“ Accessibility is at its best when you don’t notice it”( Raisa Ticklén)
When it comes to accessibility and technology, the inspiration was to look around at other stakeholders that have invested for a long time in innovation, in technology, to ensure accessibility for all. This was in my case the Finnish Visual Impaired Association. Now schools are coming to see what has been done that works so well, so they can take these lessons in their environments.
Why accessibility when considering technology? Technology is supposed to be a tool that would assist education transformation, and we have been missing this, says as well Kirsti Lonka (2019) “when it comes to digitalization, this has not YET been successful”. Our interest is to see our blind spots ( doing the same things expecting different results), step in the future with our thinking and then turn to reconsider how can we approach this with fresh new perspectives. This is what we have experienced by being with the Finnish Visual Impaired Association and in their amazing environment.
“ Smart technology is the one that makes people feel smart”( Lonka, 2019)
Here are some reflections from being and learning in the Finnish Visual Impaired Association accessible spaces and an invitation to envision it from your context and see what are your takeaways:
To set some background on these lessons learned I will share that during our teachers’ programs we experienced something called “coffee in the dark”. There is a certain preparation for the group to feel safe and trust the quality of the learning container, then the learning can happen. I am grateful for the care, gentile, and open learning relation, our hosts there Teemu and Raisa, and their colleagues showed us. This experience opened and allowed our learning fully and I bring this to the reader.
Elements of learning spaces that would allow technology to be transformative
- Light. For learning purposes and wellbeing, we need a space with good lighting, sunlight varies we bring consideration to this aspect. There has been a lot of research and if this is your interest of attention there are plenty of Living Lab experiences and research to support the type of lightning.
- Easy layout. Easy to understand and create a mental map of space to learn, simplicity becomes innovation.
- Plenty of tactile. Different surfaces, and materials, ensure the tactile experience will make the place feel comfortable, going back to the maps allows the mind to create its maps hence building up trust and safety conditions needed for the learning to be possible.
- Acoustics. Sounds are important, and a classroom space where we considered proofing materials. “ that is why I did not want to speak in the corridor, I cannot say if everyone pays attention to me”, says Raisa. Noise, especially corridor constant background noise, makes us tired and it is very difficult to build up the capacity to listen, to quie, oneself and be able to pay attention.
- Empathy. A space where you are able to pay attention, to listen without factors of distraction, builds empathy. In a podcast series, I host called Reimagined education with voices of the young ones, high school students from Lithuania, envisioned technology that would facilitate communication for their more emotionally challenging situations to otherways very busy teachers (isn’t this technology that you would like as partnering with in the future schools?)
- Inclusion for the purpose of it. “ We get a variety of people here, with abilities, disabilities, skin colors, that is how we should be” ( says Raisa when asked how can we make our learning spaces feel more comfortable).
- Have a prototyping mindset. Ask open mind questions, like “ what is a disability, less ability?” yet with the accessible built environment, with IT, technology aid “we are a little less disabled, we all want to be able”. As we moved from the outside world of light in the dark space, Johanna, the program assistant said to me “ our visual dis-abled host became able” and it was us less able and we gently learned to navigate in the dark. There was sudden trust, openness, and clarity we could see as we were step by step remembering; we get to see a space and people with more than our eyes. There was a shift in the group learning and that collective shift made individual deeper learning possible. Learning with all senses involves not only physical spaces but as well as mental and human processes.
- Activate, empower. Create a learning space where students are becoming aware they are the ones to HOLD and ask for guidance, and also show them that they are the ones to let go and be confident as independent learners. Vygotsky has referred to this as a “proximal space for learning”. Without space (physical as well as opportunity) where one can access self-directed learning and practice, we cannot talk about active learners. While we create a visible process in which the student is the one HOLDING, and then she/he decides while building the confidence of the one learning to let go and not HOLD on to the help. We build learning spaces that are open to all, as individuals. Let me add this specific description for clarity. Asked how would we help a visually impaired person this is what Raisa answered: “ as a visually disabled person, I hold you by the arm, not the other way around, this way I have the power, the ability to LET go, you as the one holding ( offering the arm) you be relaxed, I can feel your tension otherwise, and misread signals of direction”.
..yet with the accessible built environment, with IT, technology aid “we are a little less disabled, we all want to be able”
- Spaces that cultivate attention, and technology that filters distractions. Using the best practices for visually impaired technology here are some: seeing eye email” reading it out loud the email to see if it is urgent, voice over screen reader, smartwatch accessible integrated and apps we need to make decisions not to replace our decision making (in this case Raisa sensitive and generous answer was “ I love weather app, I cannot look on the window and simply see.”)
- Let go. Create spaces where learning can happen and then let go COMPLETLY of any expectations. Raisa talks about reading technologies, ( “ I love reading because it is so accessible”). Following the same sense, when asked how do librarians make young ones read her answer was “ we don’t”, we make it accessible, and if they start reading that is great if not they will find the space to do something else they enjoy and become good at that.
- Inclusive technologies. Ask yourself how can you work with technology in a way that teachers and students don’t feel its presence ( better said it is not about technology is about how can we support learning relations).
“I am so used to technology, I don t know what is special or not.”
“ I Am so used to technology, I don t know what is special or not” ( Raisa shared).
For reflection questions, one might like to stay with and journal after a few moments of silence and being present with what is meaningful:
- Who can inspire me to see digital technology from an accessibility perspective, in my own circle/ community?
- Where is one place/action in the teaching/learning I see technology assist, how can I bring awarness for that, for using technology in a truly transformative matter?
- How can I practice (more) empathy- seeing how a very different person than myself would benefit from digital technology for learning with others?
- How can I bring awarness to using and teaching with technology, instead of trying to fix (mindset)?
- The article’s image is of the famous Finnish painting The Wounded Angel, you can find here more about the painting https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wounded_Angel. The reason is here is that the story I received from a wonderful guide in Finnish Art Museum Atheneum about this painting impressed me; simply put it has been the scope of essays for many years in Finnish schools, and the guide said when they have as participants young children they are so excited about the painting, they create so many scenarios about the story, about the angel being blindfolded. The older they get the fewer questions we receive and fewer scenarios, she said. This painting is also exhibited in the Visually Impaired Association environment.
- On learning environments https://growingmind.fi/
- A new set of learning skills, http://www.helloruby.com/loveletters
- Emotions and technologies, it is as much part of digital transformation to increase the EQ of teachers and students, meaning the alphabet of emotions, I find the work of researcher and professor Brene Brown “Atlas of the heart” an amazing resource https://brenebrown.com/book/atlas-of-the-heart/;
- Design-Based Best Practice on emotional development https://museumofcontemporaryemotions.fi/
- How do young ones see technologies for the future of education and learning podcast https://open.spotify.com/show/1gw1mhgzl0LjisIMbcTebh?