Toward Universal Design in Online Learning: The Interface Between Technology and Pedagogy



  • Mahadeo Sukhai, Head of Research and Chief Accessibility Officer, Canadian National Institute for the Blind
  • Sambhavi Chandrashekar, Accessibility Program Manager, D2L Corporation

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: All Levels
  • Type of session: General Conference


We will discuss the interface between technology and pedagogy in online learning environments, and the importance of applying inclusive design principles early in curriculum development. Key principles of differentiated instruction and inclusive teaching, and models of universal design, that educators can apply in course development will be shared.


Online learning is an increasingly important part of higher education, and the professional development space in the employment setting. The opportunity to take a course online has also been presented as an accommodation to students with disabilities who have difficulty integrating within the classroom setting. Accessibility in online learning has evolved toward a discourse around technology, platform and format of material presented. Accessibility of the content presented has focused on the method of delivery. Conversely, applying inclusive pedagogical approaches to online learning has lagged. Instructors face several challenges associated with digitally interacting with their students, but these can be overcome with creativity and critical thought applied to curriculum development, via careful use of the principles of universal design. We will review three models of UD, and highlight the interface between technology and pedagogy in modeling universal design in online learning.


  1. Accessibility of online learning requires interaction between technology and pedagogy.
  2. Universal design and inclusive design principles need to be applied early in online curriculum development.
  3. Accessibility challenges associated with student digital interaction can be overcome via critical thought.

Disability Areas

Cognitive/Learning, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Vision

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Accessible Educational Materials, Assistive Technology, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Mahadeo Sukhai

Dr. Mahadeo Sukhai is the Head of Research and Chief Accessibility Officer of the CNIB. Dr. Sukhai is Canada’s only congenitally blind biomedical research scientist, and the world’s first congenitally blind geneticist. Dr. Sukhai’s research program focuses on indicators of social inclusion – particularly education, employment and technology use – for Canadians who are blind or partially sighted, as well as measurement of healthcare outcomes for the blind or partially sighted population. Dr. Sukhai is passionate about accessibility, inclusion and universal design in education – particularly science education – and in the workplace.

Prior to accepting his current role at CNIB, Dr. Sukhai obtained his Ph.D. in cancer genetics from the University of Toronto, and completed two postdoctoral fellowships in cancer genomics and experimental therapeutics. Dr. Sukhai served as, first, Scientific Team Lead for the Advanced Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, and then as Head of the Variant Interpretation Group in the Division of Genome Diagnostics at the University Health Network.

Dr. Sukhai also conducted a parallel research career in student experience and higher education, focusing on the experience of students with disabilities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and Mathematics), and in graduate and postdoctoral training. Dr. Sukhai is the principal investigator of nationwide initiatives in Canada to examine the student experience, culminating in his serving as the Principal Investigator and lead author of Creating a Culture of Accessibility in the Sciences, published in 2016. Dr. Sukhai brings a wealth of experience to the conversations around accessibility and inclusion in the STEM education, digital and online learning, and employment settings.

Sambhavi Chandrashekar

Sam Chandrashekar is the Accessibility Program Manager at D2L Corporation, which makes Brightspace Learning Management System. Sam is also an Adjunct Professor with OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Masters’ program. Sam is passionate about making education accessible to all through accessible technology that supports inclusive pedagogy. She is a member of the Ontario government’s Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee under AODA and a member of the Curriculum Development and Recommendation Committee of the IAAP (International Association of Accessibility Professionals). She is also active on the W3C Silver Task Force Community Group.