ATU364 – UDL with Daniel McNulty


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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

364-05-18-18 – UDL with Daniel McNulty, Director, PATINS UDL Full Day June 14 – 9:30 – 3:15 (also Dyslexia on June 15 9-3pm)

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——-transcript follows ——


DANIEL McNULTY:  Hi, I’m Daniel McNulty, and I’m the director of the PATINS project, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 364 of assistive technology update.  It’s scheduled to be released on May 18, 2018.

Today we are going to take a deep dive into the concept of universal design for learning, or UDL, with my friend Daniel McNulty here with the PATINS project here in Indiana.  We are going to talk specifically about a full day training we are going to sponsor and broadcast via webinar on June 14.  It’s free, a full day of UDL, also partnered with a full day on June 15 for dyslexia.  We will talk about that more during the interview.

We hope you check out our website at  Sent us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project. Or call our listener line.  We love to hear from you.  The number is 317-721-7124.



[1:26] Interview with Dana McNulty



We have a couple of trainings coming up here at the INDATA Project in June.  We are super excited about them.  Today we are going to speak to a good friend of mine, a fellow I’ve known for a long time, about UDL, or universal design for learning.  That’s because that’s one of the main topics for a training we have coming up.  We are going to jump right into this.  I’m so excited to be joined today by my friend Dana McNulty who is the director for the PATINS project here in Indiana.  We are going to talk not only about the PATINS project but also the training we have coming out.

First and foremost, Daniel, welcome back to the show.

DANIEL McNULTY:  Thank you so much.  My absolute pleasure.

WADE WINGLER:  It’s always good to have you on the show.  I think you have been on the show a handful of time.  As I recall, just because we didn’t have a studio the first time we did an interview, I think you and I did an interview about Second Life maybe five or six years ago and a time or two since then.

DANIEL McNULTY:  I think you are right.

WADE WINGLER:  You have kind of one of those heritage brands with our podcast here.  We appreciate you doing that.  We are going to spend most of our time today talking about UDL and our upcoming training, but I want to set the context a little bit for our audience who might not be in Indiana.  We have folks listening all around the world.  Tell me a little bit about PATINS project in the role.

DANIEL McNULTY:  Absolutely.  The PATINS project is an Indiana technical assistance network.  We work with all the public K-12 schools in the state of Indiana to increase access to curricula for all students.  What that really looks like is assistive technology, technical assistance and support, training, and loans.  We loan out assistive technology to schools for six weeks at a time.  We do technical training and professional development.  That can look like in person training at a school for a whole staff or before school or afterschool or during lunch.  A lot of my staff to those short trainings during teachers prep periods.  We also do a lot of trainings online.  We do webinars and go to trainings and go to meeting for all sorts of things.  We try to record as many of them as possible.  We are doing several hundred trainings a year across the state. We are made up of 17 staff as well as myself.  We cover the whole state geographically.

In addition to the assistive technology piece, we also do accessible educational materials, which are specialized formats of textbooks.  That could include things like braille and large print and Nimus (phonetic) derived textbooks like EPUB and accessible PDFs and audio file versions of books.  Then we work with teachers to create their own accessible materials as well.  So with the whole open educational resources push from the federal level, a lot of states are looking more at open educational resources, and Indiana is certain one of them as a go open state.  We are working with teachers to make sure that what they are creating and finding and modifying is accessible to all students.

The other overarching piece of what we do is universal design for learning.  We do a lot of training and support and helping students access a greater level of their curricular materials and educational programming through a learning environment that’s more universal design.

WADE WINGLER:  You guys are busy.

DANIEL McNULTY:  We are busy, yeah.

WADE WINGLER:  It’s funny.  One of the questions I get when I’m out speaking on behalf of the INDATA Project — and I know you guys probably get it too — is wait a minute, is there some overlap between what the INDATA Project is and what PATINS project does? I think that’s relevant to our conversation today, because a lot of the AT Acts listen to the show.  I say, well, it’s really great.  Here’s the answer I gave, and we will do this on the air and see if we are telling the same story.  I explained that we are all in the same boat, trying to make sure the accessibility and assistive technology is available to everybody.  And there is a little bit of overlap.  We had a lending library, as do you.  We have some equipment re-utilization.  I think you guys to do that.  But really, you guys are serving school directly, and we are serving individuals directly.  We also sort of past things back and forth on a pretty regular basis.  I think we do a pretty good job of collaborating.  Is that something similar that you tell people?

DANIEL McNULTY:  That’s very similar.  We primarily focus on the K-12 audience and an increasing amount of pre-K as well, particularly students with disabilities in the pre-K settings.  We really don’t work with the adult population at all, which I know you guys do quite a bit of.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s the majority, yeah.

DANIEL McNULTY:  So there is some overlap.  I think that sums it up pretty well.

WADE WINGLER:  There you go.  And for the other AT Acts listening in the audience, they should be a little bit jealous that we have another organization with separate funding that allows us to make sure that folks in Indiana have a couple of organizations covering the stuff.

DANIEL McNULTY:  That’s a great point.  With 400 school corporations and 2000 some schools, not including the adult and pre-K, it’s really hard to consider the job ever accomplished.

WADE WINGLER:  Absolutely.  The last thing you mentioned in terms of the big broad swaths of services you guys to our UDL.  I want to assume that some of the folks in our audience are familiar, but I want to assume that some aren’t as well.  Talk to me a little bit about what UDL is and how it’s different than just universal design as a concept.

DANIEL McNULTY:  That’s a really good question.  I think we make the mistake a lot of times of assuming that more people know about universal design for learning than really do. I think there are a couple reasons for that. It’s kind of this ideological, philosophical thing that sounds really good in people get excited about it, but actually implementing it is a different story.  What it is at the overarching level, it’s a framework full of choice and flexibility.  It’s not something that you can go buy or implement in a curriculum or script.  I think that’s part of what makes it really difficult to implement as well.  It could look completely different in one school district to the next school district.  That’s okay.  That’s actually how it should be.  But it’s a framework full of choice and flexibility, meaning that the way the materials themselves and the way the materials and the content is presented has variability and flexibility in its, as well as the way the students are able to respond and interact with the content, as well as how students are engaged with it.  I think between those three things, it sounds like a really good and nice thing to do.  But actually implementing that is a little more difficult.

The flexibility and variability built in is an important piece, but the student choice is a huge piece as well.  We know that from our own lives.  Ask any adult who comes to professional development or that you see in a meeting, and they all do things a little differently.  Some choose to write things down with pencil and paper.  Personally, myself, a lot of people know that I can’t handle the sound of pencil on paper, so I can write with a pen but I’ll never take a single note with a pencil.  I prefer to type.  People might prefer to take notes on their phone.  Others might prefer not having anything in front of them.  When we go to meetings as adults, we don’t really argue with that or tell people they have to do that one way or another.  I think we know in the back of our heads that by doing that, we are instantly turning people off.  But in a classroom situation, we do that all the time.  We tell them that they have to use their Chromebooks, or that they have to use pencil and paper, do it this way or that way.  But allowing student choice and how they receive information, interact with information, and engage with information is a critical piece of universal design for learning.

WADE WINGLER:  It’s funny because I’m wondering about if you don’t like the sound of pencil, what about the guy that doesn’t like this out of your typing on a keyboard? You might have conflicting choices.

DANIEL McNULTY:  I do have one of those every once in a while.

WADE WINGLER:  You didn’t to make this stuff up.  There is some science behind the concept of UDL.  It’s brain-based science.  Can you tell me a little bit about that?

DANIEL McNULTY:  Absolutely.  That’s really great point.  It is based in scientific brain research.  There is basically three networks within the brain, the affective network, the recognition network, and a strategic network, which all light of different parts of the bearing.

The affective network is really the “why” of learning.  It’s how students get engaged and stay engaged and stay motivated and what they are doing.  It’s what excites them and challenges them.  It sort of thinking about video games.  I’m not a gamer myself, but I think there is a lot we can learn.  I think students are engaged to video games for sometimes 10 hours a day when we had trouble and getting them for 10 minutes at a time because they are able to choose the appropriate level and they are able to see their progress and know what the goals and objectives are and see the progress that they are making towards them.  That’s sort of engagement and motivation that has to do with the affective network of the brain.

The recognition network of the brain is more of the “what” of learning.  This is how information is perceived and taken in through the eyes and the ears and all the other senses.  It can be different for different kids on different days.  So today I may prefer to read a book auditorily, but tomorrow I may be in a situation where I prefer to read it visually.  Having that choice in the way the information is presented to me also has to do with the affective network as well.

Then there is the strategic network which is the “how” of learning. This is how students are able to interact with the content and assimilate it into what they already know and respond to it.  A real blunt example is if there is a test being given, and a requirement is that students get out a piece of paper and a pencil or pen and write their answers and turn in the response.  That’s really just one response method.  But if this teacher were to say something like I want to test your knowledge on this but I know some of you don’t like to handwrite, so you can handwrite your responses to this assessment, you can verbally record them into your device and send it to my dropbox or my Google drive, you can record a video, do a play, respond in the way that suits you best but still shows me what you know.  What I always talk about with this is we always have to be cognizant of what it is we are trying to assess with students.  I think a lot of times we inadvertently and unknowingly assess things that are actual barriers to what we are trying to assess.  For example, if you require me to handwrite something and give me a paper and pencil, you are really assisting my ability to deal with my sensory issue of the pencil on the paper.  I may know the content, but I’m probably not going to write as much as they would if you let me type it or verbalize it.

It’s those three brain networks that are involved in universal design for learning and based in the brain science.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m fascinated that we are about halfway to my interview, and not once have you used a word like blindness or vision impairment or cerebral palsy or autism or learning disabilities.  You’ve talked about students and you talk about learning, but this is an AT show and only were talking about disability specific accommodations.  I’m not hearing that.  That set up is to my question.  Which students are we trying to help here?

DANIEL McNULTY:  That’s a great perception.  The really cool thing about universal design for learning is it for all kids, all people, and all times and places.  What it is, is building a learning environment from the ground up to be as accessible as possible to the widest range of students as possible before you see a students face.  I think that’s hard for people to grasp at first because they want to know the students and see their IEP’s and know their disabilities and their labels and start to plan that way.  There is some benefit to knowing about your students, of course we know that, but universal design for learning a sort of the opposite in the sense that it’s just designed this environment to be as accessible as possible so that we have to add as little as possible later to have the widest range number of students access it.

The easy answer to that is it is for all kids and all the times, and it’s not just for students with IEP’s either.  We know for a fact that we have a lot of students without IEP’s who would never have an IEP who are absolutely slipping to the cracks.  But if there were something built-in like and all the classrooms in school buildings for them to once in a while read a book auditorily or choose to type today or right tomorrow or change their sitting, or change their position in the classroom or respond in a slightly different way, then we don’t have to necessarily provide extra services to that student because they can make that decision on their own.  And with that flexibility built into the strategies and curriculum and materials, they kind of take ownership of their own learning in that way and increase independence.

WADE WINGLER:  Makes total sense.  I’ve got so many questions here.  I’m not going to be able to get to all of them.  Here’s something I’ve heard.  When I have talked to people about UDL, I’ve had some people say, well, that’s a no-brainer.  Of course we should be making those choices available and give people the flexibility that they need.  Then I’ve had other people push back and say, well, in some situations yeah, that probably makes sense.  In other situations, you are just creating chaos in the classroom.  What’s your advice when I have that pushback or those responses from people? How would you respond to that?

DANIEL McNULTY:  We get those a lot.  The chaos in the classroom one is one of my favorites.  When people say, what does UDL look like? And I say one of my favorite things it’s a walk into a classroom and it looks like chaos on the surface.  People give me a funny look, and really? You like to walk into chaos? And I truly don’t.  I have things very organized and structured.  This is 100 percent true, but more times than not, when a school or classroom is implementing universal design for learning, it very well could look like chaos on the surface because there is going to be students doing a variety of things in a variety of places in the classroom.

Flexible seating is one example where a student may choose to sit in a standard desk or chair, or they may choose to sit on the floor in a beanbag or their people or sit in a window or sit on the steps.  I’ve had students lay on the floor sometimes.  It’ll change.  A lot of teachers say I want them in their desks, facing the front.  I just ask people, when you go to do your work, when you’re working in your office or in your classroom or at home, do you always sit in the same chair in the same position with her feet on the floor, facing the same direction? There are some people that do, but I think the majority of people don’t.  They change things up.  They moved her legs around.  Sometimes they’ll put their feet up.  Sometimes they’ll bring the laptop to the couch.  Sometimes it’s on the dinner table.  Sometimes it’s on the counter.  Sometimes it’s outside.  We have to respect that with students as well.  Things are going to look different from day today.

I think it is a big fear of implementing UDL, because if it looks like chaos on the surface, there are five, to begin using Chromebooks and to get over here using iPads and a group of kids in the background recording a video, and three kids over here listening to a piece of text or reading a book auditorily, it very well may look like chaos.  If an administrator who is not familiar with universal design for learning walks into the classroom at that moment to do a pop in observation of that teacher, teachers are afraid of that because that affects their rating.  I think there is a real awareness piece that has to happen.  It can absolutely look like chaos and can be an overwhelming task, because it is a lot of things to try to adjust at once.

We also encourage people to take it slow and just pick one thing next week that you want to try to make more flexible by either changing something that you want to do with the affective network, which sees engagement; the recognition network, which is how you present information; and the strategic network of how you allow students to express what they know.  Pick one thing in your normal routine and try to address of those three networks and slowly build from there.

WADE WINGLER:  It’s also interesting that we are coming close to end of the interview, and we haven’t talked about AT yet. Give me something quick on UDL versus AT or UDL plus AT. I don’t know if it’s a plus or a minus or a multiplier. What’s the relationship between UDL and assistive technology?

DANIEL McNULTY:  That’s another great question.  We sort of alluded to it earlier when we talked about students with IEP’s or labels and other students.  I said universal design for learning applies to all kids at all times in all places.  AT is the opposite of that.  I always talk about assistive technology being Band-Aids.  I don’t mean to be offensive to assistive technology professionals by saying that.  But Band-Aids survey very specific purpose.  I don’t put a Band-Aid over a whole classroom of kids.  I put a Band-Aid on one student and one particular injury on that one particular student.  That Band-Aid is going to get old and fall off and is going to have to be replaced.  Those things are assistive tech.  It is individual, for one get at a time, and it is often times for one barrier for that one kid at the time.  It’s going to get old, break, have to be updated and replaced.  So it’s very individualized, whereas universal design for learning is very much the opposite.  It’s there for everybody all the time if they need it.

People who say that if you are really implementing UDL perfectly that there will be no need for assistive technology.  Well in theory that kind of makes sense, I don’t think it’s true.  I think there will always be a need for assistive technology because it doesn’t make sense to have 20 refreshable braille keyboards in the classroom.  It’s not cost effective and just doesn’t make sense.  There is always going to be a need for that one or two students to have a refreshable braille or a voice output device, which is individualized and is assistive tech and not UDL.

WADE WINGLER:  On June 14 we are going to have a full day training focused on UDL.  You and the folks from PATINS project are going to do it.  It also is going to be paired with a second full day training on June 15 focus to specifically on dyslexia and similar high incidence disabilities.  But on June 14, if people join us here in Indianapolis or die in the our lifestream, what kinds of things are going to be covered that day?

DANIEL McNULTY:  We are really looking forward to June 14 with you guys.  We have a broken down into a short introduction to what UDL is, why it is important, and the learning brain and sort of those brain networks we just discussed, a real short introduction to that.  And then going right into the affective brain networks, what it is, a handful of strategies and tools and examples.  Then you will go into the recognition brain never can do the same sort of thing, what it is, what the brain science research says, a handful of strategies and tools around that.  And then the same thing with the strategic brain networks.  Each of those three networks will be presented.  And then we will finish up with a sort of PATINS project led but crowd created universal design lesson plan.  One of the tools we have in our website is a universal design for learning lesson creator.  It walks of folks through all of the steps and processes that need to be considered when creating a lesson that is truly universally designed.  It’s pretty long, but it really walks to the process.  I think once people to the lesson plan a few times, two or three times, they just have to think that way.  We thought we would actually create one together with the crowd and let them have something that they can take or finish as an example, but having to think to the whole process.  I think it’ll be a really fun day.

WADE WINGLER:  If individuals want to sign up for the training, they can head on over to That’s where we keep our information on full day trainings.  They can sign up for the June 14 training on UDL.  They can also sign up for the June 15 training on dyslexia.  Daniel, you guys over at PATINS project have a ton of online presence is that I know people take advantage of all around the world.  Can you give me a quick hide of some of those?

DANIEL McNULTY:  Sure.  We do have several.  We had the PATINS project blog which is called PATINS ponders. It happens once a week on Thursdays and is a rotation between all of my specialists and myself.  I really wanted it to be less technical than everything else we do anymore down to earth and more personal to each of my staff but highly related to universal design for learning and assistive tech and accessible materials.  That’s on our website.

We also have an E-newsletter. We have a digital newsletter you can sign up for, and want to subscribe to that, it comes out about once a month.  It’s really good, usually very positive.  We try to find somebody in the state who is doing amazing things to increase access for kids, and we give them what we call a starfish award.  We bring a video crew to their school and get some interviews and talk to them and their students about what they’re doing and how it works and some of the struggles they’ve been through.  Those videos are professionally produced and put in our newsletter as well as announcements and things that are added to our lending library and things like that.

We also do a twitter chat on Tuesday nights.  It happens every Tuesday night from 830 to 9 PM Eastern time.  It’s always on a topic related to one of these things, universal design for learning or assistive tech or accessible materials or behavior or something related to what we are helping teachers with on a daily basis.  It’s a lot of fun, only a half hour long on Tuesday nights.  A half hour goes pretty quick.  The connections teachers make to us and two other teachers in the state and the country and sometimes in the world is pretty amazing.

We also have a whole island in Second Life that we are looking to do more with.  We are actually working with Florida at the moment to try to develop a conference in Second Life.  It may be a conference partially in Second Life and partially in something like W Connect.  I’m really looking forward to that.

We have PATINS TV as well which is a video segment that happens twice a month and is usually on Tuesdays, the first and third Tuesdays of the month typically.  One of those Tuesdays is an AT vendor being interviewed about one of their products that they want to show off.  It usually goes for about 10 to 15 minutes.  The other Tuesday of the month is myself or one of my staff or a guest presenter that we bring in.  It is a quick tip or tool or trick or announcement that is coming we want people to be aware of.  Those are usually limited to five minutes or less.  Those are all available on our YouTube channel.  You can get to those through our website as well.

WADE WINGLER:  If people want to check those things out, what’s the web address?

DANIEL McNULTY: It’s Daniel McNulty is the director of the path project, quite the expert on universal design for learning, a good friend of mine and the INDATA Project.  Thanks so much for being with us today.

DANIEL McNULTY:  Thanks so much.  It’s been great.


WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find other shows like this, plus much more, at The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easter Seals Crossroads, or any of our supporting partners.  That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

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