This post has come out of a challenge posted by Marisa Constantinides on TEFL Matters:  namely “to contribute lesson ideas for the foreign language classroom which will be aimed at younger learners and teens and which will promote the concept of a disabled-friendly world where people who have mobility issues can have easy access to services, places of learning, public and private spaces easily and safely.”

It raises some interesting questions.  I remember a tefl training course where the 25 participants were asked whether their schools had a disability access policy.  Three of us put our hands up and we all worked for the same school.  I’ll be honest, I can’t now remember what that policy was in specific terms, in general terms it was one of inclusion and support for the learners and I think relevant teachers would have been given additional development and support.  Only once in my professional career have I encountered a learner with a disability – I placement tested a man with severe hearing loss and subsequent speech defect.  For the record, he tested into a B2 level class – and I wonder now why it is that I’ve only met one disabled learner in a nine-year teaching career.

So some initial questions to think about, and before I get started on answering Marisa’s challenge fully, might be as follows:

  • What is our school policy on disabled learners?
  • What do I know about teaching disabled learners?
  • What does everyone else in the staffroom know?
  • Where can we find out more?

Some answers to the last question might be found in Marisa’s blog which has a guest article by Dr. Luke Prodromou “From Critical Pedagogy to Disabled Pedagogy” to kick off the challenge.  A full description of the challenge is given here:  Blog Challenge – A disabled-access friendly world: Lessons for the ELT Classroom. It’s worth reading the comments section here as there are some interesting perspectives and some useful links.  In particular a comment from “Phil” sends us to the UK government DfES (Department for Education and Skills) “Excellence Gateway” which has a downloadable pdf file on ESOL access for all.  I haven’t read it yet, but it looks extremely useful for anyone wishing to influence policy in their institutions.

At the time of writing I think two people have risen to the challenge thus far:

So finally – my idea?  Well, I can’t claim complete originality for this as the basic idea came out of a coursebook reading text.  (Natural English Upper Int – somewhere around unit 10).  But basically, the idea is that you put the learners in someone else’s shoes for a bit.

So – pop down to your local shop of junk and cheap plastic goods and acquire some really cheap ear muffs / sunglasses (you’ll need to paint out the lenses) – or you can make blindfolds out of cardboard.  Borrow some gloves from friends and family (or better yet ask the learners to bring them in).  Acquire some surgical tape (the kind that allows the skin to breathe and doesn’t rip ALL the hairs off when you remove it).  Write the words SIGHT / SPEECH / TOUCH / HEARING on enough bits of paper so that you have one per learner.

Learners then choose random bits of paper and have the relevant ability removed / reduced.  (The surgical tape goes over the mouth in an “X” fashion).

The teacher then conducts (a) a normal lesson with all the usual games, dictations, reading tasks, writing games etc OR (b) devises a selection of everyday tasks that you then ask the learners to complete.  For example:  making a sandwich / taking a telephone message / texting (try it in gloves….).

At the end, learners report back to each other on what it was like to have the ability removed and what the implications are for life in general.  What needs to be changed?  How could it be changed?

This could, with the learners’ co-operation (and that of their families and schools), be extended and learners could attempt to live like this for 24 hours.  That would be a really interesting dissection of local society…

I realise this doesn’t really work towards raising awareness of mobility access issues and I hope therefore doesn’t miss the point entirely.  With any luck though, it should go some way to helping learners be more aware that world needs to be more geared towards inclusiveness, not differentiation.