It’s now becoming common knowledge that humans have a wide range of cognitive differences, in addition to the physical ones that are more readily apparent. However, we’re still just scratching the surface with our understanding of conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. With that emerging comprehension comes persistent stigmas. I’ve experienced them in my own family and encountered them in the learning and development field.
In fact, what spurred me to write this was getting blocked by a doctor who has an active social media and podcast presence because I asked her to consider not using background music that contained vocals, as the vocals competed with what she said aloud. That doctor also is a professor at a state university, which made me wonder if she provides accommodations for her neurodivergent students. (Learning differences don’t go away when a person enters medical school, after all.)
This reminded me that we still have a long way to go. Those of us in the learning and development (L&D) community have a duty not only to learn about and implement accessibility strategies and guidelines, but also to promote them. Otherwise, the burden falls solely on those who have a disability, and they’ve led the way since the 1970s.
Is that news to you? It was to me when I started researching for this blog post. Check out the links at the end to learn about the history of the disability rights movement in the United States. These are some of the major developments to get you started:
As L&D professionals, we should have a solid understanding not only of the history of disability rights and accessibility, but also what the research and guidance say. Look into what has been done and what still needs to be done to make physical spaces more inclusive, wherever you are in the world. Also consider digital spaces, since many aspects of learning and development are now technology-heavy and web-based.
Here are resources to help us all ensure that what we design and develop is accessible to all learners:
Unless you’re brand new to learning and development, you’re well aware of a foundational principle called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Now consider this: UDL is a continuation of the ADA and the Disability Rights Movement. Universal Design deals specifically with making physical spaces more accessible, such as lowering the sidewalk at crosswalks and placing bumps there so people with mobility limitations or visual impairment can safely cross the street. Universal Design for Learning is kind of an extension of that; it takes into account things like visual, hearing, and cognitive impairments so learners can access the content being taught.
Let’s think about that a little more. If you are normally able-bodied but get injured and have to use crutches or a wheelchair, you benefit from the ADA and Universal Design. If you are in a noisy environment and have to rely on closed captioning for a webinar or e-learning course, you benefit from UDL. (For more examples of UDL strategies, please see https://udlguidelines.cast.org/.)
As we recognize how much of the ADA and current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are owed in large part to members of the disabled community, yet with every one of us reaping those hard-won benefits, we all must advocate for greater accessibility.
Even if you yourself don’t identify as disabled or neurodivergent, please be an ally.
Here are the links I mentioned above, along with some notes:
Let’s do better, as we learn and know better.
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