Temporary Disabilities

man with hand bandage wearing backpack standing

Staying within the theme of students with disabilities, I have been thinking about students with temporary disabilities, perhaps because I have seen a number of St. Clair College students recently on crutches. I expect that all colleges and universities provide acommodations for students with a temporary disabilities such as a broken arm, sprained ankle or other injury. A student comes in with a broken arm and I expect the reaction is: Well of course! You are going to need more time to write your test because you broke your writing hand! Often, temporary disabilities are obvious – you can see it!

Let’s do a self test. When you are asked for accomodations from a student with a broken arm, how do you react? Do you:

A. Ask them for a doctor’s note and copy of their xray to prove that their arm is broken?

B. Question them about if they REALLY need extra time to write their test? After all, employers aren’t going to want to give extra time!

C. Accept their excuse but call them out in class for making you do extra work by having to get their test to Student Services 48 hours in advance and making you go back there to pick it up!

D. Accept their accomodation plan and ask if there is anything else you can do to help them while they recover?

Do you think that my A – C answers are ridiculous? I do, but I have heard stories of students with other types of disabilities including learning disabilities and mental health issues describe these kinds of reactions from faculty and I have heard faculty express concerns about whether students with disabilities REALLY need them.

I just wonder, do we give students with invisible disabilities the same acceptance and care that we do for students with temporary disabilities? It is something to think about!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

SAD and my yearly descent in to madness

woman looking down reflected in a windo

I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It begins, for me, in September and I crash hard by November.  “Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year” (CAMH, 2018, para. 1). When I was pursuing post-secondary education, I had SAD but had not been diagnosed. That came after. My family doctor recognized this after reviewing my medical file and noticed that I had come to see him the first week of November for seven years in a row with the same complaint of feeling desperate and out of control.

I am starting ten days of vacation. I take the first week of November off every year as part of my SAD coping plan. Let me tell you what happens to me.

I call it a descent into madness purposefully. I have a physiological reaction to the lack of sunlight and the chemical processes that happen impact my physical and emotional state. SAD tells me lies. SAD tells me that I am worthless, useless and hopeless. SAD makes me want to sleep between 3 pm and 9 pm and won’t let me sleep at night. SAD gives me panic attacks that start once or twice a day and builds so that by the first week of November, I wake with a panic attack that sits in the core of my being and continues all day. SAD causes tears to run down my face for no logical reason, tears that I have no control over. SAD causes me to withdraw from family and friends. SAD makes me feel heartbroken and devastated. SAD tells me that I am a horrible person and a terrible mother. SAD tells me that nothing I do is good.

SAD tells me lies. So I use a set of coping skills to battle SAD. I use logic – intellectually, I know that I awesome and I have a good life. I don’t feel that way, but I can remind myself that this will end. This is probably the best thing about SAD, I know it will end. I know that at some point, usually in January, I will begin to have “happy to be me” thoughts again. But in the meantime, any compliment or any good thing that I do will be rejected.

I tell everyone that I have SAD and remind them that SAD season is coming. I tell my students, tutors, colleagues, and my boss. I tell my family and friends. I illicit their support and understanding. I do logic checks of my reactions, especially emotional ones to gauge if SAD is impacting me. I check with family and colleagues in case I need to reframe my overreactions. My friends forgive me when I disappear for a few weeks. My children strap on their SAD warrior gear and talk to me and hug me when I need it most. I have a SAD support group I can turn to with other SAD warriors who understand.

I use light therapy and supplements. I use antidepressants when I need to. I use my week off to be kind to myself, to embrace my SAD and work on resetting my internal clock. On my week off, I eat what I want to, I sleep when I want to, I cry when I want to, I feel all the things I feel fully. SAD is part of me and because of SAD I am more compassionate because I know what it feels like to be desperate, devastated, and heartbroken. I know what it feels like to need help and to get it and also to be judged for it. Trust me, it is better to get help when you need it.

For our students who have a mental health challenge, compassion and understanding is the best reaction you can give. These students are stronger than you can imagine and they deserve our help to learn and to succeed in their academic pursuits. As educators, let’s start with educating ourselves on mental illness and advocating for an end to stigma so that students can come freely to talk about what reasonable accommodations they need.

I’ve known for over 20 years that I have SAD. I have gotten good at coping with it and for asking for the help I need. But, here I am fighting with the SAD trying to decide whether to hit publish on this post. SAD is saying  I will be judged and fellow educators will reject me. I wonder who will win?

CAMH. (2018). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder

Photo by Tiago Bandeira on Unsplash

 

SAD lies to me.
I know it will end.
SAD is a part of me.
I wonder who will win.
A poem by Irene Stewart

Joy in Junk Mail

six black mail boxes on a wall

Lucas burst into my office and excitedly proclaimed “I read the junk mail! All of it!” Now you would think a 24-year-old young man would have better things to be excited about, but it was the first time he had ever done so.

When Lucas first started at St. Clair College, his Individual Education Plan (IEP) from highschool called for a reader and a scribe because of his learning disability. At the college level, we were striving for greater independence and had introduced him to speech-to-text and text-to-speech software. Text-to-speech software such as Kurzweil and Texthelp allow one to scan in printed material and the software will capture the text and read it out loud while highlighting the text on the original image. Textbooks can be converted to PDF files so that the student can see the page as it exists in the book and hear the text spoken in close to real life voices. For student with disabilities that interfere with reading skills, this makes text material more accessible and in a more timely fashion.

Listen to this post in a mp3 file produced with Text 2 Speech, a free online service that converts text using a basic quality computerized voice. This will give a flavour of what text sounds like for a student with disabilities although most commercial software has better voices.

While these tools have an impact on academics, it also has on impact on a student’s everyday life and provides opportunities for self advocacy and self actualization. For Lucas, it meant that for the first time, he was able to decide what was junk mail and not worth reading and what was of interest to him. Until the day he set up the scanner at home and was able to scan all the mail he received to read with Kurweil, he had relied on family members to sort through his mail and decide what was worth reading. Often, and understandably, the family members would read his mail and summarize what was in it because reading the whole document took a lot of time. All Lucas’ correspondence was filtered through what someone else determined as important. With Kurzweil, Lucas could decide for himself.

This filtering or bias happened for Lucas with a reader during tests as well. When Lucas would ask for a question to be read again (and again), there was a chance that the inflection, emphasis and body language of the reader would change and sometimes even show frustration, boredom or disbelief. Sometimes, Lucas got the impression that the reader though he was really stupid and would read the question slower and louder. With Kurzweil, Lucas could hear the question as many times as he chose and it would sound the same each time.

Kurzweil has other active learning tools that encourage students to use highlighters for important (to them) information, definitions, key terms and more. The software can extract the highlights to a separate document for study notes or to an mp3 portable audio document to listen to away from the computer. Here too, Lucas could listen to his text as often as he needed to without having to worry about someone becoming bored or frustrated and he could make decisions about which of the information presented was necessary for his study notes.

I have heard some faculty express frustration because testing centres at their institution require tests to be provided in advance, sometimes 48 hour before the test is to be written. Often, these tests need to be converted into a text-to-speech format and that does take staff time to prepare. It does mean that faculty have to prepare their tests in advance to meet those deadline but to me, use of text-to-speech software for students with disabilities who need it represents a better way of ensuring academic integrity where students can independently demonstrate their knowledge with no outside filters or bias.

Featured Image: Photo by Chris Kristiansen on Unsplash

When you can’t hear the phonemes

black swirl of letters

There is a part of me that has always hated the term learning disabilities. It is a weird label to hang on a child because they don’t perform as expected in our education system as their intelligence level would indicate in the areas of verbal and non-verbal information. We emphasis reading, writing and arithmetic. We don’t emphasis art or music. We don’t tell a student who is tone-deaf or sings off-key that they have a learning disability. We don’t tell a student who is color blind or unable to draw that they have a learning disability.

I don’t like it but I know that it is real and that there are learning strategies, technology and teaching techniques that make a difference. I know because both of my children have a diagnosed learning disability and I have the same, but undiagnosed, learning disability.

The Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario’s (LDAO) websites are excellent resources to learn more about learning disabilities and the kinds of supports that can help students with learning disabilities succeed in their education, their careers and their life. I say websites because in addition to the LDAO’s main site, they have developed website for students, parents and educators.

The LDAO’s official definition of learning disabilities is quite extensive.  Learning disabilities is not an easy concept to define. It begins with this statement:

“Learning Disabilities” refers to a variety of disorders that affect the acquisition, retention, understanding, organisation or use of verbal and/or non-verbal information. These disorders result from impairments in one or more psychological processes related to learning (a), in combination with otherwise average abilities essential for thinking and reasoning. Learning disabilities are specific not global impairments and as such are distinct from intellectual disabilities (LDAO, 2015).

There is a lot to unpack in this introduction. Learning disabilities are not one thing and not every student with a learning disability is impacted in the same way. The focus is on verbal and non-verbal information and all the things you can do with this information. It is the next part, I think, that sometimes gets lost – the idea that there is an impairment in combination with average, above average and genius level abilities for thinking and reasoning. The impairment, for lack of a better word, is specific, not global. Because of this, learning and teaching strategies and technology can mitigate the impairment and allow student to learn, to create and yes, even to teach equal to students without learning disabilities.

My impairment is phonological processing. I don’t hear the small units of sounds that letters make when you say them, the phonemes. Because I can’t hear them, it is really hard to reproduce them. This hits me two ways – I can’t sound out words in text that I don’t recognize and I can’t spell by sounding out words. I have many strategies that I use so that this does not, now, slow me down.

But there is one area that this continues to hamper me. I can’t pronounce most of my tutors’ names. My poor tutors repeat their names, and it doesn’t help because if I can’t hear the sounds and I can’t reproduce them. We go through this elaborate dance where we figure out smaller words that I already know that make up how to say their name and I write this down and practice. I wonder if they think I am crazy; I don’t ask. It is embarrassing and frustrating but I do it because I believe that figuring out how to say their names is important and because I want them to understand that when I get it wrong, it is not because I don’t respect them or that I don’t care.

I can’t do anything about the term learning disability or my dislike of it; thankfully, there are a lot of things I can about the one I have.

References

LDAO. (2015). Official definition of learning disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.ldao.ca/introduction-to-ldsadhd/what-are-lds/official-definition-of-lds/

Photo credits: Photo by Nathaniel Shuman on Unsplash

 

Taking on a new OntarioExtend Challenge

woman holding two gray handheld tools

9x9x25 Week Zero

Oh OntarioExtend, you keep coming up with new possibilities for growth and openness! The 9x9x25 Challenge is 9 posts in 9 weeks with at least 25 lines of musings about teaching and learning. I did like to center my post on the topic of Accessibility and Accommodations for students with disabilities.

There are a lot of options in this area. I can write about the Canadian Human Rights Code, the differences between academic accommodations between highschool and college, Assistive Technology, Learning Strategies, what we mean by mitigation, why we don’t modify outcomes in college, perceived privacy issues with audio taping lectures, why having a note taker has the risk of bias, and why you should hug your Student Services staff once in a while or at least share a coffee break with them.

I am excited to get started! About eleven years ago, I had the best job of my life. I was the Learning Strategist/Assistive Technologist for Thames Campus of St. Clair College. I loved that job. Working directly with students with disabilities, particularly with students with learning disabilities, was a privilege.

We have an education system that does not fit every student and students with the potential to learn should not be shut out because they don’t fit some weird definition of the average student. As much as we are working to change the education system, we still rely on teaching through lectures, textbooks and tests – and if you are good at those things, you will do well. But if there is something that stands in the way, you can be limited in what you can pursue and I think that is wrong.

Let’s take apprenticeships, just for a minute. You can be the greatest mechanic but if you have an Auditory Learning Disability and have difficulty with spelling and sounding out words you don’t immediately recognize, you may learn to cope by reading for meaning when you encounter one of these unknown words or if you could hear the word, you would know what it means. We require you to take and pass many multiple choice tests where the number of words is too low to really make use of reading for meaning and rarely can you get the accommodation of using a text to speech reader. Does that make sense? I am not going to ask you to complete a 20 multiple choice test before I let you fix my car! But the education system we have may block excellent mechanics from pursuing their dreams!

I have lots to say about Accessibility and Accommodations for students with disabilities. I hope you will come back over the nine weeks of the challenge and see what I come up with!

Featured image: Photo by Jia Ye on Unsplash

Empathizing with Tutors

Group photo of staff and tutors

It is time to return to the Technologist Module for OntarioExtend. The next step is to empathize with my tutors as the course I am exploring is Tutor Training.

At the end of the spring/summer semester, we held a leadership day and I asked for some feedback to help me complete is this activity.

This is the summary:

Dear 17-year-old Irene

Silohouette of a person in a misty field

It’s August 9, 1982, and you, my younger self, are feeling pretty good! You are registered at C.K.S.S. for your grade 12 year. No more Christian High School! You have hated the majority of the last three years. That whole “you can’t take Economics, you have to take Home Economics” fiasco was the last straw. You have your schedule and you are truly excited about going to school. A fresh start with people who don’t suck.

Brace yourself. Seriously, sit down.

Mom and Dad have been praying. God doesn’t want you to go to a public school.

You, my younger self, have to be the first one in your family to graduate from the Christian Highschool. Yup, when your brothers and sisters when to the school, it didn’t go all the way to Grade 12. Now, it does.

Put that down, you like that thing. Breaking it will not make you feel better.  Pfft, you call that swearing? Honey, you are in for a treat! By 53, you will have an amazing repertoire of swear words at your disposal!

Now, I am going to tell you something you already know. Mom and Dad believe they are doing the right thing because they love you and  want the best for you. They are wrong, of course, but their hearts are in the right place.  Later, you will learn to smile and nod. Smiling and nodding and then still doing your own thing will be important in the future.

I am not going to tell you too much more. You are going to be angry for a long time. You are going to do a lot of stupid things. You are going to do a lot of smart things. You will regret none of them. They will make you who you are at 53 and you are amazing. I promise, you will laugh more than you will cry.

Just keep doing what you are doing now: learn everything. Read anything. You want to know something, go learn about it. Don’t let someone else decide what you are allowed to know.

Now, stop scowling. You are not going to change their minds. Just get out some paper and a pencil and use that “dangerous” mind of yours to get a jump-start on figuring out how you are going to skip out of 49% of your classes for the next school year.  You won’t get a detention.

This is not the best time of your life. It’s coming, trust me!

Love,  53-year-old Irene

This letter is in response to #oext259 Daily Extend.

Featured image: Photo by Rob Potter on Unsplash

Lurking in #HEdigid

Small child peeking around the corner of a wall.

On Friday, July 13, 2018, I participated in my first slow twitter chat with Higher Education Digital Identity (a.k.a. #HEdigID) Chat. Once a month, on the second Friday, the assigned host, in this case @SuzanKoseoglu, posts 6 questions and the conversation usually continues over 24 hours. A transcript of the first 24 hours is collected and posted.

I experienced my first slow chat and my first twitter storm. A slow chat, unlike twitter chats that are scheduled over a one hour period, is a chat aimed at a larger population, across time zones or where internet connections are spotty. A slow chat can can last 8 to 24 hours. A twitter storm is a sudden surge in a topic or around a twitter thread where you receive notification of every addition and every like or retweet.

The conversation did not end after 24 hours, it continued through the weekend and into the next week in part because of lurking. This aspect, the idea that people listen in but don’t contribute – in twitter chats, online discussions, forums, online courses, MOOCs and more sparked both debate and analysis. I found it fascinating to hear perspectives from around the world and from different viewpoints as HE professionals discussed their thoughts as both leaders and users of discussions and courses.

I am a lurker. I lurked in the #HEdigid chat, for the most part. I contributed 9 tweets. It was my first slow chat. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what I might have to offer. Maybe next time, I will add more. Maybe not. In this round, it was connecting to the discussion that was valuable to me. Let’s just say, I was applying the Educational Theory  of Apprenticeship to slow twitter chats. I posted something to be a part of the conversation and then sat back and learned from others on both the topic and the manner in which they participated in the discourse.

Here is what I learned:

Curiosity. Respectful questions for clarity and understanding are welcome.

Sharing resources. Does the discussion remind you of your own work or someone elses? Share it.

Building on others comments. “Yes and” thoughts make for a fuller discussion.

Agreement. Your comment can simply to agree.

Make it personal. Your antidote regarding your approach, your thinking and your lived experience has value.

Compliments. Building up others is good.

Feel free to mute the twitter storm.

The conversation does not have to stop.

Finally, I would like to share two blog posts from Sue Watling as she continues to explore the question of digitally shy and lurking:

Featured Image: Photo by Aaron Mello on Unsplash

Day 2 – Reflecting on Building an Open Community

Making Sense of Open Education: Day 2 Building an Open Community – today’s learning centered on understanding a Community of Practice (CoP) and ways to find one. This connects neatly with my professional development efforts using OntarioExtend and my beginning development of a Professional Learning Network (PLN).

Let me begin by saying that I am very new at this. I have been working on my PLN for five weeks using Twitter. I am still sorting out what it is that I might be able to contribute.

In the readings, there were two aspects that struck a chord with me. In discussing the challenges of  CoPs, Hayman pointed out that:

elisabetta-foco-241-unsplash
Photo by Elisabetta Foco on Unsplash

“If you are a marginalized person in your local context and/or workplace, if you feel like your opinions and voice are not valued, joining a new community can feel very risky.” Making Sense of Open Education Day 2 by Jenni Hayman is licensed with a CC BY 4.0 International license

 

I hesitate to admit that I am a marginalized person because there is a potential backlash for even saying so. I am a faculty member, as outlined in our Collective Agreement, but because I work in Student Services, I am often discounted by faculty who teach in the classroom. Part the reason is the structures we work under where faculty who teach are in the Academic Sector and faculty (generally counsellors and librarians) in the Student Services are in another sector. When surveys or registrations require you to “pick a school,” faculty like me who are school-less, cannot be heard or participate (unless you complain). When information is disseminated by schools, I don’t hear about it. Because faculty who teach are the majority, the professional development opportunities are geared to their needs. This and other experiences leave me feeling as an other.

I struggle to not feel like an other in Open Education professional development experiences as well because I don’t teach in a traditional sense. I do small-scale teaching with one time workshops, training tutors, seminars and other out-of-class experiences for students. I work on pilot projects that don’t fit anywhere else but this could mean that I have more opportunities to be open.

So yes, joining a new community feels very risky! I don’t know if I will be accepted or if I have something to offer and I don’t want to just take from the community. But at the same time, being new to this PLN building, I have found lurking to be a good strategy.

annie-spratt-557166-unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“It’s also completely okay (you don’t need anyone’s permission) to observe the course and the behaviours and communication of others in the course as part of your learning. This is sometimes called “lurking” in the online teaching and learning environment, but it’s not a very positive term. Observing (as many new-to-something learners do) is a valuable activity in the learning process.” Making Sense of Open Education Day 2 by Jenni Hayman is licensed with a CC BY 4.0 International license

I am learning a lot by observing including how to participate, what kinds of things to post, how to respond to posts, and what the social norms are like in this online community. At the same time, I am finding thought leaders to follow, organizations of interest, technology I can use, sources of OER and lots of information about Open Education. Oh yea, and I am learning to blog too!

Featured Image Photo by Nathaniel Tetteh on Unsplash

NOTE: I am participating in a 15 day MOOC on Open University called Making Sense of Open Education and will blog entries to fulfil the activity requirement.

Where do you stand?

Native Land North America

On what land do you stand? Helen DeWaard’s recent post on Hospitality got me thinking again about what Indigenous territorial lands do I live on and territorial acknowledgements. I found this website, Native Land by Victor G Temprano (@nativelandnet). This is a searchable map that reports the nations, treaties and languages of the Indigenous Peoples for that area. Please review the About section of the website to understand how the project was started and how the map is created.

I want to acknowledge that I work on the traditional territories of : Anishinabek (ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᒃ),  Haudenosauneega Confederacy, Miami and Anishinaabe Nations.Native Land Map

I am using the information in the post to suggest a Daily Extend to the OntarioExtend project. If it is accepted and used, I will update this post with the details. In the meantime, check out Native Land and peruse the resources below for some more thoughts about territorial acknowledgement.

Update: This suggestion became a Daily Extend on June 6, 2018 https://extend-daily.ecampusontario.ca/oext196/

Start here with a questioning view of whether acknowledging Indigenous lands is a good thing:

âpihtawikosisân. (2016, September 23). Beyond territorial acknowledgments. |âpihtawikosisân.com.

Shahzad, R.  (2017, July 17). Why acknowledging the Indigenous lands we stand on is so important | CBC News.

Jones, A. (n.d.). Territory Acknowledgement | Native Land.

Canadian Association of University Teachers. (2017). Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples & Traditional Territory | CAUT.

University of British Columbia. (2018). Land Acknowledgements in Teaching and Learning | UBC