In our current world, technology has become more important than ever; it has evolved to become less so a form of entertainment or consumption, but more so as a medium of connection. Leveraging BIBC’s current technology to suit the needs of its diverse group of students is vital to ensure an unparalleled learning experience - particularly to students with disabilities or special needs, who would benefit from such initiatives.
I sometimes think of all the talent we lose due to improper accommodation. Every student deserves the right to grow and succeed to their desired capacity, regardless of what outward differences may require adjustments. Each person contains potential and has the capacity to thrive and contribute in a meaningful way to society. Imagine, if we had given up on Hawking upon the onset of his disease! BIBC has the necessary tools and resources to grant this journey of growth to every student - it is only right that we utilize our means to do so.
How can BIBC drive engagement with its technology for students with learning disabilities?
To understand our target audience, our team first looked at the personas of those with learning disabilities. Not all disabilities are the same - each comes with its own unique needs and necessary accommodations with proper learning.
BIBC would benefit from the identification of certain personas and major issues that often come into play with disabilities. Below are some examples:
Blind students, colourblind students or students with dyslexia often find it difficult to understand visuals, diagrams, or are unable to read the text. As students facing visual learning difficulties, they would prefer accommodations that cater to audio learning in addition to visual components.
Deaf/hard of hearing students face difficulty understanding audio in videos without subtitles. As students with hearing disabilities, they would prefer the use of visuals in addition to their learning materials.
Students with ADHD or hyperactive disorder may find it difficult to sit in one place for a long time or read dense paragraphs of text. Although they may have an active desire to learn, their disorder prevents them - they will learn best from material that is broken up into more digestible quantities.
BIBC should introduce technologies that address these major barriers and provide easier access for these user personas. These would be delivered by expanding delivery methods and including different features available to modify existing material.
What initiatives should BIBC put into place?
BIBC needs to incorporate both audio and visual components to all of its material in order to accommodate the needs of blind/deaf students.
Additionally, it would be beneficial to include podcasts as a learning delivery method for students who may prefer audio learning. This transcends the barrier of sight to those with dyslexia and vision loss and allows for relatively basic implementation. With every written text, there should be a feature where users are able to have the material read to them by a robot in order to glean its contents, including transcribed lectures.
BIBC’s website should be conscious of its colour scheme. Using a relatively simple palette of colours, such as green, white and black, and including black text, which is the most readable, would be conscious of the needs of colourblind students.
Captions on videos would be useful to those hard of hearing and essential to those who are deaf. Incorporating visual components into lectures and material would also aid in this function, as well as subtitles, which negates the need for sign language translators to those who may not be familiar with ALS.
Lastly, those with attention disorders should have their work split up into manageable chunks depending on their personal needs. They should be encouraged to take breaks, prioritize their mental health, and choose learning options best suited to them. This is yet another reason why having multiple delivery options in the form of audio lectures, podcasts, transcripts, etc. is essential - it allows students more choice in terms of picking a learning style most suited to themselves.
Positive change and progression, like all things, stem from a human component. As we progress into the school year, although overshadowed by the presence of the still-existing pandemic, BIBC’s peers can take the following steps to foster an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students:
Treat disabilities not as an obstacle obstructing growth or ‘full potential’
Remind students that they are enough. Disabilities are often treated as a constant obstacle, a differentiating factor, or otherwise as an obstruction to someone’s ‘full potential.’ We should focus less on telling students (or everyday individuals) with disabilities that ‘they can do anything!’ and point them towards the stars, telling them to leap, but instead tell them that what they can do is enough. They are enough. There is no need to expect them to be more than they are, but keep in mind what they are already capable of - it’s a lot!
Reflect on unconscious bias - reflect on yourself
Many of us carry internalized biases against It is not our intention to be biased, but merely a result of societal influences or how we are raised. BIBC and its partners should keep this in mind and make every effort to eradicate and minimize this bias by reflecting on themselves, their actions, and their perceptions towards people with learning disabilities. Question yourself and the way you perceive people. Why are you treating someone the way that you are? Why do you think of them a certain way? Patience and kindness are key - it is our duty to unlearn unconscious bias and recognize it within ourselves.
Listen and prioritize the voices of the affected
Being that these technologies are meant to engage and support students with learning disabilities, it is imperative we listen to their voices and give their feedback a higher priority. After all, they are the ones being affected by it and have direct experience with potential barriers to their learning. When dealing with a service that impacts a certain audience, it is crucial we listen to that audience. This seems like common sense, but can sometimes be forgotten in the logistics of all operations.
Take the extra step: use inclusive language and adopt inclusive practices
BIBC should aim to foster a culture of inclusivity by always keeping those with disabilities in mind. Our peers should make accommodations for special needs students in every initiative they roll out and prioritize them equally with non-special needs students. Similarly, avoiding ableist language or slurs - such as using the word ‘retarded’ or calling someone ‘slow’ or ‘lame’ - is also essential to fostering this work environment. Management should be educated on using inclusive language and appropriate discipline employees when they use inappropriate terms. BIBC should aim to foster a culture where it is encouraged, and not shameful, to call someone out when they are conducting this behaviour.