CAST through the Years: One mission, many innovations

CAST's 25+ years graphic

1984 was a year of exceptional promise in technology and education. While personal computers such as the Macintosh began to reshape everyday life and work, school reform became a hot topic nationwide with special emphasis on educating all learners to high standards.

The same year, a small band of education researchers founded CAST, the Center for Applied Special Technology, to explore ways of using new technologies to provide better educational experiences to students with disabilities. As CAST researchers tested and refined their principles, priorities, and vision over that first decade, they came to a new understanding of how to improve education using flexible methods and materials. They called this approach Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Today, UDL frames all of the organization’s research and development. Through strategic collaborations, CAST is seeding the field of curriculum planning, software development, state and national policy, teacher preparation and support, and education research with UDL-based solutions.



1984

Five clinicians from North Shore Children’s Hospital in Salem, MA—Anne Meyer, David Rose, Grace Meo, Skip Stahl, and Linda Mensing—meet in a local pizza parlor and conceive CAST.

With an anonymous grant of $15,000, CAST is founded at North Shore Children’s Hospital. The focus: How can computer technology enhance learning for students with learning disabilities?

CAST quickly extends work to children with physical and sensory challenges and provides services in a laboratory environment. The needs of the individual learners guide exploration of technology-based solutions. Apple Computer introduces the Macintosh. The term “cyberspace” first appears. Time names the computer “Machine of the Year.”

1985

Anne Meyer and David Rose meet in California with Alan Brightman, chief of disability access for Apple Computer. Apple sees CAST as “inherently cool” because people’s needs drive its work.

CAST establishes a Learning Lab to find or create solutions to learning challenges, offering:

  • Evaluations: matching student needs with computer solutions;
  • Computer-based tutorials: using applications and instructional software.

Classroom follow-up reveals that few schools are able to implement CAST’s recommendations to improve learning, so staff begins training and consulting with teachers.

The Apple Macintosh’s graphical interface and built-in text-to-speech capability provide key scaffolds for learning-disabled students.

1986

Responding to pressure from North Shore Children’s Hospital to become a franchised service, CAST instead incorporates as an independent, not-for-profit organization. Independence sharpens CAST’s vision and mission as a research and development organization.

CAST and Harvard University hold a one-week summer institute to train educators to use computer-based tools to meet the needs of students with disabilities. This becomes an annual event which, after a brief hiatus, continues today with a focus on Universal Design for Learning.

CAST’s staff begins to grow, but almost all employees are still part-time and have “day jobs.” Peggy Coyne is hired as CAST’s first full-time, salaried employee!

1987

CAST moves to Peabody, MA and establishes a governing board made up of friends in the local community.

CAST’s Learning Lab works to meet the needs of diverse children: Matt, a 3-year-old with severe physical disabilities; Megan, a 6-year-old with physical and visual impairments; Mason, a 7th-grade student with learning disabilities; and others.

Apple releases HyperCard. Affordable image and audio digitizing devices enable homegrown multimedia.

CAST creates accessible digital books that talk and operate with single switches. CAST sees that a single digital book, with embedded options for operation and display, can serve the needs of all students.

1988

CAST develops the Equal Access program with the goal of equalizing access to the curriculum through technology. This new focus on “fixing” the curriculum rather than addressing individual student needs sows the seeds for Universal Design for Learning.

CAST publishes Software Finder to help teachers locate appropriate computer software for use with diverse students.

Ron Mace and colleagues at North Carolina State University define universal design as the design of products and built environments that are “usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation of specialized design.”

1989

Working in classrooms, CAST observes that the appeal and benefits of technology-based learning supports, such as digital talking book, extend beyond students with disabilities. CAST approaches publishers about bringing these materials to a wider market.

Don Johnston Inc. publishes CAST’s Gateway Stories and Gateway Authoring System. Gateway is the first talking e-book and authoring template with built-in options for customizing display and function. These earn the organization its first software royalties.

The World Wide Web is born in Europe as English physicist Tim Berners-Lee develops a new way to organize and distribute information on the Internet.

1990

CAST develops the Mariner Home software program and service (Don Johnston Inc.) to customize desktops for easy, flexible navigation of applications and content.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) leads to the delivery of services to millions of students previously denied access to an appropriate education. Its emphasis on inclusion provides impetus for finding tools and methods to make inclusive education practical and manageable.

The federal Television Decoder Circuitry Act requires that closed-caption decoders be built into all new TV sets. The benefits extend beyond those who are deaf to include anyone preferring a visual display of audio content (e.g. in airports and gyms). This high-impact application of universal design informs CAST’s thinking about curriculum.

1991

The New York Times cites CAST as one of 30 key institutions reshaping and improving American education.

CAST develops and distributes Researchware, designed to help teachers individualize curriculum for students with and without disabilities. Researchware comprises several low-cost flexible tools to support customized teaching and learning.

CAST approaches Scholastic with a reading/writing prototype that eventually becomes WiggleWorks, a bestselling early literacy program.

The Equal Access Project is launched in Boston Public Schools to provide a national model for inclusion of students with disabilities through multimedia technology and staff development.

1992

Classroom research helps CAST recognize that current curriculum is the source of barriers for many students. CAST continues to shift its focus from individual solutions to reducing curriculum barriers.

The Pioneer Program is launched to conduct case-based UDL research in collaboration with long-term CAST clients with diverse learning needs.

CAST staff publishes conceptual articles in professional journals and the popular press for educators and parents.

1993

At a gala black-tie event in Washington, DC, CAST wins a Computerworld Smithsonian Award for Gateway Stories, the first instructional digital books with embedded supports.

CAST is featured on the PBS program Scientific American Frontiers, hosted by Alan Alda.

WiggleWorks, the first early literacy software series with UDL features, is co-developed with Scholastic and published for the K-3 classroom. Over the next two decades, WiggleWorks remains a leading literacy product in the education market, with more than $40 million in sales.

1994

CAST receives its first federal grant, from the National Science Foundation, to develop software for teachers to caption video for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

For the first time, CAST shares its message in a national policy forum hosted by Newton Minow and the Annenberg Foundation. Annenberg commissions CAST to create a multimedia CD-ROM called Communication Technology for Everyone.

First CAST web site launched.

1995

Anne Meyer receives a gold medal from the National Association of Social Sciences for her work in Universal Design for Learning and is named as an advisor to the President’s Educational Technology Panel.

CAST begins to articulate the concept of Universal Design for Learning in talks and presentations.

CAST publishes CAST eReader for Macintosh, UDL text-to-speech software designed to support users with reading comprehension and fluency challenges. Later, eReader, the first known talking browser, is further developed for Windows and to support DAISY and Rich Text formats.

After seven rejections, CAST wins its first grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The competition category is assistive technology, but CAST’s proposal begins “Beyond Assistive Technology.”

1996

CAST’s research focus shifts from individual students to issues of the classroom, school, and education system as a whole. The increasing availability of flexible digital tools and content makes customizable curriculum design feasible.

With Chuck Hitchcock’s leadership, CAST designs and releases Bobby, the first web site accessibility assessment tool.

CAST’s first research article, “The Role of Online Communications in Schools: A National Study,” is published.

The Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium is established to develop an international standard for digital talking books.

1997

After a dozen years of growth, CAST’s budget reaches a milestone of $1 million per year.

Professional development programs mature into CAST’s first state contracts with Texas and Maine.

CAST launches Universal Learning Technologies, Inc. (ULT), a for-profit company to take CAST software products to market. The company later acquires WebCT, a leading courseware delivery system.

CAST is invited to meet with Vice President Al Gore to discuss future directions for education.

1998

CAST joins the Web Access Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, helping to define access standards for the Web.

CAST writes its first book, Learning to Read in the Computer Age, at the invitation of legendary reading scholar Jeanne Chall. In the book, authors Anne Meyer and David Rose introduce three basic principles that will provide the framework for UDL.

CAST introduces the principles of UDL to the Council for Exceptional Children which publishes a topical brief, Design Principles for Student Access, that is often cited as the first published paper specifically on UDL.

CAST expands the impact of Bobby through sponsorships from corporations such as Aon, IBM, Microsoft, Mitsubishi Electric, and Sun Microsystems.

CAST receives two federal grants- “Strategic Reader—(flexible digital text) and “Engaging the Text” (embedded interactive coaches)—that provide the basis for the next decade’s work in UDL-based literacy learning, including Thinking Reader.

1999

Bobby is used by hundreds of thousands of web designers worldwide, wins an LD Access Foundation Leadership Award, and is a finalist for a Computerworld/Smithsonian Prize.

CAST sells ownership in Universal Learning Technologies and applies the proceeds to building and sustaining CAST’s capacity for innovation.

CAST is chosen to lead the federally funded National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum, a four-year, $2.5 million project. With this award, CAST officially adds policy work to its core activities.

The U.S. Department of Education commissions CAST to write a white paper for the National Technology Plan: “The Future is in the Margins: The Role of Technology and Disability in Educational Reform.”

National UDL Consortium launched for regular and special educators.

2000

CAST receives a Ron Mace Designing for the 21st Century Award for Bobby.

A $1 million grant supports development of the Universal Learning Center, a web-based service for the distribution of accessible curricular materials.

Under a U.S. Department of Education grant, CAST begins research and development on Strategic Reader, a supported reading environment for decoding, comprehension, and study skills.

Skip Stahl appears as an expert witness at the Web-Based Education Commission, a blue-ribbon panel appointed by Congress to ensure that all learners are able to take full advantage of the educational promise of the Internet.

2001

CAST receives an Association for Access Engineering Specialists (AAES) Excellence in Access Award. The award recognizes Bobby as a significant technical contribution to the field of access engineering.

CAST redesigns its website, adding customizing options and user supports to exemplify UDL.

David Rose testifies before the U.S. Senate on educational technology appropriations and recommends investments that are consistent with Universal Design for Learning principles.

Under Grace Meo’s leadership and support of many staff, CAST begins professional development programs on UDL. The first UDL institute for educators is offered at CAST.

2002

The Tech Museum of Innovation Awards honors CAST for Thinking Reader, a software prototype with embedded reading supports for diverse learners.

CAST publishes Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning, the first full explication of UDL with practical classroom examples. An online edition with rich teacher supports and tools is published simultaneously with ASCD’s print edition.

The U.S. Department of Education selects CAST to lead development of a voluntary national file format for the electronic transmission of instructional materials for students with disabilities. CAST convenes stakeholders, including publishers, disability groups, mainstream educators, and software developers to build consensus regarding the format.

Under Tracey Hall’s leadership, CAST ventures into science education with Science Writer, a technology-based approach to support students with disabilities in writing science reports.

2003

CAST moves to Wakefield, MA, and designs its office space to reflect a collaborative working style.

Private and federal funding for the Literary by Design project, a partnership with the University of Maine, enables CAST to explore a new area of research: effective learning environments for individuals with cognitive disabilities.

CAST eReader 3.0 is released with added DAISY-format capability. It is the first text-to speech program with human voice and synthetic speech in a supported environment.

CAST’s research and development expands with the work in interactive diagrams and animated pedagogical agents in literacy and science projects, as well as literacy for English-language learners.

2004

More awards! CAST’s web site is named one of the 101 best by ISTE; Thinking Reader wins Best Software award from eSchool News; David Rose is named one of education’s “Daring Dozen” by Edutopia magazine.

National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) is incorporated into IDEA 2004 to guide the production and national distribution of accessible digital instructional materials; the U.S. Department of Education funds a $3.5 million center at CAST to advance the application of the standard.

Tom Snyder/Scholastic publishes Thinking Reader, a UDL-based learning environment which embeds rich and engaging reading supports for diverse learners into widely read middle-school novels.

With a $1 million anonymous donation, CAST begins a 4-year multimedia initiative to develop core learning tools and to integrate multimedia applications into CAST’s projects.

2005

Thinking Reader wins multiple awards, including the prestigious Codie Award from the Software and Information Industry Association.

CAST’s first Advisory Council meeting is held.

CAST research and development expands into multimedia composition for struggling writers as well as content literacy in history, math, and science.

Harvard Education Press publishes The Universally Designed Classroom: Accessible Curriculum and Digital Technologies, edited by David Rose, Anne Meyer, and Chuck Hitchcock.

Work on making large-scale assessments more accessible and accurate begins with grants from the LD Access Foundation, and collaborations with Pearson Education Measurement and the National Alternative Assessment Center.

CAST wins the EdTech Nonprofit HERO Award from the educational technology industry for innovation and leadership.

2006

CAST launches two free web-based tools-UDL Book Builder and UDL Lesson Builder-to help teachers and curriculum developers apply UDL.

UDL gains national and international momentum: NIMAS Version 1.1 is published in the national register; blue-ribbon commission on NCLB seeks testimony from CAST.

Harvard Education Press publishes A Practical Reader in Universal Design for Learning, edited by David Rose and Anne Meyer.

CAST launches Project Monitor, the first rigorous experimental research project (with more than 800 students) to examine the combination of curriculum-based measurement and UDL.

Independent of CAST, more than 15 leading education and advocacy organizations form the National UDL Task Force in Washington, DC to promote UDL in policy and practice.

2007

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awards CAST, EDC, and University of Michigan a 4-year research grant to support the creation of high-quality, UDL science curricula.

The federal Institute of Education Sciences awards CAST and the University of California-Berkeley a 4-year grant to develop a UDL digital science notebook.

CAST’s national role expands as U.S. DOE awards CAST $4.9 million to head the 15-state AIM Consortium to improve the quality, availability, and timely delivery of accessible instructional materials to qualifying students.

At the first National UDL Summit in Washington, DC, CAST convenes stakeholders education policy, practice, research, and publishing to strategize ways to grow the UDL field.

CAST designs a web-based literacy environment for TelecomPioneers, a volunteer organization that tutors struggling readers across the U.S. and Canada. The program, Power Up To Read, includes multilingual, just-in-time supports for tutors as well as students.

2008

CAST issues the target="_blank">UDL Guidelines 1.0, many years in the making, to provide clear recommendations and a research foundation for the growing field of UDL.

The Council for Exceptional Children asks CAST to lead a symposium on UDL at their annual convention.

In collaboration with Google, Carnegie Corporation, and UNESCO, CAST releases two new online resources—UDL Editions and CAST Strategy Tutor—in celebration of World Literacy Day.

The Tremaine Foundation sponsors the formation of the National UDL Center to provide leadership and resources in the fields of policy, research, and practice.

The federal Higher Education Opportunity Act includes the first statutory definition of UDL and provides for implementation in post-secondary settings and pre-service teacher preparation programs.

With the support of the Massachusetts Department of Education, CAST launches UDL Curriculum Self-Check, a free web-based tool to aid instructors in assessing their curriculum for applications of UDL principles.

2009

CAST releases Science Writer, a free online tool to support students in writing effective science reports.

CAST releases UDL Online Modules, two modules designed to introduce the theory, principles, and application of UDL to current and future educators.

Harvard Education Press publishes A Policy Reader in Universal Design for Learning, edited by David Gordon, Jenna Gravel, and Laura Schifter.

2010

CAST Co-Founder David Rose is invited by the US Department of Education to join a blue-ribbon panel to write the National Educational Technology Plan, which gives a strong endorsement of UDL principles.

CAST creates a UDL exemplar of the National Educational Technology Plan to demonstrate the power of UDL principles applied in a digital format. CAST also creates a NIMAS version that allows the document to be transformed into different accessible formats, including Braille, large print, audio, and etext.

2011

UDL Guidelines 2.0 are released with new language and checkpoints based on user feedback.

CAST UDL Book Builder released in Spanish; English-language UDL Book Builder passes 1,000-mark in books written and publicly shared by teachers, parents, students, and other authors.

Launch of UDL Studio, an open-source tool that enables educators and students to make their own digital content with learning supports.

2012

Universal Design for Learning in the Classroom: Practical Applications, edited by Tracey E. Hall, Anne Meyer, & David H. Rose, is published (Guilford Press). The book aims to support educators in implementing UDL by drawing on practical lessons from CAST's experiences over the past decade.

Release of UDL Curriculum Toolkit, an open-source tool that lets curriculum developers create universally designed instructional materials that support all learners.

A Research Reader in Universal Design for Learning, edited by Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann, Samantha G. Daley, & L. Todd Rose, is published by Harvard Education Press. The book considers the major research areas that underpin UDL and calls for further exploration in the years ahead.

2013

CAST issues two math puzzle games, MathScaled and MathSquared, for use on the Apple iPad. The games teach essential math reasoning and problem-solving skills in response to a growing need to improve algebra instruction.

UDL Exchange released to help teachers make and share resources.

CAST releases UDL Studio, an authoring platform that helps educators make their own flexible curriculum materials.

2014

CAST issues Universal Design for Learning: Theory & Learning, a multimedia book on UDL with updated insights from a decade of research and practice.

Lisa Poller and Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann become Co-Presidents of CAST.

CAST Professional Publishing is launched to provide exceptional media for the education field.

CAST's Mission

To expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through the research and development of innovative, technology-based educational resources and strategies.

Universal Design for Learning is an educational approach with three primary principles:
  • Multiple means of representation, to give diverse learners options for acquiring information and knowledge,
  • Multiple means of action and expression, to provide learners options for demonstrating what they know,
  • Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners' interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation

Learn more about UDL at the National Center on Universal Design for Learning.