Category Archives: Education

Experiential Teaching

Our talk at IgniteGuelph seems to have revitalized discussion surrounding the benefits of experiential teaching methods such as empathetic models and simulation exercises, and the opposition to these by many in the disability community which I hope to address here.

Our session at the University of Guelph on Accessibility Education a month after the IgniteGuelph event looked at a dozen and a half examples of accessibility curriculums. The majority of which included experiential teaching methods, and all of those lauded the benefits as well. In fact, in the medical education system, where accessibility and disability education has enjoyed the longest history, the use of standardized patients is now a “mainstay” and the “substantial majority of medical schools use the standardized patient exercise to teach clinical skills and / or to assess clinical competence” and “the strengths render the standardized patient approach particularly well suited for teaching students about disability”.

The reasons for including experiential methods when teaching disability to medical students are numerous. One Occupational Therapy program used the days students spent in wheelchairs to both see what future patients encounter in terms of barriers but also to which muscles are required to maneuver and use the chair itself. But perhaps the two most important benefits of including experiential methods to teach disability to medical students is that the “allow for “teachable moments to be created, rather than waited for” and “reinforce role of patient as authoritative source of knowledge”.   

Two of the biggest arguments against experiential teaching methods are that they focus primarily on the limitations of disabilities and that disability can’t be taught.

Now I could use dozens of quotations extolling the virtues of experiential education by scholars, staff, and students but prefer instead to deal with my own personal experiences and motivations. What follows is not meant to be a justification, simply an explanation of our motivations for using them and what we see as the benefit.

I think that it is the objective of the teaching that is the most important factor in the debate, not the actual use of techniques themselves. At Roll a Mile, our use of such training methods is to increase awareness about accessibility and barriers to access. We are not attempting to teach about disability, we are trying to increase accessibility. Awareness is key to doing this, and while a few minutes spent ‘rolling a mile’ in a wheelchair will never get close to illuminating all of the accommodations, adaptations and barriers faced on a daily basis by someone who uses a wheelchair regularly, but it can raise awareness. And raising awareness is a good thing when it comes to barrier removal and increasing accessibility. I suppose my motives are selfish really, by raising awareness and increasing accessibility, I can more readily buy toothpaste.

I agree that disability is difficult to teach. To accurately simulate chronic-pain one would have to inflict constant, yet random, blows to the body with a baseball bat all the while having young children scream continuously in their ear. According to a jury-of-my-peers, this is not permissible. But seriously, using chronic, debilitating pain as an example, it would take years to properly simulate. Literally years. Years of slowly having every aspect of one’s life affected. Of losing family, friends and worst of all, your ability. Years to go through the stages of grief as you mourn the life you thought you would have, the functions you’ve lost. Years of losing your job(s), your savings, your car, your house, and your independence. Years of learning acceptance, adaptation and working within limitations. Years of adjusting to frequent medical visits to be poked and prodded, to have fluids removed and injected. Years of tests, and doctors, and the whole dysfunctional healthcare system. It would take years to properly convey to someone what living with chronic pain is like. Truly replicating any disability is impossible. Especially considering every disability is as unique as the individual with them.

And as for the concern that empathetic models tend to focus on the limitations of disability, I cannot help but strongly disagree. In my experience, anyone that ascends a ramp using a manual wheelchair, cannot help but gain a new awareness, appreciation and even admiration for anyone who does so on a regular basis. However, the use of terms like “capability-compromising exercises” does not serve to help the cause. At Roll a Mile we use “differing circumstance” models and simulation exercises that, rather than only exposing limitations, focus on adaptations and accommodations while providing firsthand familiarity with barriers to access. And it is this first-hand experience that we feel enable our participants to not only learn more, but to retain and engage more.

Teaching the rules and regulations of accessibility and the A.O.D.A. are important, but so to is ‘going beyond the building code’ to understanding the rationale behind the regulation. Accessibility needs to be presented from more than just that of policies, procedures and physical structures. We go beyond compliance as legislated accessibility is not actual accessibility.

Unfortunately, unless personally affected, most simply aren’t aware of issues of accessibility. And the truth is that most barriers to access exist simply as a lack of understanding, not an act of malice. The example I like to give for that is a local medical facility that had put a small table to act as a sanitation-station outside the entrance to an office. In this instance, the Building Code required clear-space, but really, doctors and nurses cannot be expected to know the Building Code, let alone how much additional effort is required by a person using a manual wheelchair or walker to gain entry when there is no clear space. Simply bringing this to the attention of the correct person resulted in removal of the barrier. Awareness is key to accessibility. And first-hand experiences can raise awareness significantly.

At Roll a Mile, our desired outcome is not to teach disability, but to increase awareness about accessibility and barriers to access. Our sessions and scenarios are tailored to reflect workplace realities so staff are able to provide proactive, adaptive, accommodating service and strive for understanding and awareness over empathy or pity. And we use empathetic models and simulation exercises to do it, because we truly believe their benefits outweigh their negatives.

U of Guelph Session “An Accessibility Curriculum”

Our session at the 5th Annual University of Guelph’s The Accessibility Conference May 29, 2013

 ”An Accessibility Curriculum”

First, I would like to note that the objective of this session was merely to facilitate a discussion about including accessibility in the curriculum and to review some examples of existing accessibility curricula. We truly believe that an accessible society begins with strategic implementation of accessibility into curricula across all disciplines to create a future generation of accessibility minded individuals creating accessible products, services and spaces. Any discussion around this is beneficial, however, ideally  accessibility education should be standardized and delivered by qualified individuals and institutions.

Second, I would like to thank Sarah White for her invaluable contribution to the session providing her practical experience designing, implementing and instructing the accessibility program at Durham College.

An accessible educational curriculum that includes accessibility

Our Session @ The Accessibility Conference – Solutions for Inclusion, University of Guelph, May 28 & 29, 2013

Session Date: Wednesday, May 29, 201

Description: Making teaching accessible is as important as teaching accessibility. Re-framing the narrative beyond making the curriculum accessible, we explore the importance of including accessibility in the curriculum, analyzing opportunities and experiences of the Japanese and UK models that strategically implemented accessibility in a broad range of curriculum, thus creating a future generation of accessibility minded individuals. An accessible Ontario by 2025 includes educational curriculum that incorporate accessibility across all disciplines.

Objectives: Education has an important role to play in fostering the kind of change that will result in the immediate and long-term success of the A.O.D.A. An accessible society begins with strategic implementation of accessibility into curriculum across all disciplines to create a future generation of accessibility minded individuals creating accessible products, services and spaces. We will explore the opportunities and experiences of models that have strategically implemented accessibility and discuss items for inclusion.
The session will:

  • Analyze the opportunities and experiences of other educational models of accessibility curriculum implementation
  • Outline benefits and possibilities presented by the inclusion of accessibility awareness training;
  • Review current Canadian accessibility curriculum such as those being delivered through dedicated disability, healthcare, technological and design programs;
  • Discuss practical solutions for integrating accessibility into the curriculum and explore what a strategically addressed accessible curriculum might look like including who, what, when, where, and how.

Speaker Bio(s): With over a decade spent as a disabled consumer, patient, employee, accessibility advocate, business owner and consultant, first-hand experience with barriers to access and frustration with inaccessibility led Donna to found accessibility firm Roll a Mile and provides her a unique ability to advise on adaptation, accommodation and accessibility from a unique perspective. Or, in the words of her brother, “turns out the soapbox just needed a ramp”.

With a twenty year background as business and marketing advisor, both through her own company and the local Small Business Enterprise Centre, Donna has extensive and proven experience in the wholesale, retail, non-profit, financial, loyalty, online, service, manufacturing, tourism, economic development and public sectors. With a proven track record of developing strategic business and marketing strategy for any business model in any market segment, Donna works assisting businesses, organizations, and institutions implement and improve accessibility and dedicates herself to awareness and advocacy.

For More Information regarding The Accessibility Conference:

Accessibility and the Education Curriculum

With all businesses in Ontario are now required under the A.O.D.A, (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005) to comply with new accessibility laws, accessibility awareness training is now vital for all trades and disciplines.

When it comes to accessibility and education, the focus to date has been on making teaching and curriculums accessible. This is necessary, and will have far-reaching, favourable benefits as increasing access significantly impacts attainment levels. Education has an important role to play in fostering the kind of change that will result in both the immediate and long-term success of the AODA and accessibility, and as such, we need to reframe the accessibility narrative beyond making the curriculum accessible to explore the importance of including accessibility in the curriculum.

Both Japan and the UK present us with precedence of successful accessibility implementation, where accessibility was not limited to design alone, but strategically implemented in a broad range of curriculums representing future “policy makers, technologists and bureaucrats”.

Educational institutions have an active roll in building toward an accessible Ontario through the inclusion of accessibility awareness curriculums and training. As most barriers to access exist simply as a result of lack of awareness, awareness is key to accessibility. Lack of awareness is exacerbated by attitudinal barriers and misperceptions about the cost of implementation, resulting in barriers to access, inaccessibility, and non-compliance. Expanding awareness about these: issues, obligations, regulations and compliance requirements; barriers to access; the cost-effectiveness of accessibility; and the benefits and opportunities of inclusion will result in improved accessibility and accommodation, barrier removal, and the effective provision of goods or services to persons with disabilities.

The possibilities and opportunities accessibility and inclusion provide are immeasurable, encouraging and enabling participation and integration for all citizens in aspects of all aspects of society including employment, consumerism, and recreation. Accessibility is becoming increasingly important as our population ages and disabilities increase. For businesses, accessibility expands the reach of their product or service to the entire market while improving corporate perception, customer satisfaction and consumer loyalty. And as accessibility benefits all aspects of society, improved accessibility resulting from increased accessibility awareness will benefit all.

Imagine the benefits the following disciplines could gain from a curriculum that includes accessibility awareness training for a better understanding of barriers to access and accessibility;

– architects

- administrators

- security

- designers

- engineers

- healthcare

– web developers

- planners

- business management

- human resources

- marketing

- advertising

- hospitality

- tourism

- recreation

– computer engineering.

- criminal justice

-social services

- info. sciences

To be successful, accessibility awareness curriculums should provide an increased understanding

of disability and barriers to access and develop an appreciation of the benefits of accessibility and inclusion. Outlining obligations, requirements, and purposes of the A.O.D.A., as well as discussing core principles of independence, dignity, integration, and equality of opportunity, addressing the varying barriers for physical, hearing, intellectual, learning, visual and speech disabilities.

In addition, curriculums should address the rationale behind the regulation and compare legislated accessibility to actual accessibility. Providing solutions for accommodation so students can develop techniques, practical strategies and adaptive service skills and attitudes to create appropriate and effective methods of incorporating accessibility and accommodation into specific disciplines and fields of study is imperative.

With the government of Ontario planning toward an accessible Province by 2025, it is only logical to begin accessibility training now.

For more information