The International Day of Sign Languages


Today is the International Day of Sign Languages! The International Day of Sign Languages takes place every year around the world on September 23rd. The day raises awareness about how people who are deaf use Sign languages to communicate and contribute to their communities.

The International Day of Sign Languages

Sign Languages

Sign languages are visual languages. Signers convey meaning through handshapes, movements, and facial expressions. Sign languages are complete languages with their own grammars. Many people who are deaf use sign languages. However, people who have other communication disabilities may also use sign languages.

Moreover, many people identify a Sign language as their first language and learn their country’s official spoken language as a second language. For example, the first language of many English-Canadian signers is American Sign Language (ASL). They later learn English as a second language. Likewise, the first language of many French-Canadian signers is Langue des Signes Québécoise (LSQ). They later learn French as a second language.

Sign Language Interpretation

People who sign may communicate with non-signers through Sign language interpretation. Sign Language interpreters are professionals who understand deaf and hearing cultures. They are trained to interpret between signed and spoken languages.

Video Relay Service

Interpretation often takes place in person. However, Video relay service (VRS) now allows people to communicate in Sign language remotely using smartphones or computers connected to the Internet. People can communicate with other Signers, or connect with an interpreter in order to communicate with non-signers.

More Sign Language Means More Independence

technology has made Sign Language and interpretation easier to access than ever before. In addition, Sign languages allow people who are deaf all over the world to succeed at school and at work. Moreover, Sign Language interpretation enhances the accessibility of live events, such as theatre. Furthermore, Sign languages help people to thrive by communicating naturally with their families, friends, and colleagues.

Happy International Day of Sign Languages to all our readers!




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AODA and Human Rights Training for Educators


Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommended AODA and human rights training for educators.

AODA and Human Rights Training for Educators

The AODA mandates accessibility training for educators. However, this training may leave educators unprepared for many situations. As a result, the Committee recommends many additional forms of accessibility training for educators. For instance, educators should have more thorough training about their legal responsibilities to accommodate people with disabilities, under:

This training should teach educators about the right to accommodation, and how this right applies to their interactions with:

Therefore, the Committee recommends that the government create a module that delivers all this information. A standardized module would ensure that every educator in every school board receives the same level of training.

In addition, the Committee recommends that educators should also receive standardized training on Universal Design for Learning (UDL). For example, some of the educators who should receive this training are:

  • School board administrators
  • School leaders, such as principals and vice-principals
  • Teachers, including supply teachers
  • Educational assistants (EAs)
  • Other support professionals

Educators should receive some of this training before the beginning of the school year. Furthermore, they should have more training throughout the year. This UDL training will help teachers present to, assess, and motivate their students. School board personnel can learn how policy impacts UDL, and how these policies can positively influence disability awareness.

These types of training should take place through a mixture of in-person and online instruction. This mixture will help educators recognize that learning happens in both ways, and the need to accommodate in both learning environments. Moreover, training material should be available in accessible formats. Finally, while the government develops the training, it should consult people who live with disabilities.




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International Week of the Deaf


This week is International Week of the Deaf!

International Week of the Deaf takes place around the world in the last week of September every year. During this week, organizations around the world host events to celebrate how people who are deaf contribute to their communities. Moreover, the week also raises awareness about the rights of people who are deaf. In 2021, International Week of the Deaf takes place from Monday, September 20th until Sunday, September 26th.

International Week of the Deaf

Many people around the world may not have family members, friends, or colleagues who are deaf. As a result, they may assume that someone who is deaf cannot do every-day things, such as:

  • Work
  • Raise families
  • Make friends and have fulfilling social lives
  • Travel

Furthermore, people may feel uncomfortable when someone discloses that they are deaf. This lack of knowledge may lead to discrimination. For instance, someone may not want to hire a person who is deaf. International Week of the Deaf is a chance to help the public learn more about the ways people who are deaf contribute actively to their families, communities, and workplaces. Moreover, the week raises awareness about the human rights that people who are deaf have, and how these rights support their access to information and communication.

Communication Supports

People who are deaf use many communication supports to access audio information. They also use these supports to interact with hearing loved ones, colleagues or teachers, and other members of their communities. For instance, some of these supports are:

  • Sign Language (with interpretation for communicating with non-signers)
  • Video Relay Service (VRS)
  • Teletypewriter (TTY) technology
  • Writing, emailing, or texting
  • Speechreading
  • Real-Time Captioning (RTC) for live events
  • Closed captioning (for TV or movies)
  • Computerized Note-Taking

International Week of the Deaf is a chance for the hearing public to learn more about how people use these communication supports in every-day life. For example, under the AODA, people have the right to access these supports:

Finally, people use communication supports when they volunteer, enjoy leisure activities, and socialize with friends and family. When people have access to the supports they need, they can contribute fully to their families, communities, and workplaces.

Happy International Week of the Deaf to all our readers!




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Human Resources Policies to Enhance School Accessibility


Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommended guidelines for human resources policies to enhance school accessibility.

Human Resources Policies to Enhance School Accessibility

The Committee recommends that every school board should create and enact human resources policies that make the school board more accessible. These policies should ensure an environment where students of all abilities can fully participate in school. For instance, principles, vice-principals, and other teaching staff should know how to promote inclusion and full participation. Therefore, school board hiring and promotion policies should include knowledge of and experience with accessibility as an important qualification for these staff. As a result, principals and teachers who know how to work with students who have disabilities can support other school staff in ensuring an accessible environment.

Similarly, performance reviews should also assess how well staff members include students with disabilities in lessons and other school activities. For example, reviews could assess how a teacher has accommodated students, including:

  • Implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, such as finding multiple ways to:
  • Ensuring the accessibility of activities outside the classroom, such as:
  • Working with other professionals within or outside the classroom, such as:
    • Sign Language interpreters or real-time captioners
    • Teachers of the blind or visually impaired (TVIs)
    • Educational assistants
    • Social workers
    • Psychologists
    • Occupational therapists

All these policies would give more students with disabilities a well-rounded, fulfilling school experience equal to their peers without disabilities.




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Preventing Attitudinal Barriers in School


Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommended guidelines for preventing attitudinal barriers in school.

Preventing Attitudinal Barriers in School

Attitudinal barriers happen when non-disabled people do not understand how disabilities affect the lives of people who have them. These misunderstandings can lead to false assumptions about what people with disabilities can do, want, or need. For example, a teacher may believe that math is too visual for a student who is blind. As a result, the teacher may not work with the student to find non-visual ways of accessing course content. Therefore, this student will receive lower-quality math instruction than their peers, and may not pursue a career in math.

In other words, attitudinal barriers can impact the rest of a student’s life. However, schools do not create attitudinal barriers purposely. Instead, barriers happen because staff and students lack knowledge about how to interact with peers and colleagues with disabilities. Providing this knowledge to all students and staff will reduce attitudinal barriers and promote full participation. Therefore, the Committee recommends training for all staff and students on the benefits of inclusive education.

Training to Prevent Attitudinal Barriers

For instance, the Committee recommends programs to teach all staff, students, and their families about the importance of inclusion. Each school board should create and implement its own program about accessibility for students and staff with disabilities. A school board could organize activities, such as a “barrier scavenger hunt”. In this game, staff, students, and parents find accessibility barriers at school or in the local community. This exercise would help everyone understand what barriers are, and how to remove them.

Similarly, programs could include presentations from guest speakers with disabilities. These presentations, in class or at school assemblies, would allow school community members without disabilities to learn about what it is like to have them. Attendees could ask questions, learn accurate information, and gain experience interacting with people who have a variety of disabilities. As a result, school communities may feel better prepared to work with classmates or staff members who have disabilities.

School boards could post these activities online, so that other school boards could learn from different games or guest speakers. Similarly, the Ministry of Education should create model training programs or materials, such as videos, to help school boards develop these lessons. Likewise, school boards should communicate with all their students’ families about their commitment to ensuring full participation for students of all abilities.

In addition, all staff members within school boards who interact with students or their parents should receive more training on how to fully include students with disabilities, and how to teach others to do so. Moreover, the Ministry of Education should create training programs that will prepare school boards to offer this additional training to their staff.




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School Board Networks of Staff and Students with Disabilities


Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommended guidelines for school board networks of staff and students with disabilities.

School Board Networks of Staff and Students with Disabilities

The Committee recommends that every school board should develop a network of staff members who have disabilities. Staff members may be teachers or other school-board workers. Likewise, the Committee recommends that every school board should create a network of students with disabilities. These networks will identify accessibility barriers within their school boards, including:

For instance, networks could point out pages on a board’s website that are not compatible with accessible hardware or software. Similarly, networks could identify problems with their board’s service animal policy. Once networks identify barriers, they should help their school boards determine how to remove these barriers. Moreover, the Ministry of Education should promote communication between the networks in different school boards. Staff and students from other regions can learn from each other about barriers they encounter. For instance, one school board could show another how to develop a policy to ensure accessible communication with parents or guardians.

These school board networks of staff and students with disabilities may also help to create and update policies, programs, and curriculum, so that new and improved versions will not contain barriers. If network members provide feedback on these documents and plans, school board officials will learn how to support the work and learning of future staff and students with disabilities.

Finally, network members may also make presentations to their schools, school boards, or the Ministry of Education. For example, a student or staff member may visit another school, to explain how their own school accommodates their accessibility needs. Alternatively, network members may present to the school board, to help trustees understand how their disabilities impact their every-day lives. These presentations will help other staff and students have a more accessible school experience.




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Universal Design for Learning and Disability Awareness


When schools implement a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach, school communities gain more disability awareness. Improved disability awareness will reduce the stigma that students and staff with disabilities face.

Universal Design for Learning and Disability Awareness

More and more students with disabilities are enrolling in schools, colleges, and universities. Universal Design for Learning can help school systems and campuses meet the growing need for accessible education. UDL can also help expand disability awareness among school communities and reduce the many myths surrounding disability that still restrict people’s lives today.

For instance, some non-disabled students may have no exposure to disability in their lives outside of school. As a result, they may come into class believing that someone with a disability could not study what they were studying. For example, they might think a student with a communication disability could not participate in classroom discussions. Similarly, they might believe a student who is blind could not keep up with readings because of the myth that Braille is difficult to read. Likewise, they might imagine that a student who is deaf would be a liability in group work because they expect that this student could not access course content or communicate with group members.

Without UDL, non-disabled classmates may never learn that students with disabilities can do well in school. Non-disabled students may also never realize that many accommodations can be easy to implement in advance. For instance, non-disabled classmates may observe students with disabilities struggling in school while they wait for accommodations. As a result of witnessing this struggle, these non-disabled classmates may come to believe that:

When non-disabled students absorb these ideas from their classrooms, their choices as adults will be based on these negative attitudes. For example, these former classmates might choose not to hire a qualified applicant with a disability.

How UDL Improves Disability Awareness

In contrast, UDL allows students with disabilities to succeed in school. In addition, UDL shows other students that this success is possible. For example, a non-disabled student may notice that their classmate with a speech disability has strong points to make in online discussions. Similarly, other students can watch how quickly a blind or visually impaired classmate reads course content in Braille or large print. Likewise, students can observe a classmate who is deaf reading captions or using Sign language to engage with group assignments.

All these discoveries help non-disabled students gain accurate knowledge about how capable people with disabilities are. Moreover, the decisions that these non-disabled classmates make as adults will reflect these accurate perceptions. For instance, these former classmates might choose to hire someone with a disability, and easily implement workplace accommodations.

Universal Design for Learning helps people discover the diverse ways that people with disabilities can co-exist and contribute to their communities.




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Universal Design for Learning Policies


Universal Design for Learning (UDL) means designing learning goals, materials, and activities in ways that make them accessible to learners with a variety of abilities. School administrators can support these aims by creating UDL policies in their school boards, colleges, or universities. Universal Design for Learning policies can also improve disability awareness.

Universal Design for Learning Policies

When school policy invites teachers to design lessons universally, teachers must think proactively about access for students with disabilities. In other words, teachers must create course content that students can interact with in various ways, such as:

When school policies encourage UDL, they help instructors use technologies and creative approaches to make learning more widely accessible.

School board members, or higher education administrators, can make choices that impact how easily teachers can implement UDL. For instance, administrators may choose online learning platforms, to host distance courses, on behalf of their organizations. When these officials choose platforms that are not compatible with accessible hardware and software, those choices create technology barriers. In other words, those choices make it difficult or impossible for students using assistive technology to access online courses. As a result, school staff will need new strategies to provide course resources to students who encounter technology barriers. For example, teachers may:

  • Email each course reading to each student
  • Create private YouTube accounts with duplicates of audio or video course content

Elements of Universal Design for Learning Policies

In contrast, if policy makers choose online learning platforms that are compatible with assistive technologies, more students can access them. Likewise, administrators should ensure that any apps they use to communicate with students, parents, or colleagues are accessible. Therefore, every student, parent, or staff member can use them.

Moreover, school policy makers can also create rules to support course developers in designing accessible lessons, resources, and assignments. For example, policies could require that all course readings be text-based, rather than image-based. Similarly, policies could require any videos in class to include captions and audio description. Likewise, policies could outline ways to maximize assignment accessibility. For instance, some instructors may create assignments that require students to use a specific visual or audio medium, such as:

  • Drawing a picture of an idea
  • Making an audio or video recording

In courses where these presentation methods are not essential requirements, instructors should not require an assignment format that relies on a specific sense. Instead, instructors could describe what skills learners are honing through the assignment, and provide a list of possible format options. In this way, students can achieve assignment objectives in formats that will be most accessible.

When school boards, colleges, and universities have UDL policies, they support educators in designing courses more students can access. In our next article, we will explore how universal design for learning policies can also improve disability awareness throughout school communities.




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Information Technology and Universal Design for Learning


Our last few articles have introduced the three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). In this article, we explore how information technology can help educators use UDL in their physical or digital classrooms.

Information Technology and Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has required more online learning, teachers at all levels have been finding new ways to:

Students can access online courses from anywhere and interact with instructors and classmates in many ways, including:

  • Real-time video-conferences
  • Synchronous messaging
  • Email

Online platforms mean that school can continue even during a pandemic, with some creative thinking and some openness to change. In a similar way, information technology can help school staff at all levels, from classroom teachers to administration, design lessons that can reach the widest variety of students.

UDL and Online Learning

Instructors can create text-based lessons for students to read:

  • On a screen, with or without accessibility hardware or software
  • In hard-copy print

Instructors can also create audio or video recordings of their lessons for students to access on their own schedules. For instance, students can access lesson resources or recordings at times:

  • When they have most focus or energy
  • That do not conflict with other responsibilities at home or work

Students can also learn at a pace that works best for them, by reading, listening, or watching more quickly or slowly.

Moreover, instructors can also design lessons in real-time more universally, using information technology. For example, instructors can create documents with visuals and type their own alt-text, or display their speaking notes visually. Students can contribute to class discussions through video-conferencing, or write responses on an online discussion forum. Likewise, students can collaborate on group work in both ways.

In short, information technology makes UDL easier to implement than ever before. Furthermore, Information technology can compensate, to some degree, for physical inaccessibility. For example, a student may not be able to take an in-person course if it is offered in an inaccessible school building. However, the student can take the same course if it is offered through distance learning.

Our next article will explore how policies of Universal Design for Learning can support teachers using information technology to reach their students.




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Multiple Means of Engagement


Multiple means of engagement is one of the three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Teachers and other educators can use multiple means of engagement to make their lessons accessible to a wide variety of learners.

Multiple Means of Engagement

Multiple means of engagement refers to the need to motivate learners in diverse ways. Teachers use this principle when they find more than one way to interest students in the concepts they are learning about.

For example, teachers at all levels, from elementary school to higher education, often require students to complete individualized assignments. For instance, when a class studies famous Canadians, each student may present a report about a different Canadian celebrity. Teachers may assign these topics randomly, such as by having each student choose their topic in a draw. However, this method of assigning topics may not motivate students. For instance, a student may randomly draw the name of an athlete who plays a sport the student has no interest in. Students who are less engaged with their topics may have less interest in writing a thorough report. As a result, they may learn far less than a student who happens to choose a topic that intrigues them.

Alternatively, teachers can show their class the complete list of topics and allow each student to select their own topic. For instance, a student who played or followed sports could research the athlete. Similarly, a student who enjoyed reading could research an author, while a student interested in science studied an inventor. Students who feel a connection to the material they are learning may be more likely to perceive school as valuable, and invest more time and energy in their studies.

Some assignments or subjects may offer less freedom of choice than others. However, each student should have the chance to learn in ways that interest them.

More Ways to Motivate Students

Some other ways educators can motivate their students are:

  • Creating a mixture of individual and group assignments
  • Listing learning outcomes and key terms, so that learners can track their own progress
  • Offering choice in test questions
  • Accessible Field trips and job placements
  • Providing examples or anecdotes to illustrate course concepts or give them a human interest
  • Using examples that reflect diverse:
    • Racial or cultural backgrounds
    • Gender expressions
    • Abilities

When examples include people from diverse backgrounds, students with these backgrounds may relate more closely to those examples. For instance, if all scientific examples feature non-disabled people, students with disabilities may believe that only non-disabled people have careers involving science, such as doctors or astronomers. As a result, students may lose interest in pursuing the subjects leading to these career paths. In contrast, examples including people with disabilities show students with those disabilities that those careers are accessible. Moreover, non-disabled classmates also learn that a student with a disability can succeed in science, and grow up to have a fulfilling career. Therefore, diverse examples not only motivate students, but they also increase awareness of the capability of people with disabilities. This awareness may reduce discrimination.

Multiple means of engagement give students the opportunity to learn in ways that intrigue them and encourage them to learn more.




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