There are 2 aspects to consider when making crafting accessible. One is cost – which I’ll discuss in a later post, the other how you teach and how you make adjustments to your teaching style, which is the aim of this post.
Its impossible to plan for every eventuality as there are many factors impacting on learning, from health conditions to anxiety about personal circumstances or hang ups about experiences at school. This post is part of a series concentrating on disability awareness however, so this is where we’ll focus for now.
The word clouds below give you an overview of some of the impairments that might cause learners to struggle in classes, they do not cover everything and I’m sure you can add more suggestions of your own, based on your own experiences. They are simply designed to give you an idea of some of the areas you might need to consider when planning lessons or preparing learning materials:
This might seem overwhelming, but when you look at the variety of causes its possible to pick out some common themes:
1, Ability to take in and process information
2. Ability to concentrate
3. Manual and physical dexterity
4. Accessibility of written information
5. Physical environment
Once you’ve considered those factors its possible to come up with some solutions to potential problems in advance.
in order to do this , you either need to ask the student if there are problems in advance or plan for all eventualities
To ask or not to ask?
Ultimately it is the student’s responsibility and choice whether to let you, the tutor know there is a problem and they need you to make some reasonable adjustments to help them participate in your class. Its worth reviewing how you take bookings to ensure you ask the question and have made a note of the student’s response. This provides you with evidence that the student chose not to disclose they had a problem. This is fine if bookings are taken in writing – a simple box on the bottom of the page asking them to tick if they consider themselves to have a disability or barrier to learning, accompanied by a space for them to let you know what they need is fine. But if you book over the phone – its more tricky as you can get into a “He said, She said” type dialogue. But if you can show that you keep records like this for all clients, again this should give you some protection legally.
People who have impairments often tire more easily than others – their brain or body is working up to 1o times as hard as a person with no impairments to keep up. They might also find it hard to read written instructions, or struggle with font sizes, ink or paper colours. The student might not be able to hear you or find you difficult to lip read from – this is especially true for men with facial hair! They may only retain part of the information or struggle to translate information into action. Some students might grasp what you’re saying but come back to the next class and appear to have forgotten everything. This is especially true of those with memory impairments, brain injury and conditions like dyspraxia as their “internal filing system” can be faulty. Others might struggle to sit for long, conditions like ADHD and those causing chronic pain can make sitting difficult. Manual dexterity can be a problem too, arthritis, MS, cerebral palsy for example make it difficult to co-ordinate actions. Other people might take medication that requires them to drink alot or make frequent trips to the loo. Others might experience seizures or absence episodes whilst some might find the classroom situation causes them to feel anxious.
This short paragraph makes the problem seem huge but tweaking your teaching style to accomodate this wide range of needs can benefit all your students:
1. As part of your welcome let your students know its ok to get up and have a stretch, help themselves to drinks and nip out to the loo – it might seem obvious but if they’ve not been in a class since they left school, it won’t be.
2. Run through the lesson plan with them and explain how you’ll teach each step – say that you can come and sit with people individually too and encourage the class to help each other – teaching someone something you’ve just learned really helps you retain things
3. Plan in breaks and have refreshements on hand if the type of lesson you’re offering allows it. Aim for at least 1 30 min break for every 2 hours teaching.
4. Print off all learning materials in black ink on white paper in size 14 – 16 font, most people find this easiest to read. When using white boards / flip charts stick to blue or black markers
5. Include plenty of diagrams when you’re teaching a practical skill
6. Provide links to online tutorials that re-inforce the learning from your class
7. Have an alternative plan or way of adapting the lesson if someone is really struggling – you can negotiate suggestions one to one.
8. Have a range of tools available if needed – for example some people might find having a thicker object easier to handle – you can buy sponge pipe cladding from DIY stores that can be used to make easy grip handles
9. Think about having sticky mats for skills involving fine control that stop the objects flying off tables if the person’s hand slips
10. Think about how the room is laid out, can everyone see you? Is there space between tables to get a wheelchair around? Is it eady to adjust the room temperature? Is there space between chairs? Are the chairs comfortable? Can you access alternatives?
During the Lesson
1. Repeat demonstrations a couple of times, invite questions, try and vary what you say, keep things short and simple
2. Move around the room and see how the learners are getting on – sometimes its easier to admit you’re stuck if you don’t have to put your hand up
3. Sit with learners who are struggling and repeat demonstrations and explantions, ask them to show you or explain to you
4. Remind learners they can get up and move around, help themselves to drinks etc
5. If a learner has a problem with the written material and hasn’t warned you in advance – offer to email them the notes so they can print them at home – some people with sight impairment or severe dyslexia prefer this as they have specialist software at home that helps.
6. If a learner needs to bring a support worker, make them welcome, include them in group activities but make sure you’ve offered a free place!
7. Whilst its good practice to turn phones off, some learners may have alarms set to remind them to take meds. If a learner is also a carer, they’ll need their phone on too. So think carefully about how you introduce this.
8. Stick to planned break and meal times – if someone has diabetes then they need to plan their medication around this!
9. If someone is taken unwell, stay calm and deal with the situation. If they have seizures for example they may not need to go to hospital but take some time out to rest – find out before the lesson if possible. If you are aware of what’s “normal” for the person, then you can be more confident when dealing with “emergencies”. If in doubt though, call the emergency services!
Examples from Practice
1 Learner with Specific Learning Difficulties
This lady, lets call her Anna, came along to a crochet class. She warned me it had taken her years to learn to knit as she has dyspraxia, dyslexia and a range of other problems. She coped really well with the first lesson when we were working in chain stitch and double crochet. When we returned for another lesson, it quickly became evident she’d forgotten all she’d learned in the last lesson. She was really cross and upset and said she’d also had a bad day in college – her tutor had given her a hard time about not remembering some aspects of a maths course – and she didn’t think she could do it today. She decided in the end to sit and practice chain stitch which helped her regain her confidence.
2. Learner with moderate learning difficulties
“Jane” came along to make a crochet cushion over a 3 week course, accompanied by a support worker. She managed to do chain stitch and double crochet really well but treble just confused and frustrated her. We sat down and had a chat and she chose to keep on practicing chain and double crochet. Her support worker learned from me and then sat with “Jane” for the lesson. When she returned the following week, she said she really wanted to stick to chain stitch so we designed a cushion made from coiled chains. We started making it up on the 3rd week – as the other students were doing well I was able to spend a good hour helping her and then her support worker took over. She was pleased with her achievement and having something to show for the course.
3. Learner with neurological issues
This is my story of my experiences on a teaching course. I have chronic pain, changes in sensation and dystonic muscle spasms that make it difficult to undertake a sustained activity. I also use a wheelchair. Part of the course involved teaching a class and there was lots of written work. The classroom wasn’t brilliant at accomodating a wheelchair either. However the tutor was brilliant at finding alternatives and at stopping lessons to get furniture shifted if needed. She also made it clear to all of us that being able to write on the board wasn’t essential – we could ask the learners to do so themselves! As the course went on I relaxed, the class tended to ignore my spasms when they happened and just accepted me for who I was. And it made a huge difference – because I was able to see that by being a bit inventive there was nothing to stop me teaching!
Please remember as a teacher, your attitude can make or break a student’s attitude to learning – one bad experience can be enough to stop them coming back. So be patient, be flexible and above all, listen to the learner. They live with their impairments and know them inside out – which often means they know how to get round the problems their impairments present. Ask questions tactfully and be honest about anything you as a teacher don’t understand – most people love the opportunity to talk about themselves and will willingly explain,
Our next installment will look at the thorny issue of “FUNDING”!!