EI Talk: A Blog for Early
Childhood Professionals

Equity in Education: How UDL Fosters an Accessible Learning Environment for All

Jillian Archer (GU ’24), Rebecca Bullied (GU ’21), Caroline Fisher (GU ’21), Daniela Mateo (GU ’23), Megan McCrady (GU ’21), Quynh Pham (GU ’22) June 15, 2021

Books, world glob and graduation hat

So, what is UDL?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that optimizes learning for all individuals based on scientific research into how humans learn. The way people learn is as unique as their fingerprints; curriculums must be designed with the diversity of the classroom in mind. UDL attempts to minimize barriers and maximize the learning of all students. To understand UDL further, let’s break down the three elements of UDL.

  1. The “Universal” component in UDL represents the idea that the curriculum accounts for the vast array of strengths, needs, backgrounds, and interests that students bring to the classroom.
  2. The “Learning” element of UDL recognizes that learning is not unary and that everyone learns differently. UDL emphasizes the three components of learning: recognition, the “what” of learning, skills and strategies, the “how” of learning, and caring and prioritizing, the “why” of learning.
  3. The “design” portion of UDL emphasizes that the curriculum design should accommodate all types of learners.

Broadly, the aim of UDL is to create goals, methods, materials, and assessments that function for all learners. Teachers employing UDL should first determine what their learning goals are: what do they want their students to know and care about? And then determine how to circumvent the barriers preventing students from achieving these goals using the three principles of UDL (UDL At a Glance, 2010).

How Does UDL Function in a Classroom?

UDL operates in a classroom by following three principles:

  1. The first is representation: individuals differ in the ways they perceive and understand content. Some learners may have sensory disabilities, learning disabilities, or cultural and lingual differences. To account for this, information should be presented in multiple different media, such as visual displays, recordings, or a customizable presentation of information (UDL, 2018).
  2. The second principle is engagement. Individuals bring different interests and backgrounds to the classroom; therefore, the ways in which they can be engaged to learn vary markedly. Offering multiple means for engagement will fuel student investment and autonomy, allowing them to grow into successful learners (UDL, 2018).
  3. The final principle is action and expression. Students differ in the ways they can best express information. Individuals who struggle with organizational abilities or students with a movement impairment may need to approach tasks differently to best demonstrate their knowledge (UDL, 2018). Providing multiple options for expression often promotes learning and deeper understanding of the content and encourages students to use different means of action and expression (Lombardi).

Who is UDL for?

Simply, UDL is for everyone. The accommodations some students may get in their Individualized Education Program (IEP) could be used for all students as needed. Universally available accommodations may reduce the stigma around accessing them (Understood, 2020). There is no one ‘typical’ student. Offering multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression is an advantage to all students. UDL creates solutions that address limitations in learning environments rather than in individuals, which may increase students’ confidence in their learning abilities. Addressing accommodation and access issues on a universal basis, while still providing for individual student’s needs, will benefit all students in the long-term (Rose et al, 2006).


Lombardi, P. (n.d.). Ch. 13 Universal Design for Learning. Instructional Methods Strategies and Technologies to Meet the Needs of All Learners. https://granite.pressbooks.pub/teachingdiverselearners/chapter/universal-design-for-learning- 2/.

Rose, D. H., Harbour, W. S., Johnston, C. S., Daley, S. G., & Abarbanell, L. (2006). Universal design for learning in postsecondary education: Reflections on principles and their application. Journal of postsecondary education and disability, 19(2), 135-151.

UDL. (2018, January 12).

https://udlguidelines.cast.org... mp;utm_campaign=none&utm_content=aboutudl.

Understood. (2020, April 17). The Difference Between Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Traditional Education. Understood.

YouTube. (2010). UDL At A Glance.

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Expanding Child Tax Credit

Annie Foley (GU ’22) June 01, 2021

While listening to a podcast the other week, I was intrigued to hear about the expansion of child tax credit included in the American Rescue Plan, President Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill, and the implications that this will have on millions of families living in the US. Put into simpler terms, this expansion essentially provides a guaranteed income for families with children, a proposal that seemed improbable in the US, especially after the government’s former cash assistance program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, was abolished in 1996 (Davies, 2021). Thanks to this new piece of legislation, individuals with an income up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000 are eligible to receive $3,000 annually for each child that they have ages 6 to17, and $3,600 for each child under 6 (Leonhardt, 2021). This expanded credit will affect 27 million children, about half of which are Black and Latino, and move 9.9 children above or closer to the poverty line (Trisi & Floyd, 2021). Unlike other forms of government aid that are targeted, the money received by families can be used however they choose. Additionally, as opposed to receiving their benefits annually, families eligible for this tax credit will begin to receive monthly checks as a way of providing more financial stability (DeParle, 2021).

Passed to relieve the financial toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on many American families, particularly families of color, this expanded child tax credit has only been approved for a single year. While the financial situation of families has definitely worsened, the poverty that affected children before COVID, and will continue to long after, would, no doubt, benefit from the continuation of this credit. The effects that this economic security program will have on reducing the hardships of many children growing up in poverty could prove to have meaningful, long-lasting impacts on their lives. Additionally, aside from the impacts that this aid could have on the lives of children, the continuation of these monthly checks would be a massive stance for the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world, to take on its staggering poverty rate. Only time will tell what the country decides to do in the long run, but it will be promising to see the effects that this expanded credit will have on the lives of children and families this year.


Davies, D. (2021, April 01). New Guaranteed Income for Families with Children Is 'Stunning,' Poverty Expert Says. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2021/04/01...

DeParle, J. (2021, March 07). In the Stimulus Bill, a Policy Revolution in Aid for Children. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/0...

Leonhardt, M. (2021, March 11). Here's Who Qualifies for the New $3,000 Child Tax Credit. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/1... Trisi, D., & Floyd, I. (2021, March 01).

Benefits of Expanding Child Tax Credit Outweigh Small Employment Effects. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.cbpp.org/research/...

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Early Childhood Learning – Brain Science and the Effects of Stress and Trauma

Rachel Lipman (GU Certificate in Early Intervention ’20) March 29, 2021

For a developing child, the value of family-centered care and the impacts of trauma on childhood learning are linked. Trauma occurs when children are exposed to events of situations that overwhelm their ability to cope with what they have just experienced. This definition is a powerful reminder that trauma is individualized and providers need to be aware that we all experience and respond to trauma differently.

According to American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) family-centered care is a

“collaborative approach to the planning, delivery, and evaluation of clinical services” which involves a “mutually beneficial partnership” for family members and providers”.

Each individual is encouraged to share their ideas, knowledge, and experiences. The benefits of this approach include developing rapport and ensuring that the family members, the individuals, and the providers are all actively involved in service delivery (ASHA, 2020). For families who may be in highly stressful, traumatic circumstances clinician’s expectations for family participation takes on an additional dimension. How do service providers respond to or engage families in the process when it may appear that the family does not have a positive dynamic?

All young children rely on family members for basic needs such as shelter, meals, and safety, appropriate physical contact, love, and communication. Young children assume that relationships include emotional attachment, progressive complexity, reciprocity, and a balance of power. The role of the early intervention service provider includes helping caregivers to provide those elements to affect skill development. Recognizing a family’s circumstances, respecting their perspectives, and engaging in a reciprocal, honest, trusting relationship is critical to mediate the effects of trauma.

Family-centered care involves mutual respect, accurate and appropriate information sharing, participation, and collaboration. This concept is powerful to me as a provider reminding me that our first task in serving young children with disabilities or delays is to create meaningful relationships with families. In order to create environments that support child development, the clinician must meet the child and family where they are for that given day/session. For instance, a family member may be preoccupied with finding appropriate housing for their family and is not able to focus fully on caring for their child and therefore, the provider’s child-directed services may not be effective. Families have complex needs, thus most effective service provision is a team-based model. Providers need to be able to rely on team members creating integrated plans that address the family needs and priorities. When used appropriately, while incorporating the needs for the child, the family members, and the provider, family-centered care is a model for service provision that allows collaboration in the best interest of the child.

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Physician as Advocate

Sarah Berg (M’21) March 15, 2021
A Doctor checking a kid with a nurse

The responsibility of a physician is not limited to just providing medical care. While that is obviously a central tenant of our profession, I think it is diminutive to imply that our responsibility to our patients and communities is confined strictly to the walls of a hospital, office, or clinic. We know the health of individuals is more significantly impacted by social determinants of health than they are by the care that we provide.1 In fact, it is clear that a person’s socioeconomic factors, demographic characteristics, and health insurance status can be just as predictive of outcomes as their genetic predispositions and vital signs.

This intricate interplay between social and economic policy, medical care, and health status highlights the central role of physician advocates in our health care system moving forwards. As experts in the field, who have dedicated their lives to improving the health and well-being of patients and communities, physicians have an obligation to advocate for underserved and marginalized groups. This must extend to our statehouses, courthouses, schools, and businesses. We have a duty to fight for everything from healthier environmental policy and cultural competency training, to expanded insurance coverage and increased access to treatments and cures.

I’m putting advocacy into action on behalf of individuals with disabilities, an increasingly large segment of the population that has been discriminated against, stigmatized, and mistreated. People with disabilities account for 26% of the American population and are high utilizers of the healthcare system.2 However, they are 10x more likely to report a "fair or poor" health status compared to individuals without disabilities, have higher rates of risk factors for poor outcomes, and are less likely to receive preventive care and routine health screenings.3,4 With this in mind, medical schools must make a concerted effort to highlight the unique social, cultural, and medical needs of people with disabilities, something that only 52% of schools do at this time.5 While I know there won’t be a quick fix to this issue, I’m ready to face it head on.

But advocacy can be daunting, too. It is an ever-expanding idea in which each person can play an important role. So, how do we get started? What does “being an advocate” mean in practice?

To me, advocacy means being a student, committing oneself to learning about the culture and needs of underserved communities. It means being a researcher, analyzing data to further our understanding of the vast intersections of medicine, social science, economics, and policy. It means being a community organizer, facilitating change through the collective engagement and action of those in our neighborhoods. And advocacy means being a leader, ensuring that the disparities and injustices which have become far too commonplace do not stay that way, but rather rise to the forefront of our minds, our practices, and our goals, in order to be addressed.

As a soon-to-be physician, I’m excited to begin my professional career at a time in which the importance of advocacy cannot be overstated. I hope you’ll join me, because we have plenty of work to do.

  1. Artiga, S., & Hinton, E. (2018, May 10). Beyond Health Care: The Role of Social Determinants in Promoting Health and Health Equity. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/beyond-health-care-the-role-of-social-determinants-in-promoting-health-and-health-equity/

  2. Disability Impacts All of Us Infographic. (2020, September 16). Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/infographic-disability-impacts-all.html.

  3. Iezzoni, L.I. (2011, October). Eliminating health and health care disparities among the growing population of people with disabilities. Health affairs (Project Hope), 30(10), 1947-1954. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0613

  4. Altman B and Bernstein A. (2008). Disability and health in the United States, 2001–2005. Hyattsville (MD): National Center for Health Statistics.
  5. Seidel, Erica & Crowe, Scott. (2017). The State of Disability Awareness in American Medical Schools. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 96, 673-676. https://doi.org/10.1097/PHM.0000000000000719
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