Moving Towards Strength-Based Learning

Strength-Based LearningIt’s October.  For the Learning Disabilities Association of Windsor – Essex County (LDAWE) this means a busy month with lots of activities, because October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month.  This year’s plans in Windsor – Essex have included:

A major focus of this year’s events have been a transition from focusing on the individual with learning disabilities’ weaknesses to focusing on their strengths.  During the Keynote at the Instruments of Change Conference, Dr. Cory Saunders referenced Dr. Ross Greene‘s “Kids Do Well When They Can” model.  Saunders asked the audience, “Why do we focus on the negative?  Does this help the child?”  Saunders left the audience with a to do list:

  1. Focus on successes
  2. Normalize development
  3. Foster growth in areas of strength

Another great resource for parents and educators is the HBO documentary, I Can’t Do This But I Can Do That: A Film for Families About Learning Differences as seen in the trailer below:

So what is strength-based learning?  Here at LDAWE, we believe that strength-based learning allows people to participate and excel in activities that match their strengths.  We began this process in our Summer Enrichment Camps by having weekly themes, which allow children to excel at drama, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), etc…  During our Open House, we will be taking this one step further by announcing plans for our new 3D Printer.

We encourage you to bring your entire family (recommended for ages 6+) with you to LDAWE’s Open House on October 24, 2015 from 9:00am – 12:00pm at 647 Ouellette Avenue in Windsor, Ontario.  The highlight of this free event will be the demonstration of our new 3D Printer; however, there will also be a child activity area, demonstrations of our assistive technology, and information about our programs, scholarship, etc… A short presentation will take place at 11:00am.  A few lucky attendees will even win one of the items made by the 3D Printer during the event.

Contact us at info@LDAWE.ca or 519-252-7889 for more details.

Creating A Diverse Workforce

Parents of children with learning disabilities (LD) or ADHD often have many questions about their child’s future. These can include:

  • What kind of career / job should my child pursue?
  • Where will my child work?
  • Will my child be able to hold down a job?

In general, people with LD / ADHD have average or above average intelligence. This means that they should be able to secure and maintain meaningful employment. Despite this, many people with LD / ADHD struggle to find and keep a job. Sometimes this is due to a poor match between the individual’s strengths and the essential duties of the job, a lack of appropriate social skills, difficulty staying on task, etc… However, sometimes this may be due to employers having misconceptions about how having an LD / ADHD will affect an employee.

The Problem is not the Disability

What can you do to help?

If you are a parent of a child with LD / ADHD, encourage your employer to hire people with disabilities. Every business can benefit from ensuring they have a diverse workforce. This is not charity; this is just good business sense.

At one of their distribution centers where more than 50 percent of the employees have disabilities, Walgreens has experienced a 120 percent productivity increase. Now they are expanding that successful model to retail locations across the state and country.

– Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 2014 State of the State Address

At LDAWE, approximately 30% of our 40 employees have disabilities, including LD, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, mental illness, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and vision impairments. LDAWE does not create jobs specifically for people with disabilities. By ensuring that each of our employee’s strengths match their job duties the need for accommodations is minimized and employee moral and productivity has increased.

Melissa Donaldson, director of employee networks and communications of the Diversity & Inclusion department at Walgreens says:

Our guiding mantra is “same job, same performance.” Walgreens has no “special” jobs carved out especially for individuals with disabilities. Team members with and without disabilities assume the same job roles and responsibilities across the enterprise, earning the same pay and striving to meet the same job performance expectations.

LDAWE works with several individuals with LD / ADHD who are seeking employment through our Employment Supports program. If you are an employer who wishes to gain the benefits of having a more diverse workforce, please contact our office at 519-252-7889 or info@ldawe.ca.

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, oh my!

I have written blog posts (Goose Bumps and The iPad Question) before about our A/T program.  For those who don’t know… A/T stands for assistive technology or adaptive technology.  LDAWE is fortunate that we have contracts with both of our local English school boards to provide A/T training to students with disabilities who receive technology for use in the classroom to help them access the curriculum.  The name of the Ministry of Education funding used to purchase this equipment is call SEA (Special Equipment Amount).

The good news is that both of our school boards are fairly progressive when is comes to issuing SEA Claim Equipment.  For example:

  • They issue equipment (and lots of it… more about that later).  I have heard that some school boards around the province still hardly issue any A/T equipment to students who would benefit from it.
  • They are innovative.  Instead of just issuing laptops like they have in the past, both school boards are now experimenting with new types of equipment, such as iPads and Chromebooks.
  • They invest in training.  The equipment is only beneficial to the student, if they know how to use it.
  • They are willing to change.  When given feedback that current policies around issuing SEA Claim Equipment are not working, they make adjustments to the policies and procedures to make it work.

Laptops, iPads, and Chromebooks

All of that being said… I’m feeling a little bit like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz this year.  The first full year that we provided A/T training was the 2009/2010 school year. That year we had 5 A/T Trainers on staff and we provided training to 129 students. This year, due to some changes in one of the Board’s policies, we have already received referrals for 486 students to receive training (and it’s only November). We started off the school year with 9 A/T Trainers, 1 A/T Training Scheduler, and myself as the coordinator of the program. Since the change in policy, we’ve hired 7 more A/T Trainers. I have also been busy creating new lesson plans for the new types of devices that are being issued. Also, both school boards are looking into adding classroom training as well.

Please be patient as LDAWE and the school boards work through these changes. All of these changes are great news for students with learning disabilities and ADHD in Windsor and Essex County.  I look forward to a day when all students can access the curriculum regardless of ability and without fear of judgement.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!However, with that being said, I must admit that I’ve had more than a couple dreams about A/T lately…

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, oh my!

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, OH MY!!

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, OH MY!!!

Labour Day Blues…

Am I the only one that feels this way?  I’m in my 30s (and no, I’m not going to get more specific than that), and I still dread Labour Day.  I’ve always felt it’s the worst holiday of the year.  To me, Labour Day always symbolizes the end of Summer and the beginning of school.  I remember listening to the radio one year on Labour Day and something must have happened at the radio station, because they just kept playing the R.E.M. song, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” on repeat for over an hour.  I remember wondering if it was some cruel joke the radio station was playing on all of us students.  I haven’t gone to school for over a decade, and I still get that feeling of back to school dread.  Maybe if I had my own children, the feeling of dread would be replaced with the feelings of joy and happiness as I got to ship the children off to school.  I don’t know…

Regardless of my feelings of the holiday, for children with learning disabilities or ADHD, and their parents, the start of a new school year can be very anxiety provoking.  Parents worry about a wide variety of things, such as wondering if the:

  • new classroom teacher is going to “understand” the child’s disability and/or accommodation plan.
  • child is going to get the computer equipment the school promised the year before.
  • class bully is going to be in the child’s class this year.
  • etc…

During the next couple of weeks, all of these questions will be answered.  I wish the best for you and your child.  However, if difficulties arise, please don’t forget that there are lots of great organizations (such as LDAWE) around that can assist you and your family.

I also want you all to know that LDAO (our provincial organization) is hosting a webinar, “Starting the school year off on the right foot – how to help children with LDs transition back into school.”  The webinar takes place on Wednesday, September 24, 2014.  Please click on the flyer for more details.

Webinar

Opening Minds

In several of my blog posts, I have talked about different aspects of my job as the Resource Manager of LDAWE.  One thing that many people don’t know is that I’m also responsible for the LDAWE website.

Last week, an exciting thing happened at LDAWE.  We were finally able to offer online text-to-voice capabilities on our website.  This is something that we wanted to be able to do ever since the first day we had the website up and running.  Why did we want this?  Well… we know that the most common type of learning disability affects a person’s ability to read.  With the text-to-voice capabilities, someone who experiences difficulty with reading can now click on the “Listen” button on our website and the content on that page will be read aloud to them.

This got me to thinking… wouldn’t it be great if every website had a “Listen” button on it?  In general, as a society we’ve been making great strides in “opening doors” (i.e. creating accessibility features for people with physical disabilities).  We seem to be lagging a little bit behind in “opening minds” (i.e. creating accessibility features for people with cognitive disabilities).  However, this is slowly changing with the creation of the AODA.

Have you heard of the AODA?  No??  

How about Accessible Customer Service training?  No???

Well, if you live and work in the province of Ontario, you should have.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was made law in 2005.  The purpose of the legislation is to make the province of Ontario completely accessible to people with disabilities by 2025.  Since then, the government has been focusing on the areas of:

  • Key to SuccessCustomer Service
  • Employment
  • Information and Communication
  • Transportation
  • Built Environment
  • and more…

The AODA applies to every single business in Ontario.  All employers should have already provided Accessible Customer Service training to all of their employees, contractors, and volunteers who work with the general public.  Other requirements are being phased in over the next couple of years.

This is great news for people with learning disabilities or ADHD.  Over the next couple of years business will have to:

  • let job applicants know that their recruitment and hiring process can be modified to accommodate their disabilities
  • build the accessibility needs of employees into their human resources practices
  • develop individual accommodation plans for employees with disabilities
  • make their website accessible according to WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
  • provide accessible formats and communications supports as quickly as possible and at no additional cost
  • make feedback processes accessible by providing accessible formats and communications supports
  • make public emergency information accessible when requested.

(Source: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/accessibility/)

I’m looking forward to living in a province where people with learning disabilities and ADHD have the ability to access the same information, services, and work as people without disabilities.

Until then, please check out the text-to-voice capabilities on our website and send me an email at info@ldawe.ca to let me know what you think!

The iPad Question

At LDA Windsor – Essex County we are very lucky to have a contract with the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) and the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) to provide training to students who receive adaptive technology equipment through a Special Equipment Amount (SEA) Claim.

In one of my past blog posts, Goose Bumps, I discussed how much I love introducing people with learning disabilities to adaptive technology (A/T).

However, the A/T field, just like technology in general, is quickly changing and evolving.  Instead of using the typical laptops with a variety of A/T software installed, School Boards across the province of Ontario are trying alternatives, such as iPads and Chromebooks.
Students using computersIt is a very sad truth that many students were refusing to use their laptops.  Many of them sat in closets, collecting dust.  There are many reasons why…

  1. Many students are embarrassed to use their laptop because they do not want to appear different then their peers.
  2. Many of the laptops are very slow, especially when starting up.
  3. Some of the A/T software can be difficult to learn how to use.  Students may stop using the laptop because they forget how to use software.

Here in Windsor-Essex, one of our school boards has switched to using iPads with students approved for SEA Claim equipment instead of laptops.  I must admit, at first I was very hesitant.  Could the iPad compare to what the existing A/T field offered?  However, after several months of seeing the students use iPads instead of laptops, I’ve been convinced.

To answer my first question, “Could the iPad compare to what the existing A/T field offered?”  The answer at this point is – No, but it is getting better every day.  The apps that are available are great, and very beneficial for students with learning disabilities and ADHD.

The big downside to using iPads is that you cannot use more than one app at a time.  With the current laptop technology, you could use multiple A/T software programs at one time.  On the iPads, the students have to be able to transfer their work from one app to the next.  Being able to print completed work is also another area of difficulty.

Students using iPadsOn the other hand, students LOVE their iPads.  They want to use them, they are excited to use them, and their classmates want to partner with them, because they want to have the opportunity to use the iPad too.  As we saw with the laptops, this is half the battle.  The students we are training are using their iPads, and as a result the level of their work is increasing.  At the end of the day, this is exactly what we want to see.

Have you tried using the iPad with students with learning disabilities and ADHD?  What do you think?  Do you prefer traditional A/T on the laptop or the iPad better?

LD@School

Last week, all of the LDA Chapters across the province of Ontario had the opportunity to get together for a couple of days to network, share ideas, learn about new LDAO initiatives, and work on developing a consistent brand for LDAs across the province.  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend, along with Shelley, who is one of our Board Members (Shelley is also one of our guest bloggers, check out her most recent post, Issues Facing Adult Literacy Learners).

It was great to hear about some of the innovative initiatives that other LDA Chapters across the province have been providing.  Between mentoring programs, entrepreneurial programs, having ambassadors and champions, publishing research in peer-reviewed journals, LDAs across the province are helping people with LD/ADHD achieve success.  Shelley and I came back from the meeting with lots of ideas of things we can try here in Windsor – Essex.

LD@School and TA@l’école

LD@SchoolIn my opinion, one of the most exciting things to hear about was LDAO’s new initiative, called LD@School (or TA@l’école in French).  This project is funded by the Ministry of Education, and is a website that offers free resources for educators who work with students with learning disabilities.  There is an English version of the website (www.LDatSchool.ca) and a French version of the website (www.TAaLecole.ca).  The websites are a work-in-progress, so new resources are being added all of the time.  There is currently:

  • various articles (written by LDAO staff and school board contributors);
  • English and French videos created in collaboration with Ontario educators;
  • practical summaries of strategies, practices, and approaches that educators can put directly to work in their classrooms;
  • sign-up page for upcoming webinars;
  • links to relevant websites with additional resources;
  • links to documents prepared specifically for educators from a variety of educational organizations; and
  • information relating to LDAO’s one-day Educators’ Institute being held on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 (there will be English and French workshops).

LD@School

LDAO is currently looking for inspirational youth with learning disabilities who would be interested in submitting a Success Story for the website.  If you are someone you know would like to share their story, please contact LDAO at info@LDatSchool.ca or info@TAaLecole.ca.