The legacy of the paralympics on education

I missed most of the Olympics as was on holiday, but I watched as much of the Paralympics as possible, and I (like many others) have been blown away with the standard and the excitement that it has brought, but what has really pleased me is the media coverage (and positive media coverage) that it has achieved. When I taught, one my main subjects was around the area of ‘disability sport’ – and I remember during the 2000 Sydney Olympics the TV coverage was something like a very superficial 30minutes each evening, showing the main sports of athletics, swimming and wheelchair basketball and sports like boccia and goalball getting next to no coverage.

12 years later and channel 4 has broadcast over 400 hours of coverage, showing all sports, all athletes, and the programme ‘The last leg‘ I thought was superb, as it highlighted that we don’t have to be nervous discussing disabled people, it doesn’t matter if we occasionally get the terminology wrong (as long as it isn’t offensive) and disabled people don’t need to be wrapped in cotton wool, and treated like innocent kids all their lives.

So what impact will this have on our education system?

There is a huge opportunity for education to deliver the legacy that the games set out to create. Hopefully the physical education agenda will be addressed. There have regular media debates about the amount of PE on the curriculum, which I hope does increase, but we can also look at the attitude of PE. In the last 15 or so years there has been a move to widen sporting participation to all, which has unfortunately been translated into seriously reducing the competitive element of sport. I think there is a need for both, which the Paralympics to me has shown – many of the disabled athletes that were interviewed, echoed that competing (and winning) is what drives them and how that is an essential part of their life, and I hope a balance of meeting the needs of driven students can be met along with those that don’t like sport.

Outside of the PE agenda, there are also lessons to learn – watching the blind athletes playing football was amazing, and showed that a lack of vision does not render an individual incapable, similarly a lack of limbs is not a barrier to some amazing swims, jumps, throws and runs, and the archery competitor that used his feet to hold the bow, and his mouth to release the arrow shows the ability for some disabled individuals to find innovative ways to overcome perceived barriers. Hopefully when a disabled individual enters an educational establishment, their ability and potential isn’t prejudged by someone, that then holds them back from that point forth. The problem with the current model, is disabled students are assessed by an ‘expert’ within the organisation who comes up with a support plan identifying what adaptations are needed, and although this works for most, there are many people that end up with the wrong type or level of support, which rather than helping them, holds them back. Hopefully students, parents, carers and teachers will have the confidence to challenge these support plans if they think they need improving.

From a teaching perspective – there is an opportunity to better meet the needs of disabled learners. I have long preached the notion of inclusivity, which is rather than creating non-accessible practices and then using methods to overcome them – instead we look at what we are doing and create resources and practices that can be easily adapted (ideally by the student themselves). I know the CPD budgets are currently tight within organisations, but I think investing in CPD in this area would be a worthwhile investment, as learning inclusive techniques, will save the tutor time, will raise the standards of teaching for all learners, could reduce the learner support costs, and would help to produce a world beating education system.

One of the best training programmes for educators that would cover this, is the ITQ for accessible IT practice which I have been running for a few organisations over the last 18 months, and I think offers excellent value for money, as well as giving staff the opportunity to gain a recognised qualification.

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The accessibility benefits of using audio in teaching and learning

My last 2 posts in this blog, have looked at the use of audio within teaching and learning as follows:

In this post I want to think about some of the accessibility benefits and issues for this area of work. Firstly (and sadly) a lot of people use accessibility as an excuse not to use audio more, often stating that they don’t want to use audio in case they have a deaf learner in their class.
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This is a commonly misunderstood area – as (although it may sound silly) many deaf learners actually find audio content really useful. Agreed, if someone has no hearing then audio is of no use to them, but many people that are identified as being deaf have some hearing, and many of them will have hearing aids that will amplify noise so that they can hear something. For these learners accessing a lecture is often difficult as the hearing aids will pick up all noise in the room, including the lecturers voice, mutterings from other learners, the hum of the strip lighting, the squeaking of pens etc. making it very hard to hear. The use of induction loops has helped this issues to a certain extent, but still isn’t ideal, as you hear the tutors contribution but not necessarily what other learners say. If however as part of the process an audio file has been produced summarising the key learning points (and remember you can always get the learners to do this – see my post on ipadio) – a deaf learner can in a quiet environment (e.g. their bedroom) listen to this – altering the volume accordingly so that they can hear it through an ordinary audio player and pick up some extremely valuable information that would otherwise have been missed. With this in mind, when I record audio, I amplify the recording slightly (which is very easy to do with things like audacity) – as it is always possible to turn the volume down, but it isn’t possible to turn the volume up above its maximum.

Another question that I am often asked is “Do we need to provide a transcript for all the audio recordings we make?”. This question again is another barrier (excuse) that stops people using audio, as the time to create such a transcript puts them off.

Personally, my interpretation of the law (and I am not a lawyer – so do not take this as legal advice) is as follows:

The law (Equality Act 2010) states that

  1. We have to make reasonable adjustment.
  2. We have an anticipatory duty, to be prepared for a variety of disabilities and associated possible adaptations.

So – what does that mean? Part 1 is simple – yes if we are using audio and we have a learner who states that they need a transcription then we need to provide it.

Part 2 – is more tricky. Many people interpret this as we should produce the transcripts upfront, but this doesn’t make sense to me, as if we followed that logic through it would mean for every session someone delivers, they would have to turn up with their resources printed on a variety of colours of paper, in different fonts sizes and fonts, and in audio format, Braille format, videoed as British Sign Language etc. This to me wouldn’t be a reasonable expectation.

So I don’t automatically provide transcripts, however what I have done with a few organisations that I have worked with is ensure that there is a mechanism in place to create such transcripts if required (e.g. if a student asks for one) – very quickly (this I think is a reasonable adjustment). Many people ask me if there is a technological solution to converting audio to text, and sadly there isn’t a fully reliable one, so my solution would be to just employ a very fast typing temp, who could listen to the audio files, and transcribe them. The problem here is many organisation would then argue over whose budget would pay for this temp (e.g. is it central, is it the teaching team(s), is it learner support). Personally I think it should be a central budget – as the key here would be getting it done quickly and the organisation should have a procedure in place to do this if a student requests it. I am aware that most organisations don’t, which is a shame as it would be a very simple mechanism to put in place.

So in summary – we should not avoid using audio on accessibility grounds, instead we should embrace it, if we can make sure that audio recordings are clear and recorded at above average volume then great. If we do produce transcripts up front then brilliant but of not possible then having a mechanism in place to create them should suffice.