Thompson Earns Universal Design Certificate

Elizabeth Thompson has been involved with HDI for a while, but she’s always ready for an opportunity to learn more. 

Thompson, who works with the RETAIN project in Administrative Support, recently received her certificate in Universal Design. 

“I started my journey with HDI350-Introduction to Universal Design in the fall of 2022, and then I finished it up this most recent semester in ’24,” Thompson said. 

The certification program teaches seven basic principles of universal design – Equitable Use, Flexibility in Use, Simple and Intuitive Use, Perceptible Information, Tolerance for Error, Low Physical Effort, and Size and Space for Approach and Use – then explains how to apply these ideas in multiple different spaces. 

Though Thompson was already acquainted with aspects of universal design, she came away with a much broader and wider perspective on the subject. 

“I was able to stretch my own thoughts and opinions about what universal design is,” she said. “Whatever you’re looking at, especially websites and…documents and things like that, that there is just so much that can be improved for people to increase the accessibility.”

And while learning about digital accessibility and the many tools that can be used both to enable it and to assess it. 

However, as much as she appreciated learning about those things, when they began to cover universal design in terms of physical space, Thompson got really excited. 

“That’s always been my thing,” she said. “I’ve remodeled several houses for my own living and one for my parents, so I really, really like that physical world of making sure that someone has full access and can go as many places as possible.”

Thompson also talked about how earning this certificate helped her learn about the ways in which universal design can help everyone, not just people with disabilities. 

“A ramp makes it accessible for someone who uses a wheelchair or power wheelchair,” Thompson said. “But the mother or father with a stroller, that ramp is very useful for them. Even somebody who’s walking their pet. Not all animals like to go up and down steps. It just broadens the access.”

All in all, Thompson said the entire process was an excellent learning experience that gave her a lot of new knowledge and tools that can help a lot of people. 

“There was no part that didn’t excite me,” she said. “Universal design helps the world to be more accessible for everybody.”

To learn more about the UDL Certificate, follow this link:

Undergraduate Certificate in Universal Design Student Spotlight: Victoria Cabral

By: Amanda Corbin

Victoria Cabral is a busy junior with a double major in Spanish and Computer Science who also started coursework in the Undergraduate Certificate in Universal Design (UD) program this semester. She heard about the UD program from alumna Kyra Seevers, who just this fall took a position as a software engineer at Google headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. after completing a practicum exploring the principles of UD within the space of security, trust, and safety online.

Like Kyra, Victoria also plans to do a practicum in web design and wants to use what she learns in the certificate program to develop software that is accessible for everyone. “I want to create things to help people,” she said and credits her parents and the Scouts for instilling in her a sense of service and desire to help.

Originally from Louisville, Victoria went to a large high school where she was involved in Best Buddies, a mentor program where students are paired with their peers in special education. It was also in high school that Victoria gained an interest in computer science. “I took a class on Java, and I just fell in love with it,” she said.

The undergraduate certificate in UD is offered by the Human Development Institute (HDI) and is open to students in any discipline, something Victoria described as one of the best things about the program. From majors in computer science to art to architecture, students hear diverse perspectives and learn how their peers plan to use UD in their work. “Everyone should have Universal Design [because] it can be applied to any major and day-to-day life,” Victoria said.

Universal Design is a set of strategies that promote the inclusion and participation of all people. Using UD drives innovation as creators use these principles to design products, systems, buildings, classrooms, and other environments that are accessible to everyone.

Familiar innovations such as grab bars, ramps, automatic doors, elevators, sidewalk cutouts, Siri, and online learning software—which are all tools used by everyone, regardless of ability—are examples of UD principles at work.

Victoria said she learned important lessons from day one of the first course in UD citing as one example the use of person-first language, which puts the person before their diagnosis. She went on to say, “It’s important in design to think about everyone,” and noted that being in the program reminded her “to be an advocate.”

The program consists of an intro to UD course (HDI 350), two practicums, and an elective. A limited number of stipends are available to support students enrolling in the program. But you don’t have to be in the program to take the intro course. If you are interested in UD, start by enrolling in HDI 350.

Since it began in the fall of 2017, eleven students from nine different disciplines have completed the UD certificate program. Those disciplines include Computer Science, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Economics, Human Health Sciences, Interior Design, Biology, Media Arts and Studies, Social Work, and Arts Administration.

“This certificate is the first of its kind at a Research I university,” said HDI Executive Director Dr. Kathy Sheppard-Jones. “The initial idea grew out of conversations HDI had with President Capilouto around accessibility at UK. He suggested finding a way for students to receive formal training and recognition for their efforts. Thus, the certificate was born with the great help of several champions across campus, including the College of Design.”

This innovative program teaches students to use UD practices, which leads to enhanced employability and career advancement as well as better products and environments for all people.

For more information on HDI’s Universal Design Certificate, click this link:

The Human Development Institute is Kentucky’s Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service. HDI’s vision is the full participation and contribution of all people with disabilities in all aspects of society.

young woman wearing a black sweater, black glasses, and gold earrings standing in front of palm trees

Haley Potter Awarded Burberry Award

The University of Kentucky (UK) Human Development Institute (HDI) has awarded the prestigious Paul Kevin Burberry Award to Haley Potter. Haley is a full-time HDI staff member working across multiple projects at HDI. As part of her studies in the Universal Design Certificate Program, she created a guidebook for performing arts professionals to implement accessibility, inclusion, and universal design in their organizations. She also created the Percussion Empowerment Project, a program that provided free percussion classes to middle school girls. Dr. Tony Lobianco presented the award to Haley at the HDI All-Staff Meeting and said, “Haley is a strong proponent of promoting leadership and self-advocacy”.

The annual Paul Kevin Burberry Award honor is given to a student who has demonstrated a strong commitment to people with disabilities, academic excellence, and the leadership qualities exemplified by Burberry’s own life. It is named in memory of the Berea native who was the first student with significant physical disabilities to graduate from Berea Community High School. He went on to Berea College and UK, as a philosophy major. While a student at UK, Burberry worked with HDI to create training modules to train medical and allied health students on developmental disabilities. Though his life was cut short before graduation, he was posthumously awarded his UK degree with highest honors in 2004.

Haley encourages others to continue advocating for social justice and underrepresented populations in their daily and professional lives to create a more inclusive world. Congratulations Haley Potter!

laptop sitting on a desk with blurred background

HDI to pilot Professional Certification in Universal Design

A University of Kentucky (UK) Human Development Institute (HDI) Fund for Excellence award has been given to Christina Espinosa Bard and Patti Singleton to offer a professional certification to equip people to use the principles of Universal Design (UD) in the workplace. This will expand HDI’s current undergraduate certificate program available to UK students from any field of study.

HDI is a national leader in embedding UD practices in learning by examining goals, materials, methods, and assessment for usability factors. These practices will be used to develop and pilot a six-hour certificate program that will include case studies and activities to support practical application of UD principles in the workplace.

To increase capacity and raise awareness about UD principles, UK employees will be provided an opportunity to complete the certificate at no cost to them. This project supports HDI’s mission of promoting the inclusion and contributions of people with disabilities through information sharing, leadership, and advocacy. 

Contact or for more information.

Ellie smiling in front of a red brick building

Universal Design Student Spotlight: Ellie Fahey

UK junior Ellie Fahey was looking for a note to get out of class when she happened upon the Human Development Institute’s Universal Design Program. 

Ellie explained, “I got a notification through the College of Health Sciences about the Special Olympics med event that they do every year and it was conflicting with one of my classes, so I was trying to see if I could get an excuse note so I could go [volunteer].”

MedFest offers the physical exam that all athletes need to participate in Special Olympics sports and is led by volunteer physicians, nurses, physician assistants, and medical students.

While trying to get her excuse note, Ellie expressed how passionate she is about working with people with disabilitiesand was referred to HDI because of her interest. She said, “It was kind of by chance that I even heard of it, but then once I started talking to people in HDI, I just took my first class [in Universal Design], and now I’ve decided to continue on with it and I really like it.”

In addition to the certificate program, Ellie is studying Human Health Sciences with a minor in health promotion and started working as a research assistant. Her next course in the Universal Design program is a practicum that she is doing with HDI’s Kentucky Inclusive Health Collaborative team.

Part of her practicum experience will involve working on awomen’s health project with women with disabilities. Ellie explained that “they don’t get breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings as frequently as people without disabilities, so we’re trying to figure out why.” Next steps will include overcoming barriers, encouraging screenings, and getting patients seen.

Ellie added, “Their rates [of these cancers] are higher and that’s just obviously not okay.” She has already applied some Universal Design principles to the project by using plain language in project documents.

When asked about her perspective on Universal Design Ellie said, “A lot of people think Universal Design is for people with disabilities… But I think it’s more like designing the world so it’s accessible for everybody, so we don’t have to necessarily have special things for people… [It’s] offering differentiation in the world to make it the best for everybody.”

Ellie plans to go into healthcare as a physician’s assistant working with underserved populations. She sees Universal Design as a way to make healthcare more accessible by using the plain language in health-related communication.

She said, “I think it’s super important to draw attention to what needs to be done to keep your body healthy. The Wellness Wednesdays that our team does, I think that those are really awesome… they’re always really informative, and teaching people about their health in a way that’s understandable to them is the most important thing.”

Ellie went on to describe how this approach will apply to her work:

As a future provider, what I want to do for my patients is to teach them about their health so that they can take control of their own health and be educated and empowered in their own bodies… I’d rather every patient be a part of the conversation and make sure they really understand what’s going on with their body and how we’re planning to help it get better. And I think Universal Design is a big part of that… because everyone has different backgrounds and different health, and everyone should be able to have the ability to understand what’s going on with their body… I think I’ll have a unique perspective going into healthcare fields with this Universal Design background and really focusing on each patient as an individual.

While shadowing healthcare professionals, Ellie noticed how important work is, for people with and without disabilities.She said, “When we take that opportunity away from people with disabilities, I feel like it kind of isolates them from society in a way.”

To support giving people that opportunity, Ellie is helping with fundraising and promotion for a nonprofit called Gerry’s Café in her hometown of Arlington Heights, Illinois.The café will employ young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

During high school in Illinois, Ellie worked with people with disabilities in a career life skills program. She said, “I just loved it and it was the best part of my day, every day… I really love talking to them. It was just like an instant connection… and then I just never stopped from there… I still have my students FaceTime me all the time.”

Ellie’s research assistantship at HDI and her studies in Universal Design are a way to continue what she started in high school. “I’m really grateful to be a part of the women’s health team… and I’m really excited to see where that project goes,” she said. “I’m really glad I found this, and it was totally by chance that I even heard of it, so I’m really excited to keep going.”

For more information on HDI’s Universal Design Certificate, click this link:

Article written by Amanda Corbin.