Does the application of Universal Design principles improve accessibility of classroom learning resources?

By Andrea DiStefano & Tom Kelly, City of London Boys School

What is the problem?

  • We are aware that classroom learning resources (and worksheets) often have issues with accessibility.
  • Over 11% of pupils experience some form of visual processing or other accessibility obstacle.
  • Teachers do not always know the strategies or techniques that enhance accessibility.
  • A greater awareness of the difficulties some pupils experience is necessary to inform resource design.
  • There are simple strategies and techniques teachers can learn which would make their resources more accessible.

Research and testing methodology

Studies and recommendations by professional bodies on designing for dyslexia and other visual processing were consulted. General accessibility best practices and principles of effective universal design were researched.

To test our theories we picked a cross-section of subjects and age groups (4 total). For each of the four groups, we observed 2 of their lessons and surveyed the pupils.

Teachers were asked to submit slides and handouts for a future lesson. We redesigned them, applying some of the principles we’d learnt. We refer to this processing as ‘pimping’ the resources.

The teachers were then invited to trial our ‘pimped’ resources, and we observed these used in lessons to obtain further feedback. Examples can be seen below.


  • Resources are sometimes made using existing content – textbooks, websites, etc, and are often not reformatted for accessibility.
  • Content was sometimes shrunk or squished to fit the boundaries of the page/screen, rather than presented in a clear and accessible format.


  • a Sans Serif typeface (eg Calibri, Arial)
  • a slightly larger font size (between 11–14pt)
  • increased line-spacing (approx. 1.3 lines)
  • a line length of no more than ~15 words
  • never use BLOCK CAPS, and
  • always avoid using justified text.

Our survey also revealed that pupils find it easier to read text with…

  • 90% of pupils experienced difficulties filling in worksheets. Problems included spacing, structure, pages shrunk to fit exercise books.
  • 70% of pupils admitted formatting of resources sometimes affected their understanding. These included poor photocopying, text too small, badly organised.
  • 82% of pupils preferred Sans-serif fonts as being the most readable.
  • 100% of pupils found the ‘pimped’ slides easier to follow and understand.
  • 83% of pupils found the ‘pimped’ worksheets easier to use/complete.
  • 73% of pupils found generous line spacing made text easier to read.


The accessibility and design of learning resources is restricted by 3 key factors:

  • time constraints
  • lack of technical IT skills
  • the lack of accessibility understanding/awareness

Awareness and training

  • Teachers need better awareness and training in accessibility, including best practices for ‘remixing’ content taken from different sources.

Guidance and support

  • Wherever possible, text should be presented in a sans-serif font, at a comfortable size (based on reading distance), and with generous line spacing.
  • Teachers should have access to templates (and ‘snippets’) for a variety of worksheet styles and types

Help for teachers

  • Provide teachers with a few basic principles to follow should enable them to design resources that are more accessible for all boys.
  • Publish clear guidance on accessible typography, use of colour, iconography and page layout/ formatting.
  • Provide templates, which include a pre-prepared range of ‘snippets’, designed by Tom
  • A follow-up research project later this year?

Postscript – one year later…

We are carrying on this year – attending department meetings and offering bespoke solutions for each group.  This year has seen a significant positive change to the way the Biology department curate their resources, thanks to the two years of work we have done.  Our estimates of slow, steady uptake are pretty accurate so far, and I would anticipate that we will see further change if we persevere with outreach.

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