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Curriculum Access for Students with Low-Incidence Disabilities: The Promise of Universal Design for Learning


Richard M. Jackson


National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum (NCAC)




The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997 and 2004 set forth requirements to improve access to the general curriculum for students with low-incidence disabilities. Universal design for learning (UDL) is discussed as a theoretical framework to guide the design and development of learning environments that represent materials in flexible ways and offers a variety of options for learners to comprehend information, demonstrate their knowledge and skills, and be motivated to learn. Low-incidence disabilities such as blindness, low vision, and deafness rarely exceed 1% of the school-aged population at any given time. The rarity of students with these disabilities in public schools often poses significant challenges for local schools to meet their needs. Additionally, public schools often struggle to find a least restrictive environment for these students within their own local school system. Addressing the intense and complex needs of students with low-incidence disabilities is described according to IDEA ’97. Low-incidence disabilities are defined and described under the categories of blind/low vision, deaf/hard-of-hearing, deaf-blind, significant developmental delay, significant physical and multiple disability, and autism spectrum.

Curriculum and instructional practices that are currently used with students with low-incidence disabilities are discussed. Physical facilities, technology, media and materials, and human resources all contribute to the quality of what transpires in schools and there remains great disparity across communities. The general curriculum is defined as the overall plan for instruction adopted by the school or school system. A quality education for students with low-incidence disabilities will be a blending of curriculum, designed to address disability-specific or unique needs and curriculum designed for optimal functioning. Planning models used for students with low-incidence disabilities are discussed including the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), Person-centered Planning, Group Action Planning (GAP), Making Action Plans (MAPs), Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope (PATH), and Circle of Friends. Approaches for enabling students with low-incidence disabilities to participate in state- and district-level assessment systems are included. Lastly, the UDL framework is discussed in terms of increasing access to the general curriculum for students with low-incidence disabilities.

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Jackson, R. (2005). Curriculum access for students with low-incidence disabilities: The promise of universal design for learning. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. (Links updated 2011). Retrieved [insert date] from

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