Carole Jean: What does accessibility mean to you?
Jacki Edry: Accessibility means many things to me, but as a general rule, it means providing the tools, accommodations, and understanding individuals need in an accepting and appreciative manner so that they will feel comfortable in their environment and will be able to thrive.
Accessibility also means that every effort should be made to enable people to feel as if they "belong" in their environment; rather than feeling as if they are being "included" from the sidelines. There is a big difference between "inclusion" and "belonging," and belonging should be the objective.
Carole Jean: What is your big "why" for advocating in education?
Jacki Edry: The entire educational system needs to undergo a complete overhaul as it is antiquated and does not prepare children for success in the workplace or life. Education should focus on teaching kids how to learn, the skills they need for today's ever-changing workplace, and most importantly, values- with a focus on respect for others and responsibility for themselves and their environment.
In addition, the educational system miserably fails to meet the needs of neurodivergent children. Teachers and administrators lack training and understanding, and adequate accommodations are not usually provided. These deficiencies set up a child for failure and can lead to feelings of frustration, inadequacy, and social and behavioral challenges.
I have witnessed far too much pain and dried too many tears to sit quietly and watch the system continue harming the children who depend on it to develop and thrive.
Carole Jean: What has been the biggest accessibility challenge you have faced in your own education in the past?
Jacki Edry: I was fortunate throughout my education as I did not face many obstacles. Our school district offered alternative education, and I chose to go to an alternative college that embraced my nonlinear thinking.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case for my children. For the past 25 years, I have been battling the educational system to receive accommodations for them. They are all neurodivergent. My oldest son is autistic, and my other children have been diagnosed with varying things, including ADHD, Auditory and Sensory Processing Disorder, dyslexia, and Irlen Syndrome.
Navigating the educational system has been an absolute nightmare. My children did not receive adequate support. The list of inadequacies is endless and includes a lack of remedial instruction or therapies, acoustic classrooms, accommodations during exams (additional time or oral exams), permission to use assistive technologies, or the provision of a 1:1 assistant to mediate for my autistic son throughout the school day.
Perhaps the most challenging thing was that the teachers and school staff lacked training and understanding about neurodivergence and were uninterested and unwilling to learn.
My children all have high cognitive abilities, which were not reflected in their test scores or grades due to their reading challenges. This lead to intense frustration, low self-esteem, and a lack of motivation to study. If they had been granted permission to take oral exams or use assistive technology, it would have solved the problem, and years of suffering would have been avoided.
Many teachers assumed my kids were lazy because they couldn't understand why such significant gaps existed between their cognitive abilities and performance. They didn't understand that they were working much harder than other children to keep up. In addition, many teachers didn't relate to them favorably because they assumed they were not trying. My kids were also repeatedly made fun of or bullied due to their low academic performance and neurodivergence.
Carole Jean: What are your best tips or insights into creating more accessibility from the educator or educational organization side?
Jacki Edry: It's critical to understand that educational goals should differ for every child. The educational system currently expects all children to reach the same goals at approximately the same time and in the same manner. These goals are not realistic, particularly for neurodivergent children.
Teachers should do their best to try and identify if their students have sensory or learning differences that need to be addressed. In many cases, sensory challenges are overlooked because teachers and professionals, including doctors or didactic assessors, often do not have the training to identify them.
Neurological and sensory differences are not easily measured, and therefore they are often disregarded. Sensory dysregulation interferes with the child's ability to perceive and process information accurately. If a teacher detects that a child appears to be uncomfortable or has difficulty paying attention or getting through the school day, they should try to assess if they have challenges with sensory dysregulation. Some common sensory challenges include:
Educators should also see the parents as partners and understand that working with them is critical to finding the most appropriate solutions for the child. It's also important to understand that medications such as Ritalin do not improve sensory challenges, and not every child with difficulty paying attention has ADHD! It's imperative to determine the cause of the attention issues rather than simply treating the symptoms, often ineffectively, with medication.
Carole Jean: What tips or best practices would you like to share to help aid other ND humans?
Jacki Edry: Here are the things I have found to be helpful when navigating the educational system (and in general):
Carole Jean: What is the most important point you'd like to share around accessibility in Education?
Jacki Edry: To make education more accessible, I believe it's essential for the educational system to understand that its task is to meet the needs of every individual child- and not the other way around (which is often the case.)
All children learn differently, and these differences must be understood, accepted, and accommodated. It is the responsibility of policymakers and educators to create an environment conducive to individualized learning and to provide all the necessary accommodations to enable children to feel comfortable, thrive, and meet their individual goals
YOU Are INVITED to join us for a live panel conversation on Accessibility in Education on Thursday, April 27th at 11:30 am EST on my YouTube Channel, Mind Your Autistic Brian. Join Jacki Edry, Carrin Gilmore, Simon Preston and more as we discuss what accessibility is in education and the most common barrier and our panel's suggestions to eliminate those barriers.
In 2021, I published my first book "Moving Forward: Reflections on Autism, Neurodiversity, Brain Surgery and Faith" and soon after and launched a blog on my site www.jackisbooks.com, which focuses on educational reform, inclusion, neurodiversity, and more. I enjoy linking up with Neurodiversity advocates worldwide, and speaking, writing, and speaking on podcasts to raise awareness about neurodiversity, autism, educational change, healing, faith, and more.
I am a graduate of Hampshire College with an extensive background in education, writing, and marketing. I have been exploring the world of autism and neurodiversity for over thirty-five years, as a professional, parent of neurodivergent children, and firsthand as a survivor of complex brain surgery that affected my neurological and perceptual abilities.
I have spent many years advocating for inclusion programs in the educational system, providing support for families of children with disabilities, and advocating for the inclusion of people with disabilities in society.
I am honored to have been chosen as one of the Top 50 2023 Global Neurodiversity Evangelists by ND by design, powered by Dynamis.
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