AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.


The John Kelly Award for UDL in Further & Higher Education

What ARE the John Kelly AwardS?

The John Kelly Award for Universal Design in Further and Higher Education recognises the innovative practice of teaching staff in further and higher education engaging with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework to deliver a more inclusive learning experience for their students. It is targeted at practitioners who have demonstrated their emergent commitment to UDL by undertaking the Digital Badge for Universal Design in Teaching & Learning and making exciting changes to their practice above and beyond their initial redesign. This year, AHEAD and UCD Access & Lifelong Learning have teamed up to expand the awards with three categories: one individual award in Higher Education, one in Further Education & Training, and one for UDL in Collaboration. This final category is aimed at higher education institutions (HEIs) and education and training boards (ETBs)  who have used the Digital Badge to systematically develop UDL capacity in their college/centre, such as the development of communities of practice, institutional projects and new strategic actions. In part, the award aims to celebrate and promote the use of UDL in further education and higher education settings.

View the Poster Submissions



Individual Award: Anita Byrne - DKIT

Collaborative Award: Atlantic Technological University

One to watch: Emer Thornbury - NCI, Donegal ETB 



Individual Award:

Tara O'Halloran Cronin - Kerry College

Elaine Wallace - University of Galway

Cormac Flynn - ATU

Lucia Cloonan - ATU

Treasa Campbell - MIC

Anita Byrne - DKIT

Collaborative Award:

Atlantic Technological University

National Learning Network

University College Cork

University of Limerick

One to watch 

Emer Thornbury - NCI

Donegal ETB 


 Background on the UDL Badge 

As part of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning's open access digital badge initiative, AHEAD and UCD Access & Lifelong Learning teamed up to create the digital badge for Universal Design in Teaching & Learning.

In short, together we designed instructions and learning materials for a short introductory professional development course on universal design for learning and in partnership with the Forum, made these materials freely available to institutions interested in rolling it out locally by suitable course facilitators.

Every participant who completes the course makes real change to their practice and receives the Forum's Digital Badge for Universal Design in Teaching & Learning in recognition of their work. You can find out more information about the digital badge for Universal Design in Teaching & Learning here.

 The Story of the John Kelly Awards 

In 2018, AHEAD celebrated 30 years of shaping a future where students with disabilities can succeed. The origins of the organisation start in University College Dublin in 1988 when then Registrar Prof. John Kelly decided to do something about the challenges facing students with disabilities in his institution. Prof. Kelly led a movement right from the beginning which developed into the founding of AHEAD and he remained central to the organisation as Chair of the Board of AHEAD until 2005. In 2019, AHEAD launched the John Kelly Award for Universal Design in Teaching and Learning in honour of his work in the field. Now in 2022, the awards have been redeveloped to serve a wider cohort of the UDL community and to allow for further categories to be developed over time.  For more about this history of AHEAD, click here to read our story.

Prof. John Kelly celebrates AHEAD's 30th birthday with AHEAD Director Ann Heelan and the rest of the AHEAD team

Prof. John Kelly celebrates AHEAD's 30th birthday with AHEAD Director Ann Heelan and the rest of the AHEAD team

 Who is Eligible to Apply for the John Kelly Award?

Individual Award: These awards celebrate individuals who are engaging in innovative and excellent practice using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and who deliver a more inclusive learning experience for their students. It is targeted at practitioners who have demonstrated their commitment to UDL by completing the Digital Badge in Universal Design for Teaching & Learning, and who are making exciting changes to their practice as a result of this. Applicants must demonstrate how their practice has developed and expanded beyond the scope of what was required of them when completing the Digital Badge. This is not limited to academic/teaching staff. There will be an individual award for Further Education and Training and an award for Higher Education.


Collaborative Award: This award will honour institutions and organisations who are developing a systematic approach to embedding UDL into their institutional/organisational culture, practices, structures, and policies. This application should be made on behalf of a group of colleagues who are collaborating to embed UDL within their specific contexts. This group can be a centre within an ETB, or an entire ETB or College/School within a HEI or on behalf of the institution/organisation as a whole.

In order to give UDL implementation in Ireland further exposure and recognition, AHEAD and UCD ALL will create a publication celebrating the good practice displayed in the applications submitted and the successful winners.

 How to Apply

Applicants are asked to complete the below forms. Applications will be scored based on the rubrics which are available to download. Please complete all sections of the form, including the privacy statement at the end.

Should you wish to submit a video application, this should be clearly structured based on the below questions of between 15-20 minutes. Applications will be reviewed based on the evidence provided and not the production value of the video.

Applications are only open to staff of organisations within the Republic of Ireland.

The purpose of the applications is to:

  • Outline the context before the UDL journey was started
  • Demonstrate the steps that have been taken so far towards embedding UDL
  • Share future plans to build on the good practice identified

The Individual Award application form is the same for FET and HE.

For the Collaborative Award, the application is submitted by a lead applicant on behalf of their organisation. Only one application can be made per entity. Endorsement from senior management is required. Completed application forms must be sent via email to both Daniel Elliott, UCD daniel.elliott@ucd.ie.

**Applications open April 25th until June 19th.**

Individual Award Application


Collaboration Award Application


Individual Award Rubrics


Collaboration Award Rubrics


 How it Works 

Once the submission date has passed, initial screening will be conducted by AHEAD and UCD Access & Lifelong Learning. A panel of international experts will review each application and score based on the rubrics. The three applications per category with the highest score will be shortlisted. Feedback will be provided to all applicants.

To be eligible to win the overall prize, shortlisted applicants must give a short presentation as part of the John Kelly Awards Final Ceremony in October 2022. An expert judging panel in attendance will then meet behind closed doors to discuss the presentations of the shortlist and select an overall winner, which will be announced at the event.



For queries about the application process, please contact Daniel Elliott, UCD daniel.elliott@ucd.ie.

In partnership with UCD 

This initiative is delivered by AHEAD and UCD as part of key strategic partnership to promote universal design in further and higher education

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Creating Inclusive Environments in Education and Employment for People with Disabilities

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