“Learning to learn from each other to appreciate diversity” – Co-fostering disability inclusion in teaching and learning in university education
Funded by the HKU Teaching Development Grant, a teaching development project on fostering inclusive teaching and learning for students with visual impairment in higher education in Hong Kong was conducted during 2019-2022 by Dr. Patcy Yeung from the HKU Faculty of Education and her cross-institutional team. The Project aimed to advance the equality and diversity in teaching and learning at higher education institutions in Hong Kong.
Focus group interviews with 30 university staff, students, and alumni from 6 UGC-funded universities in Hong Kong (i.e., 18 of them are self-identified as persons with visual impairment) were conducted to understand more about the learning experiences, needs, and barriers of university students with visual impairment; as well as the experiences and challenges university staff encountered when supporting students with visual impairment.
As a highlight of the Project, the team developed the “Guideline on fostering practices for disability inclusion at higher education institutions (Trial Version – November 2021)” based on the findings of multiple sources, including the focus group interviews, the review of websites of 76 local and international higher education institutions regarding accessibility support services, copyediting by an alumnus with visual impairment, external review by 14 international members from diverse background, as well as the Project team members’ expertise and disability experience.
The Guideline is a systematic compilation of recommended inclusive practices that foster accessible teaching and learning environment of higher education institutions in Hong Kong. The practices cut across the cultural, policy, community, inter-university, intra-university, environmental, language, technological, interpersonal, and individual levels. The recommended practices also correspond to different stages of higher education from students’ perspectives, which broadly start from university application, through admission, accessibility service initiation, orientation programmes for new students, living on campus, non-academic support and activities, academic support and activities, career planning to graduation.
The Guideline has been introduced to the university community and other stakeholders at local institutional-based seminars and international conferences and received many supportive responses from the audience. Since being disseminated online via DataHub in February 2022, the Guideline has already received 780+ views and 220+ downloads. For teaching staff, the Guideline would provide ideas about accessibility arrangement related to the areas of work they are responsible for. For disabled students, the Guideline would facilitate them to identify suitable accessibility support at different stages of higher education as early as possible for timely arrangement. For both nondisabled staff and students, the Guideline would provide practical insights into inclusive communication to facilitate their interaction with people with disabilities; and facilitates them to design more inclusive events and seek advice from relevant units as early as possible for timely arrangement; and guide their request of accessibility support when having temporary disability.
Indeed, many colleagues support accessibility and disability inclusion in teaching and learning. However, sometimes colleagues may not have sufficient resources or skills about what and how to do to better support students with diverse learning needs such as students with disabilities. It is important to include topics on ableism, disabilities, equality, accessibility, Universal Design for Learning, mutual support and respect, and effective communication with people with disabilities, as part of the fundamental areas of the professional development initiatives for colleagues. Awareness-raising training and practical resources on these topics that can be directly applied to their areas of teaching and research work are warranted.
For example, during the Project period, the switch to online teaching due to the outbreak of the global pandemic (COVID-19) has highlighted the significance of considering the accessibility of both the physical and virtual teaching space and activities. As an extension of the present Project and led by Dr. Patcy Yeung and Dr. Gloria Ma, another teaching development project on promoting accessibility of virtual teaching and learning through a train-the-trainer approach funded by the UGC Special Grant for Strategic Development of Virtual Teaching and Learning is being conducted. The team is developing a “Virtual Learning Toolkit” which provides practical guidelines and resources on creating accessible digital educational materials and virtual learning environment. Many relevant practices of accessibility that basically target students with disabilities would benefit all students regardless of disability status. The team believes that incorporating web and multimedia accessibility training in professional development would greatly empower and facilitate colleagues and students to engage more fully in virtual teaching and learning in university education in the long run.
Overall, along with the Guidelines developed, the key takeaway from the Project is appreciating diversity and promoting the collaborative efforts of university members in co-creating an inclusive teaching and learning environment. Teachers would become learners, who learn from our students’ experiences and needs. We learn to learn and teach each other to foster disability inclusion in university education together.