Blog Challenge: A Disabled Access Friendly World: Lessons for the ELT Classroom

24 May

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.


11 Responses to “Blog Challenge: A Disabled Access Friendly World: Lessons for the ELT Classroom”

  1. sharon noseley Tuesday 24 May 2011 at 21:02 #

    I love this lesson and the thinking that goes behind it.As teachers we do need to expose such issues and get our classes to stop and think.
    I would like to add that it is not just the students who need to stop and think but also school in Greece and especially in city centers most school owners rent 2nd or 3rd floor premises. I guess the idea is to ‘have a view’ or be away from noisy roads but there is never any consideration for the disabled student. It would also be great to uncover similar issues for students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia…

    • David Petrie Tuesday 24 May 2011 at 23:37 #

      Hi Sharon,
      Thanks for your comment! I agree that school management have a role to play in this. The only school I’ve worked in that was completely wheelchair accessible was in China, where the school had an entire floor of a skyscraper and there were nice wide corridors and plentiful lift access. I don’t remember any wheelchairs users in classes though.
      As regards dyslexia – there’s a very helpful article on that might be useful for you.
      Thanks again for commenting!

  2. annforeman Wednesday 25 May 2011 at 10:29 #

    Hi David,

    Just posted a link to this on the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you’d like to check for comments.

    Please feel free to post there when you have anything you’d like to share.



    • David Petrie Wednesday 25 May 2011 at 13:01 #

      Hi Ann,
      thanks for sharing the link! I’ve “liked” the facebook page and look forward to sharing more ideas.

      All the best,

  3. Marisa Constantinides Thursday 26 May 2011 at 20:55 #

    Hi David,

    I tried to leave you a comment before but it got chewed up! What a great idea for a lesson!

    Many thanks for this and welcome to Twitter as well! I am following you already!


    • David Petrie Friday 27 May 2011 at 18:15 #

      Hi Marisa,
      sorry about the comment problems – were you using Chrome by any chance? It messes up the comment form in wordpress. I did mention it to the wordpress people but as yet to no avail!
      And thanks for following me on twitter! I look forward to tweeting and receiving tweets in turn. still not sure how to best use twitter, but I guess it’s one of those things that comes from experience!
      All the best

  4. Luke Prodromou Saturday 11 June 2011 at 04:50 #

    Hi, David,

    Thanks for the lesson. I particularly like the fact that you were inspired to adapt existing texbook material. A lot of good teaching involves transforming what’s already there to suit our purposes. Most teachers do use texbooks, for good or bad, but the ability to adapt stuff and make it fit a specific context is a great skill.

    • David Petrie Monday 13 June 2011 at 14:24 #

      Hi Luke,
      Thank you for commenting!
      I often think teachers are a bit like tailors, we might get given an “off-the-rack” product to work with, but we then have to re-size it, add the detail and what have you to make sure it fits our learners more exactly!

      I haven’t really adapted the natural English source material, so much as I’ve just taken the idea from one of the reading texts and played with it a bit! The text is on page 115 of the Natural English Upper Intermediate student book, and I think it’s adapted from this 1998 article from the Independent:

      All the best,


  1. Blog Challenge-A Disabled-Access Friendly world: Lessons for the ELT classroom | Marisa Constantinides - TEFL Matters - Tuesday 24 May 2011

    […] Blog Challenge: A Disabled Access Friendly World: Lessons for the ELT Classroom « teflgeek […]

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