How things are best done in practice will differ somewhat for higher academic and vocational education, primary and secondary education, and education and training programmes outside the formal education system. The Norwegian Digitalisation Agency offers up-to-date knowledge about the universal design of online resources at uutilsynet.no, with both a detailed overview of rules and explanations. However, most people will probably benefit from taking a course or watching explainer videos about the specific tools, such as Canvas or PowerPoint. The advice we provide in this chapter does not provide a comprehensive recipe for how to meet all the criteria for universal design, but following them can improve digital accessibility. As with all other teaching, common sense and awareness will take you far. The principles of universal design often coincide with other principles of good communication, such as legibility, clarity and simplicity.

Challenges relating to vision, hearing, motor skills or cognition

Groups of students may have very different prerequisites in terms of vision, hearing, motor skills and also different reading abilities, challenges with concentration, language skills, digital literacy and cultural background. Some people may have significant challenges and bring their own technical aids to function in the online learning environment. Many of us also have acute and temporary challenges relating to our surroundings and equipment. Extensive measures are not always required to improve digital resources.

  • Vision challenges can range from being blind, visually impaired or colour blind to having lost your reading glasses.
  • Hearing challenges can include anything from deafness or tinnitus to being in a noisy room without a headset.
  • Motor challenges can involve anything from cerebral palsy or tendonitis to having a broken touch screen.
  • Cognitive challenges can range from ADHD and dyslexia to mental health issues, stress and disturbance or just working with unfamiliar computer equipment.

Universal design is therefore necessary for some, but beneficial for everyone.


Many people use Office and create documents in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The standard options in these programs cover a great deal. A website, such as WordPress, will have many common features with this type of document. The examples below typify the choices tutors make when creating documents for learning.

Contrast and size: Text elements, for example writing, should be clearly visible. Think dark, monochrome writing against a light background or vice versa. Online contrast checkers should be used if you are unsure whether you meet legal requirements. Be consistent in the font you use; many believe that fonts without serifs such as Verdana are easiest to read, especially on a screen.

Font size also affects sentence length. Too long sentences affect readability and reading flow.

Installable and web-based applications are available to measure contrast if you are unsure whether you meet legal requirements.

Some applications that measure contrast can also simulate readability for colour blind people. In cases where colours are used in combination, good contrast must also be secured by combining very light colours with very dark colours.

Images: For the benefit of the visually impaired who use screen reader technology, images should have an alternative text that describes the content.

Tables and graphs:Use tables to keep track of and present data, not to create layouts. Avoid using tables with large amounts of text. Use the table function in the document (or code your own); do not insert an image of a table or use the spacebar and line break keys. If data are to be presented visually in a graph, use shading or patterns instead of or in addition to colours to highlight figures. Both tables and graphs should have alternative text for screen reader users. Consider whether the information should also be presented or summarised as running text.

Headings and structure: For the sake of screen reader users, it is important to use codes (the built-in styles for headings) and not just increase the font size. Sub-headings make longer texts easier to read for everyone, both for close reading and for those skimming the text. The headings should have a hierarchical structure – H1, H2, H3 etc. – without skipping a level.

Hyperlinks: Links should be clearly marked and in at least two ways. Contrast colour and underlining is the most common combination. Links should have a descriptive, explanatory title i.e. Flexibel Education Norway’s website is better than click here. If you provide a link to a file, it can be a good idea to write the format and size in the link text.

Links can be placed in running text or beside it in the form of a list etc. Some think the first is an advantage because the links are then easy to find and it is easy to understand them in context, while others think this makes it difficult to concentrate on the text.

Copying content:Often, some of the content in documents is copied from other documents and websites. In such cases, the formatting of the original document may be transferred and spoil an otherwise good layout. The best solution is to paste text without the original formatting and then reformat it.

PDF: If the document is saved as a PDF, the settings are ‘locked’ and the font size and spacing between words, letters, lines and paragraphs cannot be changed. If you have to use PDF format, the files must be OCR scanned. Scanned documents are in practice images and must be converted into text.

Videos and audio files

In general, both regulations and good practice dictate that videos should have subtitles for the hearing impaired. Texting can also be a good support for participants with other languages or cognitive challenges. Subtitles also make it easier for everyone to get the message in videos when watching it in a busy or noisy environment. If speech is important to the video, it may also be helpful to avoid or mute background noise and be aware of sound effects and avoid the use of background music. This also applies to podcast audio files. Audio file subtitling can take the form of a transcript or written summary, but it must include all the essential information contained in the audio file. Such essential information may also be communicated through non-verbal communication, in which case it must be transferred to writing.

Audio description is new to many people in our sector. It can comprise a separate audio track with an oral description of what is happening visually in the film clip. The audio interpretation can also take place in the video itself by the tutor describing the visual points. This is perhaps the alternative that is most technically accessible to most tutors. One bonus is that this option increases awareness of removing sequences that combine text-heavy PowerPoint files and an oral presentation that in part follows a separate logic.

Good automatic subtitling solutions are rapidly making their way into the education sector, which can make this kind of work easier. Automatic audio interpretation may also be just around the corner. In the meantime, manual processes can simplify tools and content, reduce the risk of cognitive overload and further improve communication.

Both audio recordings and videos can be replaced by written texts as long as they represent an adequate substitute as a source of information and understanding. For example, some tutors give students a choice between different formats and/or approaches to the curriculum. A well-designed PowerPoint presentation with sufficiently detailed notes can work as long as it is a simple word-to-image conversion. The student must not miss anything.

Alternative texts, as well as any subtitling/audio interpretation of video and audio files, must be as easy to find, and should typically be placed in the same location as the video/podcast, with an informative link text.

The learning platform (or other online learning environments)

Tutors often share digital learning resources, give out assignments and facilitate communication and cooperation in the organisation’s learning platform.

We recommend using clear, simple language in instructions to students. This applies in particular to start-up information and assignments.

The order and categorisation of elements will affect navigation. Either a chronological system can be set up where the students find resources as they need them, a category-based system where they find resources according to how they are supposed to use them, or a hierarchical system where the most important, or most frequently needed, resources are most easily accessible or most visible. It is possible to use two systems at the same time: for example by creating both a chronological overview and a category-based or searchable ‘archive’.

Some tutors create front pages with panels in the digital classroom or in the e-learning course. A well-designed website uses colour, location, design and element size to communicate the relevance of elements and make the eye jump from element to element. A screen reader, regardless of what the person who created the site considers relevant, will read the elements in the order they appear. A person navigating with a keyboard will also have to click through each element. The fewer irrelevant elements there are on the site the better.


Live teaching, such as a webinar, is not directly subject to the legislation on universal design of ICT. However, given that that universal design is a quality criterion, there is no reason not to include it. The Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act also contains a separate section on the universal design of the physical environment, which can be interpreted as covering real-time teaching. For example, a good webinar platform should be able to automatically add subtitles and function together with screen readers and keyboard navigation. Most tutors do not choose their own webinar platform, but there are many simple things they can do.

Some of the tips for a good webinar are the same as for a good video: For example, if you use PowerPoint, make sure you use a large font with good contrast and avoid too much text on each slide. Make sure to verbally describe everything that is communicated visually.

Everyone who speaks should have good sound and minimal background noise. Everyone who speaks should be filmed in a steady light so that their faces are visible. It is especially important that it is easy to lip-read..

Chats are a useful tool for written communication.

Sharing webinar recordings afterwards helps both those with physical challenges and those with cognitive or language challenges. However, such a recording will be subject to digital design requirements. Remember to obtain the consent of everyone involved in the recording.

General tips

All learning resources present some form of content. Students are different. This applies in particular to programmes that are specially adapted for adults, where the students can represent several different cultures, age groups and genders. It is therefore worth considering whether to adapt content, language, examples and possible cultural codes to a diverse group of participants.

Solutions must be navigable with a keyboard. Apps and websites must be operable with simple gestures.

It is difficult to recommend specific fonts, image sizes and colours, but once you have found something that seems to work, you should check the pages by opening them on all devices you think the students may use. Many people prefer to work on complicated assignments on a desktop computer with a large screen (which in turn means that the course pages are often designed on such devices), and it is important to check how they work on laptops, tablets and mobile phones, especially in terms of portrait format. A responsive design changes according to the device it is opened on, and is a feature of many learning platforms and publication platforms.

Be consistent with respect to navigation, setup and use of tools. Where students take multiple subjects or courses taught by different tutors, these tutors should cooperate on the best possible design across subjects.

‘Less is more.’ Today, most people probably suffer more from an abundance of information and choices rather than a lack thereof. This also applies to students. Many will therefore benefit if the learning resource or online learning environment is simple and clear and does not contain ‘things that might be useful’.

Conclusion: Getting digital resources to adhere to universal design principles can sometimes be technically demanding. However, it does not require much additional effort if you are aware of the challenges. Sometimes cutting out effects and irrelevant elements makes for better teaching.

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