Diversity and Inclusion in the classroom 


Diversity and Inclusion 

Diversity and Inclusion are important concepts for creating a safe, prosperous and encouraging environment for all people no matter their differences. To understand inclusion, you must first understand diversity. Diversity is the differences between the community, including socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, learning abilities/styles, personality and more (Servaes, Choudhury, & Parikh, 2022). In simple terms, diversity is what people experience through circumstances or birth that make everyone unique.  

Inclusion is the integration of this diversity into any given setting. It is the “process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion” (UNESCO, 2005). These concepts are especially important to consider in the role of educators as the inclusion of all diverse individuals in the classroom “has the power create a rich and complex social learning environment that can subsequently … facilitate students’ development” (Banks, 2012, p. 1433). 

Universal Design for Learning  

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for designing education, based on Universal Design (UD) a concept used in architecture for ensuring environments are inclusive for a wide range of diverse needs (Ashman 2019). UD has 7 main principles that describe the elements that should be included in architecture for an environment to be universally accessible. UDL took these principles and modified them to fit learning environments. In contrast to UD, UDL has 3 broad principles based on brain networks that have associated guidelines, each with its own checkpoints (CAST, 2018):  

Principle 1: Engagement (the WHY of learning) 

Based on the affective networks in the brain, this principle focuses on the way that students engage or are motivated to learn. It strives to highlight the importance of understanding the underlying effect of individuals and the why of learning. This principle poses that providing multiple means of engagement will allow students to use their personal motivations for participation in learning activities.  


Principle 2: Representation (the WHAT of learning) 

Based on the recognition networks in the brain, this principle breaks down the way that learners perceive and comprehend information. It focuses on the importance of individual differences in the way people learn and what can be offered in order to allow for differences in learning to achieve the same outcomes for learners. This principle suggests that ensuring multiple means of representation will provide optimal opportunities for all learners.  


Principle 3: Action and Expression (the HOW of learning)  

Based on the strategic networks in the brain, the focal point of this principle is understanding the different ways of expressing one’s understanding of their learning. As the diversity of learners is wide, it is important to consider how a student is being asked to demonstrate their learning and whether this is best for all the learners. This principle suggests that giving multiple means of actions will support learner expression.  


These principles, guidelines and checkpoints all work together to create a framework that supports inclusive practices in teaching. It supports educators as a tool to create lesson plans that accommodate the diversity of needs within their classroom with multiple means of representation, engagement and action and expression.  

Please head to the CAST website for more details of UDL: https://udlguidelines.cast.org/  

Diverse learners 



Dyslexia affects around 10 percent of children in Australian classrooms and can be described as a persistent difficulty with reading and writing (ADA, 2022). It is a type of specific learning disorder on a scale that ranges from mild to severe and can affect anyone (APA, 2022). Dyslexia can be differentiated from other conditions through its characteristics as individuals with dyslexia often have “difficulties with decoding, whereas by comparison, listening comprehension is typically more intact” (Peterson and Pennington, 2015, p. 284 – 285). This means that while their ability to recognise, spell and interpret words is effected, their understanding of spoken words, intelligence and sensory abilities are unaffected (Peterson and Pennington, 2015).  

This condition has a huge effect on learners in the classroom as much of the content provided by educators often takes the form of writing, which can take individuals with dyslexia longer to understand or express and therefore difficult to engage in. In order to actively and positively engage in learning environments it is important that learners with this condition are given the support they need through adequate opportunities for learning.  

For more information on Dyslexia:  


 Or visit https://dyslexiaassociation.org.au/  

Strategies to support learning 

  1. Assistive tools and technologies 

There are many technologies that support people with dyslexia in the classroom. Simple examples are computers with speech-to-text, spell checkers, large-text books, audiobooks and more. These support the speed at which individuals with dyslexia can engage in content (Dawson, et al, 2019). This can improve their confidence in sharing and keeping up with their peers and support all children to engage in classroom content. This works in the UDL framework as it relates to checkpoints 1.1, 2.3, 5.1, 5.2 and mainly 4.2.  

2. Multi-sensory learning  

Multi-sensory learning ensures that all people within the classroom can access the lesson content and express themselves without being tied to one model of learning (Shams and Seitz, 2008). It is the displaying of content using a range of different sensory modes including audio, visual, tactile, etcetera allowing students to choose how they would like to interact with their learning materials (Shams and Seitz, 2008). This fits in the UDL framework as it follows checkpoints, 1.1, 5.1 and 5.2 by allowing those who need extra support with reading and writing the assistance they need while still allowing all students choice in their learning.  


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that is described as a spectrum for a reason. ASD “affects how a person thinks, feels, interacts with others, and experiences their environment” (Autism Spectrum Australia, 2022) and changes between individuals. In 2015 there were an estimated 83,700 people aged 5 to 20 living with ASD, and 85% of these individuals reported difficulties at school (AIHW, 2015). Many people with ASD struggle with sensory processing issues along with restricted or repetitive behaviours and difficulties with social interactions (CDC, 2022). These signs and symptoms can cause difficulties within educational environments leading to learners with ASD needing additional support in some areas of learning.  


For more information:  


 Or visit https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/  

Strategies to support learning  

  1.  Regulated Sensory Environment 

Creating environments with different sensory stimuli models can assist learners with ASD to regulate their sensory intake to avoid sensory overload or under-stimulation (Martin, 2016, Dunn, 2007). When learners with ASD have access to sensory boxes or low sensory areas, they are able actively to regulate their sensory input according to their needs, based on their sensory thresholds (Dunn, 2007). This fits with UDL because providing options for sensory regulation allows learners to minimise threats and distractions (7.3) and facilitate coping skills and strategies (9.2).  

2. Visual Supports 

Visual supports/aids are an evidence-based intervention for children with ASD as many children with ASD are visual learners (Kidder, & McDonnell, 2017). Visual aids have been shown to “present choices, expectations, tasks, and communication exchanges in a way that is appealing and approachable for visual learners” (Kidder, & McDonnell, 2017). This works with the UDL framework as it allows learners choice, ways to express themselves and allows for clarity in communication.  

Reference list 

American Psychiatrics Association (APA). (2022). Specific Learning Disorders. https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/specific-learning-disorder/what-is-specific-learning-disorder 

Ashman (Ed.). (2019). Education for inclusion and diversity (6 ed.). Pearson Australia, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.canberra.edu.au/lib/canberra/detail.action?docID=5494836&pq-origsite=primo  

Australian Dyslexia Association Inc. (ADA). (2022). Dyslexia in Australia. https://dyslexiaassociation.org.au/dyslexia-in-australia/ 

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). (2015). Autism in Australia report. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/disability/autism-in-australia/contents/autism 

Autism Spectrum Australia. (2022). What is autism? https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/about-autism/what-is-autism 

Banks, J. A. (Ed.). (2012). Encyclopedia of diversity in education. Sage Publications. https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781452218533  

Bhopal, K. & Rhamie, J. (2014). Initial teacher training: understanding ‘race,’ diversity and inclusion. Race Ethnicity and Education, 17(3), 304-325. DOI: 10.1080/13613324.2013.832920 

CAST. (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. http://udlguidelines.cast.org 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2022). Signs and Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html#:~:text=Autism%20spectrum%20disorder%20(ASD)%20is,%2C%20moving%2C%20or%20paying%20attention. 

Dawson K, Antonenko P, Lane H, Zhu J. (2019). Assistive Technologies to Support Students with Dyslexia. TEACHING Exceptional Children. 51(3), 226-239. doi:10.1177/0040059918794027 

Dunn, W. (2007). Supporting children to participate successfully in everyday life by using sensory processing knowledge. Infant and Young Children, 20(2), 84-101. doi: 10.1097/01.IYC.0000264477.05076.5d 

Kidder, J. E., & McDonnell, A. P. (2017). Visual Aids for Positive Behavior Support of Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Young Exceptional Children, 20(3), 103–116. https://doi.org/10.1177/1096250615586029 

Martin, C.S. (2016). Exploring the impact of the design of the physical classroom environment on young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 16: 280-298. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-3802.12092 

Peterson, R. L., & Pennington, B. F. (2015). Developmental dyslexia. Annual review of clinical psychology, 11(1), 283-307. https://www.dislexia.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Developmental-Dyslexia-Pennington-2015.pdf 

Servaes, S., Choudhury, P., & Parikh, A. K. (2022). What is diversity?. Pediatric radiology, 52(9), 1708–1710. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00247-022-05356-0 

Shams, L., & Seitz, A. R. (2008). Benefits of multisensory learning. Trends in cognitive sciences, 12(11), 411-417. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2008.07.006  

Stadler-Heer, S. (2019). Inclusion. ELT Journal. 73(2), 219–222, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccz004 

UNESCO (2005) Guidelines for Inclusion: Ensuring Access to Education for All. Paris UNESCO. http://www.ibe.unesco.org/sites/default/files/Guidelines_for_Inclusion_UNESCO_2006.pdf 



CAST. (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines [UDL framework] CAST. http://udlguidelines.cast.org 

ConnectAbility. (2022). Four Patterns of Sensory Processing [Graph representing four patterns of sensory processing] ConnectAbility. https://connectability.ca/2020/07/14/four-patterns-of-sensory-processing/ 

Ginger. (2022). Spell Checker. [spell check on two words in a sentence] Ginger.https://www.gingersoftware.com/spellcheck 

Love. Peace. Empowerment. (2022). Universal Design for Learning [UDL visual aid] Love. Peace. Empowerment. https://rampages.us/love4socialwork/2015/04/14/universal-design-for-learning/ 

Reading Rockets. (2022). Assistive Technology for Reading. [Teacher with students using assistive reading technology] Reading Rockets. https://www.readingrockets.org/article/assistive-technology-reading 

The Education Hub. (2022). Learing at Home: A visual scheduling tool for children with autism spectrum disorder. [School work visual aid in boxes]. The Education Hub. https://theeducationhub.org.nz/learning-at-home-a-visual-scheduling-tool-for-children-with-autism-spectrum-disorder/ 

The Reading Well. (2022) Electoronic pens [Electronic pen with lables] The Reading Well. https://www.dyslexia-reading-well.com/assistive-technology-for-dyslexia.html 

Vision Australia. (2022). Ebook readers. [Large text vs normal text] Vision Australia. https://www.visionaustralia.org/technology-products/resources/using-technology/ebook-readers