I cannot believe that the symposium is almost over! My check-out at 1:00pm PST, but my flight does not leave until 11:05pm PST. I hope they can keep my laptop safe in my backpack while I go get dinner after the day ends!
Also, remember those miniature waffles that I mentioned yesterday? I made some for breakfast. Apparently, waffles taste even better when they are small and cute!
Anyways, here is the run-down of how the second and final day of the Ed-ICT International Network Symposium went! Prepare for another unbelievably long post (even longer than yesterday’s)!
We started out the second day with a reflection on yesterday, and defining the goals of today. It really turned into a large-scale discussion on what we took away from yesterday. Additionally, we discussed the differences between countries, especially in terms of compliance and legal processes. For example, in the United States, it is not uncommon for students sue universities for discrimination based on disabilities. However, in Canada and the United Kingdom, that is virtually nonexistent.
Participant Panel Discussion: Design Issues
This panel had four participants, representing: Penn State (US), Carnegie Mellon (US), the University of Washington (US), and Utah State (US). Some of the key points that I took away from this panel were that web accessibility is, well, failing at being accessible, supporting students in all of their roles (classes, research, teaching, etc.), and motivating faculty, staff, and students to use accessibility practices. Website design has evolved so much in the past 20+ years that it is incredibly difficult to do now, in comparison to how it easy it used to be, making the role of web designers incredibly crucial.
In terms of supporting students, a blind graduate student was on the panel and brought up her personal experiences. She shared that, in her role as a graduate student, she needs her courses to be accessible, but also her research, publishing, and teaching capacities. I think that this was very interesting to think about and discuss because I mainly hear about how courses, including their course materials, software, and exams, are being made accessible, but I have not heard before about making research, publishing, or teaching accessible. That confuses me because those roles are so key to graduate students, to professors, and to their chosen field, so I thought that those roles would be well taken care of. Coming from NC State, where research and graduate school programs are exceedingly important and publicized, I wonder how we make all of these key roles accessible to the entire population involved.
A panelist brought up that Penn State has a system where professors can submit their course materials to an outside entity, if they are accessible, to receive incentives. The graduate student spoke about how a great motivation to implement accessibility practices is to humanize the process. By giving a face to an issue and to these practices, it is easier to empathize and understand accessibility. Personally, I have found that meeting with others and sharing my own experiences allows the other party to become more open to new thoughts and ideas, and to asking questions about things that they may not fully comprehend.
Money as an Incentive
Sheryl Burgstahler brought up another key incentive: money. The University of Washington pays a $50 honorarium to each student that sits on a panel, and those students can sit on as many panels as they want or as they can. While I do this work because I am passionate about it and want to even the starting field for students with and without disabilities, I would be lying if I said that I did not really appreciate that honorarium! If NC State paid my group an honorarium for sitting on panels, maybe we would have more general members or make more time for this organization… A little extra money never hurts with a student budget!
Participant Panel Discussion: Transition Issues
The second panel was manned by four different panelists, from: Gallaudet (US), Microsoft (US), the University of Illinois (US), and the University of Washington (US). The woman from Microsoft seating this panel threw me for a loop because I think that she is the only individual here that did not come from a university, but she did bring a great perspective into the room about inclusive hiring processes and work environments. This panel mainly focused on the transition from an academic setting to a work setting, such as a full-time job, a part-time job, an internship, or a practicum. A few key points that were made would be the decision to self-disclose and the expectations that employers have for individuals with disabilities.
Self-Disclosing on a Job Application
If you have applied for the job, at least in the last two years (in my experience), chances are that you saw a section of the application regarding disabilities. There is some legal-looking form that gives you the option to self-disclose any disabilities that you may have. It is not required that you fill that out, but it is an option for you. The decision to self-disclose is a very personal one, often contingent on the scope of your disability and any accommodations that you may need. This option usually includes the description includes a statement about how the company is supported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which does not allow discrimination based on several identities, such as disabilities, in the hiring process. During an interview, you may choose to disclose, but you always take a chance on unconscious biases skewing the hiring decisions.
Being in the Work Environment
As if all of that was not complicated enough, you also have to worry about gaining accommodations in your workplace after being hired and a possibly uncomfortable social environment. An example that was given was that a blind student studying Social Work who uses a speech recognition software may go into a clinical internship in a hospital, which probably will have incompatible software and case notes that are inaccessible. As a student who has to complete an internship to graduate, and as a Social Work minor who is familiar with their similar environments for the majors, this makes things very difficult for students who have to undergo a non-traditional, potentially uncomfortable, work experience because of inaccessibility.
To explore another facet of the work environment, there is often a great deal of confusion as to employers’ expectations for employees with disabilities, with or without accommodations. An instance in which this occurred, according to the panelist from the University of Washington, would be to submit his time-sheet to the cashier’s office. The software that he must use to log his hours and submit his time-sheet is inaccessible for the blind. To remedy this, his employer implemented a process in which he would get a student worker to assist him in filling these things out so that he can get paid. At NC State, we use a software to do the same thing, and I am of the impression that it may not be accessible. I honestly am unsure of that, though, so that would need to be explored and ensured.
The panel ended with a few more miscellaneous remarks about the transition from an academic setting to a work setting. What I gathered from this was that there is a great deal of work that still needs to be done to ease the transition and ensure that all involved parties are on the same page. That is all fine and dandy to say, but I know that this will be an uphill battle, involving much more time and energy than I have, plus a small army of people working on it.
Participant Panel Discussion: Student Issues
The student panel was staffed by five students, one from Penn State, one from UCLA, and three from the University of Washington, and started with an overview of the same comments from students that were listed on the presentation yesterday. The panelists were asked to introduce themselves and talk about their experiences. The first panelist spoke about the struggles of being blind, coupled with the struggles of being an international student. The second panelist discussed about how technology has progressed from its infancy when he used it in his education to where it is now. The third panelist just finished her last week of undergrad (congratulations!) and shared how her deafness impacts her educational experience. The fourth panelist discussed how they used technology to type because it was easier and faster than writing.
Upon getting into the DO-IT program, they received a laptop to allow for easier typing of notes and assignments, as well as for easier transport. The fifth panelist expressed his issues with his first experiences with assistive technology and how speech recognition software made many of his daily activities much easier. The journey of the development of assistive technology has been shown that, while progress has definitely been made, much work is still to be done.
Two very common themes that I noticed through this panel were that the transition from high school to college to employment, in terms of self-advocacy and requesting or receiving accommodations, and that some subjects are harder than others to make accessible. The most common course perpetrator: math. Given that math is full of graphs, equations, and symbols, it is very difficult to type up, at least in any sort of timely manner, and to keep up with notes on. Does this call for a movement to end math forever? Probably not, but I can dream!
I think that it was a little strange that the first three panels of today consisted of panelists only from the United States, without including any of the representatives from Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, or Germany. When I expressed this concern, I was informed that the application to attend apparently asked for volunteers, so most of the panelists were volunteers, but some were invited. Given that there was an international panel yesterday, they wanted to give the representatives from the United States a voice. My problem with this, however, is that there was one international panel and three effectively domestic panels, which is not an even balance. I feel like there could have been many great discussions and much more depth with the input of the other four of five countries.
World Café: Mind Mapping on Future Research and Practices
For this activity, there were seven flip-chart pads passed around. Each piece of paper had a statement written on it, and we were charged with writing down our reactions and thoughts. I have included these statements and my responses below, with the hopes that it will shed insight on what I have taken away from this experience and how this has impacted my critical thinking.
⇾ An important part of the solution to accessibility and inclusion is to adopt both a top-down and bottom-up approach.
This is correct. By implementing two separate, effectively opposite, approaches, you invite more people from each level of the institution to be more involved. This also contributes to more diverse perspectives being expressed and taken into account throughout the process.
Follow up question: When trying to implement a bottom-up approach, how do you get the students, who are traditionally in a more quiet and subordinate role, to feel confident and comfortable making their voices heard to enact a push for large-scale change?
⇾ Adopting both a reactive and proactive approach to accessibility and inclusion is the best approach.
Proactive and reactive approaches are important. With a proactive approach, you can anticipate future issues and solutions in order to be prepared or to avoid the issues altogether. However, a proactive approach requires you to have a large bank of knowledge in advance so that you can give everything adequate forethought. A reactive approach is important because it allows you to think on your feet for each issue as it comes along given that you cannot anticipate every issue. These approaches can be more or less effective for different environments, situations, or populations. I do not believe that any institution can be completely proactive or reactive because these two exist on a spectrum.
⇾ We do not need one single model or framework, we need different ones for different problems, contexts, or audiences.
I think that having an overarching model with the capacity to be adapted for different needs is important because it gives groups a starting point and the ability to think openly about ways that they could adjust to meet their specific needs.
⇾ The only models worth having or developing are those that are testable.
Who defines “testable”? How do you determine how well it performs on this test? Are you testing the model as a whole, or its individual components? If the model overall performs poorly, but one component really shines, do you scrap the whole thing or do you keep that component? I think that it is important to develop any effective models in order to take into account other ideas and perspectives. Maybe a model is not testable now, but what if it will be in the future with advances in technology or more in-depth thought?
⇾ We need a model that will guide senior managers regarding best practice in relation to policy, strategy, and governance.
Do younger, newer, or lower level managers not need any guidance? Why do we have to single out one level of management? Can we not provide information and training to all levels of management and workers?
⇾ A successful model or framework is one that stimulates a PSE institution to transform its systems and processes, rather than enable it to carry on doing what it already does.
Are there any truly successful models? Are all models not really just theories about how something could work? Who defines “success”? What if “what it already does” is effective? What if it is more effective than the model you choose to implement and replace current practices with?
⇾ We need to develop our existing models and frameworks, rather than coming up with new ones.
We need to develop existing models to ensure that they are effective. However, by using just one specific model, you risk it becoming outdated in the presence of new technology and ideas. Also, that may cut you off from being open to outside information at all!
I am so glad that I got the opportunity to have this fantastic experience. I have been able to connect with so many wonderful and diverse individuals here. That has really helped me think about how I can take these principles and ideas back to NC State.
Some Important Ideas
There are a few of my ideas that I would like to definitely implement. The first would be to record Allies for Students with Disabilities (ASD) meetings and caption them. Then, they would be posted on our website so that students who are not present can still be involved. Also, I want to figure out how to start a blog for ASD so that individuals can share their experiences. It would allow students to become more informed about their rights as a student on campus with a disability. In addition, I want to speak with the Gregg Museum of Art and Design, which ASD is working with. I want to see which kinds of technology that they plan to use in their facilities. Ensuring that those technologies are accessible and effective is important to me.
I have a million more thoughts racing through my mind, but I am still working on how to put those in words cohesively. I am so very appreciative of all of the people that attended this symposium and shared their personal experiences and knowledge. That gave me the confidence to speak up, as well, and gave me a more intimate understanding of what others have gone through or are going through now. The international approach to this symposium was honestly amazing because it allowed each country’s representatives to be exposed to other ways of thinking and processes, which can be taken back to their home countries and possibly implemented there.
I would like to thank the Ed-ICT International Network, the Leverhulme Trust, and the NCSU Allies for Students with Disabilities. Without these organizations providing the funding, I could not have attended this symposium and have this remarkable experience! I would also like to thank all of the participants at this symposium. Their openness with me and assistance in thinking of new ways to view issues and solutions! Thank you, Seattle!
Thank you for reading all the way to the end, or at least for scrolling to the bottom to read the reflection and see how it ends!