Youth with disabilities are highly represented in the workforce development, foster care, juvenile justice, and other social service systems (the next section will explain why), so, whether they are aware of it or not, any professional who works with youth in the workforce development system, works with youth with disabilities on a daily basis. Many of the most common disabilities are non-apparent (such as dyslexia and autism), and are either undiagnosed or undisclosed. As a result, many youth may be unable to fully engage in the learning experiences provided through workforce development programs, and both they and/or the professionals who work with them may not understand why.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) makes learning experiences accessible to people with disabilities, and anyone else whose learning style does not match that of the hypothetical “average student”. By designing workforce development programs along the principles of UDL, youth service professionals can include the largest number of youth in the greatest variety of workforce development opportunities from first contact – even without expertise in disability or specific knowledge of an individual youth’s disability and/or learning style. Furthermore, universal design frequently helps people without disabilities as well (written workshop notes or push-bars on exit doors are some examples), so designing workforce development programs along the principles of UDL could lead to improved outcomes for all participants, with and without disabilities. This InfoBrief for professionals who work directly with youth in workforce development programs explains the principles of UDL and describes how UDL principles can be used in work and training settings to more effectively and efficiently engage all youth, including youth with disabilities.