|Photo of me working with students in our It's My Story Workshop|
My first experience teaching students with disabilities was facilitating VSA Texas’ It's My Story Digital Storytelling Workshop of February 2017. This was also the first time I worked as a teacher who identified as a person with a disability, so at times, it became quite challenging to balance my personal needs with my students’ needs. Nonetheless, I quickly learned how to accommodate both my students and myself.
It is important to make sure students with disabilities receive their accommodations so that they feel supported and can work and engage effectively in their academic abilities. I know this from my own experience in graduate school. I have also witnessed how unsuccessful students with disabilities can be and feel when they are not accommodated.
|Circle of students and volunteers sharing stories in It's My Story Workshop|
When creating the curriculum I was more prepared to work with individuals with visual impairments than any other types of disabilities. This was because I have a visual impairment myself, and so I tend to focus more on how visual limitations may impact academic success than anything else. This became especially apparent in working with a deaf student in the workshop. I assumed that since I had two ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters I was prepared as a facilitator to effectively engage with this particular student. However, what I didn’t realize is that ASL interpreters tend to sign with clients across the room. So when I initially tried to help the student complete her assignment, I accidentally stood in the way of her ASL interpreter! I was actually just trying to get closer to her computer screen to read her work because my visual impairment means I can only read things up close. Through this experience, I realized I had to be more conscious of how I positioned my body when interacting with this student so that both of our needs could be met. But I probably could have avoided this mistake had I done more research on working with students with different disabilities and learned effective strategies to better engage with them.
That is just one of the many lessons I have learned through my experience teaching students with disabilities. Here are some other tips that can help teachers work more effectively with their students:
- Always acknowledge students’ accommodations.
- Provide training for teachers, aides, and assistants to effectively and inclusively work with their students with disabilities.
- See the student first and the disability second, but acknowledge the disability and the students’ needs.
- Encourage students with disabilities to move past their challenges and achieve their academic goals.
- Teach students without disabilities how to effectively work with and support their fellow classmates with disabilities.