Universal Design for Assessments

What is it?

Universal design for assessments (UDA) is a strategy for improving the accessibility of quizzes, tests and exams. The goal is to create assessments where students of all abilities can demonstrate what they have learned without being hampered by the format or the situation.

One of the strategies for UDA is to give everyone in the class the time they need to complete the assessment without needing an accommodation.

For example, everyone in the class could be given time and a half or double time. This does not necessarily cover all accommodation scenarios, but it does help many students.

When is universal extra time a good idea?

Under most circumstances, all of the following criteria should be satisfied:

  • Multiple choice or short answer format: situations where there are only discrete right and wrong answers,
  • Assessments where the goal is to determine whether the student has learned the required information, not whether they can perform under pressure (see note below),
  • An established assessment where there is evidence that the majority of students (90% to 95%) are able to successfully respond to the questions before the original amount of time lapses,
  • The extra time does not create a scheduling conflict for students’ other academic commitments and can be completed within the academic day.

Note: performance under pressure may not stand up to a test of whether it would be considered a bona afide academic requirement at the university level. This requirement is most likely to hold up in professional programs where high-pressure situations are unavoidable (e.g. the fundamental nature of the work in a typical real-world scenario involves responding to emergencies).


There maybe problems with confirming that the university has fulfilled its duty to accommodate when using universal extra time with the following assessment formats:

  • Essay exams or long-answer formats
  • Open book exams
  • Exams that are submitted using dropbox, email or another similar tools
  • Exams where it is unknown how long it will actually take students to successfully respond to all questions

Critical Requirements

It is a requirement for the instructor be able to demonstrate that students with disabilities had an equitable opportunity to complete the test or exam. This means there must be data showing students (90% to 95% of them) largely finish and submit the assessment within the original amount of time.

If students WITHOUT disabilities fill up the time by polishing or doublechecking their work, then students with disabilities are at a disadvantage and an accommodation is appropriate.

Universal design that is unsuccessful at creating an accessible environment presents a risk that students with disabilities may experience discrimination, which is prohibited under policy approved by U of G Senate.

Procedural Considerations

Universal design is more frequently used for low stakes assessments.

If universal design is being employed, it should be described on the course outline. An example of how to explain it is as follows:

This test/exam uses universal design by giving every student double time. The goal is to create an accessible situation where accommodation for extra time is not needed because it is already built-in. In the past, most students have been able to complete this exam in less than X minutes. However, to ensure accessibility everyone will be given Y minutes. If you experience a disability and have questions about this approach, please contact your SAS advisor.