Lessons Learned (Part 1)

A while ago I posted that here there is just not enough time in the day, and I found that to be true throughout my trip to Edinburgh — and even upon returning home. So I post this as “Part 1” of an unknown number of future posts, because although I’ve been home for 7 days now, I continue to have thoughts I’m processing, and experiences that I want to share with you.

As I’ve mentioned, week one of my visit to the University of Edinburgh was very student-centered, having spent many hours with students at the various Festival of Creative Learning events. Most of the events in fact seemed to have been created and run by students, and I was able to be a part of several that allowed me to learn more about their experiences at the university. Not a scientific sample, to be sure, as it seems that many students faced with a week without classes apparently take a “Ski Week” rather than stick around Edinburgh and participate  in the FoCL. So students are students, it seems.

Week two, however, was very staff-oriented. I met mainly with staff of the Student Disability Service office and discussed a wide range of topics, including IT accessibility, assistive technology, the development of the accessible and inclusive learning policy, the screening process for students with disabilities, implementation of accommodations in the classroom, and of course, budgets and funding.

It was very interesting to me how many similar challenges we face at out institutions, even when we also have many differences. For example, although we have very different governmental structures above us, we still have several layers creating policy and providing funding. Here in the U.S., UMD is part of the Maryland University System, and has state guidelines and policies to follow, as well as those established at the federal level. At the U of E, there are Scottish laws, UK laws, and EU policy and regulations. There are major differences, however, in how those governmental structures support accessibility across society. So that was a major eye-opener for me, to see how much the concept of making everyday things accessible to citizens is expected in Scotland, I will venture to say throughout much of the EU. For example, when I went to the local shop to buy something  for my stuffy nose, I found that the packing of all the over-the-counter cold medicines included Braille. Yes, all, in every store:

Accessible Braille packaging of over the counter cold medicine

Access Gallery at Stirling CAstle allows everyone to make the most of their visit to the historic castleIt’s hard to imagine such a thing happening in the U.S., and even more so given the current political climate. Meanwhile, while visiting Stirling Castle, I stumbled onto the “Access Gallery,” with a sign stating “We are committed to equal access and have designed this gallery to allow everyone to make the most of visiting this historic building.”

Inside the Gallery, there were a variety of accessible displays and exhibits, including a video which offered captions and a British Sign Language interpreter.

It’s just a totally different mindset to include these things, which certainly added to the total cost of the exhibit. Captioning is not cheap, and neither is hiring a Sign Language interpreter. But the return on investment for these things is that more people will come to the Castle (which has an entry fee), to learn about thCaptioned video at Stirling Castlee history of Scotland. Not to mention: It is the right thing to do.

So as I continue to process what I learned on this visit to the University of Edinburgh, I find myself thinking again and again: “What would it be like to have this kind of support and acceptance of the very basic concept of accessibility throughout society?”

There are still many challenges faced by my colleagues at the University of Edinburgh, so I don’t mean to paint a perfect picture.  In my next post I’ll describe more of what we shared with  each other about those challenges, and where we can go moving forward. I truly think that this international visit sparked some ideas for both myself and the many folks I met with in Edinburgh. As I mentioned, this is Part 1 of an unknown number of posts. I still have lots to process. 🙂






Author: suejohnston2017

Sue Johnston is an Instructional Designer at the University of Maryland. She focuses on promoting accessible and inclusive learning in online learning. She is not actually a very good pool player but is willing to give any game a try.

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