Thinking Differently...about accessibility

About this idea

We have been thinking differently about equalities and diversity since 2013, when we rejected the Equality 'n' Diversity (jelly 'n' ice-cream) approach, separated the concepts and set to work to understand more deeply how how we can take an identities approach to diversity work, which enables individuals to be present as themselves (1).  At the same time, we began to research how, in social media spaces, different voices emerge...and how powerfully people can also learn through the process of 'lurking'(2).

The 'we' in question is a rhizomatic network of students, graduates, tutors and critical friends, centred around the Northern College TeachNorthern teacher training programme, which shares a commitment to social purpose education with colleagues in the WEA and other non-traditional learning contexts.  We equal as thinkers.  We call ourselves the TeachDifferent Community of Praxis.

As Steve says in the video, "Online, there are no disabled people".  But not every disabled person believes they are able to get online.  Hannah explains that social media, "keeps you involved in society when your mental health tells you you don't want to be."  Many people are isolated by mental illness and never explore the social affordances of the computer in their pocket (their mobile phone).  

There is some fantastic accessibility tech out there - much of it freely available - which levels up the playing field and lets everyone be present as themselves online (our definition of diversity of course).  That's not what stops people.  We've discovered unequivocally (see our Digital Resilience Model (3)) that what stops people finding their voice online are untrue limiting assumptions they make (or others make for them), usually connected with an aspect of their identity they see as deficit, such as mental ill-health, a disability or a learning difficulty (could be race, class, gender and many other combinations of things too).  As Audre Lorde famously said, we do not live single issue lives.  Accessibility is not just about the tech.  It's possibly not even about the tech.

We'll tackle this in three ways.  

Firstly, by rejecting the deficit model, through concepts such as neurodiversity (4) - after all, who gets to define what's normal?

Secondly, by working with individuals in a Thinking Environment (5), which enables each person to overcome their untrue limiting assumptions about the accessibility of tech.  

Thirdly, where assistive technology is going to be helpful, we'll co-research the options and coach the individual to make best use of what works for them.

Using the technologies we need to support our own diversity (and neurodiversity), we'll find an entertaining way of telling stories as part of a creative research project.  Our way of thinking differently is simple, easy to dismiss and profoundly revolutionary.  It's based on principles of respect and equality and it will redefine accessibility, ultimately changing the way the education sector sees diversity (of course that might take a little longer :-))

The educator Michael Newman wrote (in his book, 'Teaching Defiance'), "the purpose in adult education activities is to help people learn how to defy others who might be laying out unwanted futures for them."  We believe we can get to the bottom of why some people use technology to transcend the difficulties of their lives, whilst others never get off the starting line.  In doing so, we can offer the chance of power for individuals to determine their own futures.

Please note that a transcript is provided beneath the video on the YouTube page, and subtitles can be seen by pressing the CC (closed caption) icon.

1. The Diversity Programme

2. Social Purpose Spaces

3.  The FAB Project

4.  Defining Neurodiversity

5.  About The Thinking Environment