With World Hearing Day (3 March) came a flurry of awareness raising information on the promotion of assistive technologies and the prevention of hearing loss due to environmental factors – I for one was listening.
At the ANU, we had our local advocates including Ben Swift, Elizabeth Williams and Kylie Catchpole espousing appropriate educational responses to students with hearing impairments. Each in their own way imploring a student focused solution; hear from them in the video below.
From a personal perspective, twenty years ago, I succumbed to glasses and after another decade of denial I accepted my need for hearing aides. Without these two forms of assistance my ability to perform at work is highly compromised. I realise both conditions are age related and at best give me just a glimpse of what it must be like to live with more impactful disabilities.
Happily, I’m in the fortunate position of being able to easily compensate for my environmental needs without reliance on the accommodation of others. My hearing aides are adaptive to surroundings and can stream from audio sources directly; giving me some great options for remote access to web-based discussions and digital media. This is not the case for all afflicted by hearing loss.
There are many students with more severe hearing issues that do impact upon their ability to access educational facilities and resources. To a T, our local advocates were aware of potential student issues and in through their educational designs were taking action; making adjustments and seeking out the advice embedded in Education Adjustment Plans (EAPs).
In my previous career, I was a public school Principal regularly dealing with the need to make reasonable adjustments to my school buildings, classroom arrangements and curriculum offerings so that children with all manner of special needs could access their right to a quality education. Complicated as it was, the community reward (in welcoming the diversity) was enriching. Stretching accepted boundaries to better accommodate children who experience the world differently was for my school a public responsibility and privilege.
What we’re learning from both shared and individual experiences is that context, not so much ability, is more often the limiting factor restricting opportunity. Through universal design principles we’re dismantling learning and teaching barriers that we can all do without.
Action starts with awareness. I took World Hearing Day as a call to refresh my understanding of UDL – Universal Design for Learning. The concept is built on the original work of Ronald Lawrence Mace an architect who after contracting polio in 1950 spent the remainder of his life reliant on a wheelchair for his mobility. His dedication to making the made-environment more accessible was quickly translated in to education principles that espouse ‘difference is normal’ and accordingly’ let’s design for that reality’.
Over the coming months, I’ve made a commitment to further explore the learning spaces on our campus. Each month, along with John Debs and others, we’ll open the door to interesting learning spaces that welcome our attention. In fact, the July version of our Lunch Vox series is built upon this topic.
If you have an interest in the theme of Learning Spaces and would like to contribute to either awareness raising and/or discussion building send me a message and I’ll link you in to a community of like-minded colleagues.
Tim Grace is the Manager of the Education Communities and Environments (ECE) team – one of the three teams within the ANU Centre for Learning & Teaching (CLT).