What does Accessibility look like in a Digital World?
Once upon a time I spent my days travelling across Ontario, “training” students with disabilities how to use the technology given to them through the Specialized Equipment Amount (SEA) funding. Picture this, I show up to a school to ‘call-out’ a student with a disability to learn Assistive Technology. Looking at the faces of the students who were once again embarrassed by being singled out to work with a total stranger in a one-on-one situation, very often in a separate room, you get the uncool vibe pretty quickly.
There was a lot of tension in this model for me, I knew the students despised the approach, had anxiety over missing valuable class time, and I always left disheartened after returning the student to the classroom, and telling the teacher that the student was ready to use technology that was hard to pronounce and even harder to integrate into the regular rhythms of the academic tasks. To better address these issues, I modified the sessions by inviting the student to bring a friend. Shortly after this, we had groups of six or seven students eagerly learning how these tools could support all of them in their own academic journey: personalization. The greatest success was when we moved away from a training model and focused on embedding technology right in the classroom, with the students taking the lead on showing their teachers where and how these tools could support their own learning: student agency
Wanting to expand this model I left that position, and with my husband, Dustin Jez, established Fair Chance Learning where we believe every student deserves a fair chance. Nine years ago, we reimagined the potential of technology in the classroom. We flipped the accessibility conversation, wondering: what if you design your lesson and learning environment with the student with a disability at the centre - would the need for accommodations or modifications still exist? We have been having this conversation with school districts across Canada, and all who believe that education is a universal right.
So, as we approach the IncludEd: All Learners Welcome event hosted by our partner, Microsoft Canada, here are the two thoughts dominating my mind:
1. On Assistive Technology – Technology should be seamless and ubiquitous not assistive. We need to expect more of our technology and the experiences we are creating with it in our learning environments. In 2019 we need technology that meets our mobile, and agile learning needs rather than wasting valuable time learning how to adjust buttons and icons. Check out what Microsoft is working on in terms of creating technology that empowers each one of us.
2. Inclusive approaches to learning facilitated through igniting interest in STEM education: What I love about the STEM movement is that a lot of it focuses on the work of Seymour Papert. As I have learned from working with our FCL STEM colleagues, Papert believed that technology offered an opportunity for low floor, high ceiling tasks, to which Mitch Resnick added wide walls. How can you argue with that approach? A low floor, high ceiling, wide wall approach offers every student entry access and opportunities for growth. It is accessible, inclusive and accommodating. Furthering this, Microsoft’s Hacking STEM program, aims to lower accessibility barriers by offering meaningful and free STEM lessons that are affordable for schools to implement in their classrooms (a $1 per student in materials). I think it is easier for teachers to understand this approach as a design for their learning activities and ensures that students with disabilities or economic disadvantages are included in that design from the on-set.
We are proud to partner with Microsoft Canada at the IncludEd: All Learners Welcome event on May 6th, and with Microsoft HackingSTEM throughout the year. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how you can transform your pedagogical practice to offer all your students a more inclusive and accessible learning environment; giving every student of yours a fair chance in reaching their full learning potential.