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 physical disabilities
- accommodations for learning disabilities
- financial training supports
- accommodations for learning styles (see the Learning Styles and Working with Special Learning Difficulties 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)
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.
“It is important for each learner/consumer to self-identify what their goals are. We always tell people that they are steering their own ship, and that we are merely helping in facilitation of their learning. Many have had unpleasant experiences in the school system, and for them to know that they have a say in their own learning plan is empowering and motivating to continue….”
Kailtin Schiedendorf as quoted in Making a Connection: Literacy, Disability and Quality of Life, Participatory Action Research Approach, Final Report, Independent Living Canada
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.
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 Ontario’s Accessibilities Laws site.
Accommodations for Learning Disabilities
“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
According to the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, one in 10 Canadians has a learning disability (LD). The Canadian Literacy and Learning network note in a Literacy and Essential Skills Learning Disabilitys Fact Sheet that 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.”
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 Keys to Effective LD Teaching Practice 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
Key #1: Create an Appropriate Learning Environment That Promotes Learner Independence
• Guide learners to be active and independent by asking such questions as
– So…how would you do that?
– How would you find that information?
– How would you remember that information?
– How did you figure that out?
• Involve learners in how they learn.
• Design instruction around the interests and everyday needs of learners.
• Remember that adult learners bring knowledge and experience with them. They have insight into how they learn, compensate for difficulties, and find success.
• Encourage learners to keep track of their progress.
• Reinforce the learning by providing continuing opportunities for practice and by giving immediate and frequent feedback.
Key #2: Provide Instructional Adaptations and Accommodations
These two terms often apply to the same tools and approaches that make a learning task more manageable. The distinction between the terms is a legal one.
- Accommodations are adaptations to which a person diagnosed with LD has a legal right. They include a wide range of tools and changes in the ways of performing a task, including all those listed below under adaptations. For people struggling with an essential life function due to a learning disability, specific accommodations can move them from frustration and failure to achievement and productivity! The possibility of such a change is one of the strongest reasons for getting a diagnostic evaluation.
- Adaptations may be identical to accommodations, but when there is no LD diagnosis, there is no legal right to use them (e.g., in a testing situation or on the job). Many of us have stumbled onto some helpful adaptation in life without thinking of it as such: colour-coding, reading aloud when trying to digest a complicated article, or taking frequent breaks. Adaptations that involve assistive technology are part of our everyday lives: hearing aids, glasses, computers, magnifying glasses.
Key #3: Implement LD-Appropriate Instruction
Characteristics of LD-Appropriate Instruction
What do we mean by LD-appropriate instruction? There are important characteristics described in Bridges to Practice: Guidebook 4. LD-appropriate instruction is
- Structured – involves systematically teaching manageable chunks or pieces of information.
- Connected – shows the learner how information in and among units and lessons are linked to the learning process and to the learner’s goals.
- Informative – involves making sure that the learner knows how the learning process works, what is expected during the instructional situation, and how she can improve learning and performance.
- Explicit – involves providing detailed explanations and models to the learner about how to approach, think about, perform and evaluate learning and performance.
- Direct – characterized by high rates of teacher or tutor leadership and control during the initial stages of information acquisition, followed by careful monitoring of the learner’s performance as she gradually assumes control of and masters the information
- Scaffolded – involves the frequent use of connected questions and collaboratively constructed explanations to create a context for learning based on the learner’s prior knowledge.
- Intensive – involves helping learners to maintain a high degree of attention and response during frequently scheduled, instructional sessions.
- Process-sensitive – involves re-shaping the activities within the instructional sequence to take into consideration various cognitive barriers that might inhibit learning.
- Accommodating – involves providing specific and general adaptations that are legally required to reduce or eliminate the impact a learning disability might have on successful learning and performance.
- Evaluated – involves adapting instruction based on an assessment of the learner’s progress and his or her response to previous attempts at instruction.
- Generalizable – involves using activities before, during, and after information has been mastered both to ensure continued application of the information and to increase the learner’s success outside of the literacy setting.
- Enduring – means that the program providers acknowledge and commit the time necessary to ensure that learners master the information and use it to increase their successes in life. When you make accommodations for learners with LDs, you enable them to complete the same work as others on their goal path. Making accommodations does not mean altering the content. Accommodations make it possible for learners with LDs to show what they know without the hindrance of their disability.
Both the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada and Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario 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.
- LD@School is a project of the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO). The LDatSchool.ca website features resources and professional development materials in a number of formats. These include both evidence and practice-informed approaches, practices and strategies. Although directed at K-12 audiences much of it is applicable to adults, as well.
- The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) has some excellent articles and resources available. The have sections for Adults and for Educators that deal with LD issues from the perspective of the learner and instructor, respectively.
- Adult Literacy and Learning Disabilities: Best Practices for Success – A Resource Manual for Practitioners 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.
- Supporting Inclusive Schools: Addressing the Needs of Students with Learning Disabilities This resource from the Government of Manitoba, is intended to support educators as they work with students with learning disabilities within inclusive classrooms and schools, however much of the information is transferable to adult learners. Sections of the document deal with understanding learning disabilities; addressing the needs of students with learning disabilities; supporting students with reading disabilities; and supporting students with learning disabilities in written expression, mathematics, self-advocacy, success in student learning and transition to post-secondary and employment.
- Toolkit: Current Best Practices and Supportive Interventions for EO Clients with Learning Disabilities In this resource, you will find the what came out of a research project conducted in 2014-2105 by the Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy entitled “Creating Pathways of Learning Support for EO Clients with Learning Disabilities”. Its goal is to strengthen the capacity of Employment Ontario’s service providers to meet the needs of Employment Services (ES) and Literacy & Basic Skills (LBS) learners and clients with learning disabilities (LD). The contents include background information on, analysis of the relationships between LD clients and Employment Ontario programs and concrete ideas, strategies, practices and supportive resources.
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