11 Equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility

Learning outcomes

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Understand the relationship between equity and open education
  • Identify ways of centering diversity, inclusion and accessibility in OER creation
  • Learn how to make your OER accessible
  • Learn how to apply Universal Design for Learning principles to OER creation

Equity, diversity and inclusion

Equity, diversity, and inclusion are three interrelated concepts. Thinking of these three words, you may notice differences, similarities, or relationships between them. So, let’s first look at some formal definitions with examples and guiding questions for each of these terms.


Equity is about treating some people differently, and to take into consideration their particular needs and situations. It’s important to note that ‘equity’ is often confused with the word ‘equality’, which is about treating people the same way, and to give everyone equal access to opportunities and benefits in society.

For example, in the picture below, three people of different heights are trying to reach an apple on a tree. On the left, ‘equality’ shows everyone is given the same height box to stand on to reach the apple on the tree, however, only the tallest person could get the apple. On the right, ‘equity’ shows each person is provided with different boxes that each help all of them get the apple.


Diagram slit into two. On the left different heighted people are standing on the same heighted box, trying to reach apples on a ttree and only the tall person can reach. This is called equality. On the right each person has a different heighted box depending on their height, hence everyone can reach the applies. This is called equity
Figure 11.1: Equality vs equity. Source: ‘What is EDI?’ by Darla Benton Kearney, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

Equity is a process that ensures everyone has access to the same opportunities. Equity appreciates that privileges and barriers exist and that, as a result, we all don’t start from the same place. Rather, each of us comes from a different background. Equity is an approach that starts with acknowledging this unequal starting place and makes efforts to address and change this imbalance (Bolger, 2020).


Diversity is the presence, in an organisation or a community, of a wide range of people with different backgrounds, abilities and attributes including ethnicity, race, colour, religion, age, gender and sexual orientation.

OER creators or publishers may ask the following questions if they are interested in promoting diversity:

  • How can we ensure our open textbooks reflect the diversity of society?
  • How can we include diverse contributors in OER creation?


Inclusion refers to considering differences among individuals and groups when designing something (e.g., policy, program, curriculum, building, shared space) to avoid creating barriers. Inclusion is about people with different identities feeling or being valued and welcomed within a given setting.

If one is focused on inclusivity, one may ask:

  • What is the lived experience for those who are marginalised?
  • Are there barriers in the way of marginalised individuals feeling a sense of acceptance and belonging?

Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning

Since OER are “freely accessible,” it may give the impression that OER are universally accessible, but many users still face inequitable barriers to access. Therefore, accessibility, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are key considerations to ensuring truly inclusive access to OER.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal design is the process of creating products (devices, environments, systems and processes) that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations (environments, conditions and circumstances). UDL arose out of the broader accessibility movement, as well as the advent of adaptive and assistive technology.

UDL guidelines are based on the three primary brain networks shown in the slides below:

  • Affective networks: The “why” of learning
  • Recognition networks: The “what” of learning
  • Strategic networks: The “how” of learning

Do: Click through the slides to view the different brain networks that are activated by the why, what and how of learning

Watch this short video to learn about the benefits and principles of UDL.

 Watch: Universal Design for Learning [5: 52 mins]



Note: Closed captions are available by clicking on the CC button in the video.

In the context of OER, UDL means removing potential barriers to access for students by designing content for all learning styles.

If you’re not sure how well your OER utilises the principles of UDL, ask yourself:

  • Do I have visual materials that present key concepts that not all students may be able to see or understand?
  • Do I have multimedia materials (e.g. audio, video) that present key concepts that not all students may be able to be hear, see or otherwise access?
  • Do I have documents that present key concepts in a format that not all students may be able to access?

To see what UDL looks like in practice check out CAST’s UDL Guidelines and UDL Tools for all Grades and Subject Areas.


Accessibility is one of the primary, but not the only, benefits of using UDL principles from the beginning. An OER that is created correctly from the beginning will significantly reduce the barriers to anyone using the OER. There is, moreover, also both a legal and moral impetus for creating accessible resources. Both accessibility and usability need to be built into your development process and should not be an afterthought.

Read: Accessibility standards

Read the Accessibility Standards in CAUL’s OER Collective Publishing Workflow (introduced in Chapter 10). This guide outlines the accessibility standards that should be applied to OER creation.

 Do: Accessibility check

Review a section in one of your institution’s OER or find one, and use this accessibility checklist to see if it is compliant. How does the resource measure up to the accessibility standards? What improvements need to be made?

It’s important to note that OER can enable diversity and inclusion by ensuring users of OER can see themselves reflected in the content. In fact, you should ask yourself how the perspectives being represented in your OER might affect the inclusivity of your course environment.

Access doesn’t equal inclusion. In fact textbooks are often sexist and racist, and exclude marginalised voices. We need to consider how to contribute to a transformation and expand open access to resources to truly address diversity, equity, and inclusion.

 Optional read: Open textbooks and social justice: A national scoping study

This study investigated the potential for open textbooks to assist with improving the experience and outcomes of under-represented higher education students in the Australian context.

Diversity and inclusion in open education

Diversity in open education can be achieved by including a variety of sociological perspectives in your open content. Doing this ensures that your students can identify with and relate to your course material. It is critical to ensure that other cultures are presented accurately in your materials, and not according to stereotypes or perceptions based on the standards of your own culture.

Whether intentional or not, ethnocentrism, “a tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own”, can creep into the content and presentation of course materials, and it is something all educators should be aware of. This doesn’t mean you must create course content that accurately portrays and includes all cultures and perspectives; however, you should be respectful toward other people and be aware of your biases as they arise.

One way you can accomplish this is by explicitly acknowledging the perspectives that are included in your content and those which are not. How has your social and cultural background reflected on the work you’ve created or curated? What authors are being cited and acknowledged in your content, and why? Acknowledging that your perspective is limited while including other perspectives in your work can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Some benefits of including diverse perspectives in course content include:

  • Engaging more students because they recognise themselves or their life experiences in course content
  • Sharing content that appeals to instructors in a variety of educational settings
  • Creating a more interesting reading and learning experience for students and learners around the world

If you aren’t certain about how or where to add examples relevant to other cultures, that doesn’t mean a resource you adapt or create will never include these perspectives. Thanks to open licensing of OER, once a resource has been published, educators from other countries, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds can choose to remix your work for their course’s needs. The changes they make might include:

  • Translating an OER into a different language
  • Adjusting the content to meet the local cultural, regional, and geographical interests
  • Revising the material for a different learning environment

Another option for making your work more inclusive from the beginning is to consider inviting instructors and professionals in your field to contribute to your OER; however, you should be aware of the ways in which your project’s design may deter or welcome people of other ethnicities, races, and cultural backgrounds. You can also leverage OER-enabled pedagogy to solicit students in creating diversity for class materials. The goal being to ensure their voices and perspectives are authentic and accurately represented.

Some strategies for making your textbook more diverse and inclusive:

  • Acknowledge that your perspective is limited.
  • Consider how your social and cultural background is reflected in your content.
  • Identify which perspectives are and aren’t included in your content.
  • Consider which authors you’re citing and why – could you be more inclusive?
  • Think about how your textbook could be more diverse – for example, through pictures, names or examples.
  • Bridge the gap by inviting instructors or professionals in your field from different backgrounds to contribute to your open textbook.

 Optional Read: Enhancing inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) in OER

For more ideas on how to make OER more inclusive, browse through this guide on enhancing inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in OER.

Reflect: Strategies to make OER accessible and inclusive

What strategies can you use or pitch to others to make OER accessible and inclusive?

Key takeaways

In this chapter, we learnt:

  • ways to center equity, diversity, and inclusion in OER creation
  • how to make OER accessible
  • how to apply Universal Design for Learning principles to OER creation

Next week we’ll be exploring ways to publish and share your OER, as well as how you can measure its impact.


Bolger, M. (2020). What’s the difference between diversity, inclusion, and equity? General Assembly. Retrieved from https://generalassemb.ly/blog/diversity-inclusion-equity-differences-in-meaning/Links to an external site.

Sabik, N. (2021). The Intersectionality Toolbox: A Resource for Teaching and Applying an Intersectional Lens in Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2021.772301/full


This chapter has been adapted in part from:


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

CAUL Open Educational Resources Professional Development Program: Foundations Copyright © 2024 by Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book