The most compelling life stories are often ones that allow us to connect with the storyteller and for many, the pursuit of academic opportunities form the basis of their narrative
With this in mind, how do educational institutions enable Deaf/Deafblind to pursue their story- underpinned by equality of access in their educational journey?
In our August blog, we looked at the British Sign Language (BSL) National Plan 2017 – 2023 which was passed in October 2017. Whilst this is a directive being driven by the Scottish Parliament to mainstream BSL, it has the capacity to raise awareness of BSL across the country, to explore ways to widen opportunities and participation for Deaf/Deafblind people, and to recognise it as an indigenous language that can enhance and enrichen institutional life by celebrating its cultural richness and depth. So how can we help smooth the way for our BSL storytellers to enable them to craft their life options through the further and higher education lens?
In this series of interviews, Margaret McKay talks to Frankie McLean Head of Operations and Alison Hendry Project Development Officer at Deaf Action to unpack the BSL National Plan, and discuss the issues and opportunities for the FE/HE sector. They encourage institutions to think outside the box, to consult with Deaf/Deafblind students and to think more broadly about what mainstreaming BSL might look like. This could be delivering courses in BSL, employing BSL speakers as members of staff, delivering English language support classes for Deaf students.
What are the issues for learners?
Continuity and communication are important, last-minute changes can disadvantage Deaf learners and their interpreters. Change can be particularly challenging especially last-minute changes in room allocation, changes to course programming, how this is communicated and how much notice is given is important. In this video, Frankie and Alison talk about the importance of communication and the positive impact that well prepared and coordinated information can have on BSL users and their interpreters. They also discuss the social aspects of student life and the importance of making social experiences more inclusive and welcoming to everyone.
The message institutions convey to the outside world in their outward facing platforms is important. Websites and prospectuses offer a window into the world of your institution and convey clear messages about the inclusiveness of your organisation. Conveying information in a way that reaches out to Deaf communities and engages with them as prospective learners is important. Frankie and Alison encourage institutions to think about ways that BSL users might access information about their institutions, to think about how to provide BSL based information on the support and services on offer, and to provide contact details if BSL users choose to apply to attend.
How can digital help?
Providing accessible information to existing and (prospective) learners helps convey clear messages about an institutions commitment to support Deaf/Deafblind people, particularly when a commitment by senior management is articulated explicitly. Glasgow Clyde College introduction to the BSL plan introduced by their College Principal demonstrates this very well. In addition, including BSL based information such as student support guides, course content etc. helps mainstream and raise awareness of BSL as one of our indigenous languages.
What can you do?
- Provide a breakdown of how coursework will be delivered in your prospectus, and offer information on how courses will be assessed. Doing so can provide a useful insight for prospective learners about the expectations on them, and can help them consider the kind of communication support requirements they might need to factor in at pre-entry level.
- Assessments that invite learners to demonstrate their knowledge in alternative ways rather than in written text may better capture a learners’ understanding and mastery of the subject area.
- Providing a glossary of terms for each module/unit can help Deaf/Deafblind learners and their interpreters scope the language, jargon and terminology they will need to become familiar with in different subject areas and help identify appropriate signs to be used.
- Providing early access to digital learning can give Deaf/Deafblind people time to digest and make sense of it in advance. Digital content accessed by the learner in good time can also be customised to meet individual requirements.
- Institutional apps not only help enhance the wider student experience but can also help Deaf learners to keep abreast of what is happening across the institution. Keeping up to date with last minute timetabling changes, conveying information from support services, inviting learners to participate in student association activities etc. in a way that pushes up to date information to learners rather than them finding out by default (or often in the case of Deaf learners) when it is too late helps ensure that students aren’t excluded.
- Does your institution have baseline accessibility standards for content created, and is this adopted by all parts of your institution? Doing so means that it will be more accessible for diverse learners, particularly BSL users.
- Creating accessible content is only part of the equation. Why go to the effort of doing so if you don’t highlight the benefits to students, and if you don’t show them how to exploit these accessibility benefits to enhance the way they consume information? Frankie and Alison talked about the difficulties that some BSL users have with written text, so if you’ve added heading styles in Word and PDF documents, or created well-structured web pages why not show all learners how to use headings/bookmarks to help them summarise text and get a better sense of what the written content is about?
Continuing the story……………………
We are interested in hearing about ways that institutions have gone about widening participation for Deaf/Deafblind users. If you have been involved in projects that have helped attract, support and empower students we’d love to hear your story. If you’d like to feature your story or an example of practice, please email Margaret McKay, subject specialist (inclusion).