Literacy learners often have multiple barriers to learning. From the time they walk through your doors, while they are in training, as they exit and even after they transition to the next step in their goal path and lives, you need to continue to provide support. Support comes in many forms:
- adaptive supports to make programs more accessible for those with disabilities
- accommodations for learning disabilities
- financial training supports
- accommodations for learning styles (see the Learning Styles and Disabilities section of the Literacy Basics Assessment module)
- coordinating services within the community
Literacy and Disabilities
“Approximately 50% of Canadian adults with disabilities experience literacy barriers.” (Movement for Canadian Literacy’s Literacy and Disabilities Factsheet http://en.copian.ca/library/research/mcl/factsht/disabilities/page1.htm#footnote6))
Disabilities can fall under a range of groupings: physical, intellectual, visual, hearing, psychiatric, learning, etc. The more severe a disability is, the more it can affect participation in training or learning success. Each person’s disability is unique, though, and so the accommodations and adaptive supports also need to be unique. For example,
- a learner confined to a wheelchair with physical disabilities may need to have their training delivered in accessible facilities
- a learner who is visually disabled may need adaptive technology to read and write materials for them
- a learner with developmental disabilities may need one-on-one tutoring using hands-on or repetitive task strategies
It is therefore hard to talk here about specific tools to help you with LBS training for learners with disabilities. Instead, we suggest you talk with the learner.
As with all learners, find out what they want to do. Discuss their goal and ensure it is their goal. Talk about learning methods and learning styles and what works for them. Discuss their disability and how you might best support them and with what adaptations.
Many learners with disabilities had negative experiences in school. They didn’t often receive the accommodations or altered learning methods they needed. Because of this, many feel they can’t learn new things. Making sure that the “ownership” of the learning belongs to the learner, that they are full participants in the learning process, increases their self-esteem and motivation. It gives them a positive attitude towards learning.
Information about the learner’s disability and tools or ideas for making your LBS program more accessible to people with disabilties can be found locally, provincially and nationally through agencies that support various disabilities. The Copian (http://en.copian.ca/) library is another useful source.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
It isn’t just good practice to make accommodations for learners with disabilities and to make our programs more accessible – it is the law. Ontario is in the process of introducing stages of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The purpose of the AODA is to make Ontario more accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities. As Ontario businesses, all Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) agencies must provide accessible customer service. This includes our LBS training service. For more information about the act, your responsibilities as an Ontario business, plus a wizard, checklists and tools to assist you with compliance, visit the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment’s Making Ontario Accessible site at www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/accessibility/index.aspx
According to the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (www.ldac-acta.ca), one in 10 Canadians has a learning disability (LD). The percentage of adult literacy learners with LD is much higher, however, as “an estimated 30-80% of students in literacy programs have learning disabilities.” Literacy and Essential Skills Learning Disabilities Fact Sheet, Canadian Literacy and Learning Network (www.literacy.ca/content/uploads/2012/02/learning-disabilities.pdf)
LDs may be lifelong or may have happened as a result of brain injury. Some learners may have been identified with a learning disability before coming to our programs. Many others are not aware that the difficulties they encountered in school and life are due to learning disabilities. It is not up to us to diagnose LDs. Professionals who do LD assessments, diagnose learning disabilities and make recommendations for appropriate accommodations must be qualified to do so. Our job is to understand the issues adults with LDs face and to seek out and offer teaching and learning strategies appropriate for adults with LDs. People with LD have difficulties learning in the traditional way, so we need to offer different kinds of assistance. Finding the best or most effective learning supports and instructional strategies can be a trial process. You may have to try different supports and discuss what works best with the learner.
The University of Tennesee’s Center for Literacy, Education and Employment’s (previously the Center for Literacy Studies) http://clee.utk.edu Keys to Effective LD Teaching Practice (http://resources.clee.utk.edu/print/keys_ld.pdf) builds on their earlier work, The Bridges to Practices: Guidebooks. In Chapter 4, The Teaching/Learning Process, Keys to Effective LD Teaching Practice focuses on three key guidelines. These guidelines can be found in the following three boxes.
Both the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (www.ldac-acta.ca) and Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (www.ldao.ca/) have valuable information and links on their websites. You may also have a local association that supports those with LD.
There are many other excellent resources to help you learn more about LDs. They offer practical information and strategies to assist you in working with adults who have been diagnosed with LDs or who may have undiagnosed LDs and can benefit from accommodations.
- Adult Literacy and Learning Disabilities: Best Practices for Success – A Resource Manual for Practitioners (http://en.copian.ca/library/learning/alld/alld.pdf) This 400-page manual was compiled for sharing at New Brunswick’s Mount Allison University, in 2007, during a five-day institute on learning disabilities. The manual is divided into several sub-sections:
- The different approaches and definitions of a learning disability
- Different screeners and assessments
- Mental health and learning disabilities
- Reading, math, writing, and LDs
- Various accommodations for those with learning disabilities
- Assistive technology for individuals with learning disabilities
- Anxiety and relaxation techniques.
- Learning Differently: An Introduction to Learning Disabilities and Adult Literacy, Manitoba Education and Training (www.edu.gov.mb.ca/ael/all/publications/learning_differently_oct_2000.pdf) This is a course workbook that includes modules on Introduction to Learning Disabilities; Strategies for Teaching and Learning; and Reading, Writing and Spelling. There is also a useful resource list.
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