Everyone has a story to tell. They do not need to be big, powerful stories to have impact or provide crucial information for others. More often than not it’s the act of telling that’s important.
Being able to use stories is of particular help for learners with disabilities, but even then there can be challenges; there are many forms of disability and they manifest themselves in unique ways for each individual, sometimes making traditional written or verbal communication difficult or impossible.
This being National Storytelling Week, it got me thinking about how empowering digital stories can be for disabled learners. With digital media you can find accessible tools and resources that support you to tell your story as you want, and even enhance the narrative by adding images, audio or using video.
What’s more, the fact that mobile devices now come with a host of features for recording sound, images and video, is lowering the technical bar and supporting affordability for creating digital stories. It means each person should be able to find a way of using technology that suits them to support their learning, work or leisure activities. We know this from the wide range of short personal stories we’ve collected for the Jisc guide on supporting learners with visual impairments.
There are plenty of other examples where digital content has supported storytelling. Most recently we’ve seen this in one of the successful entries in our accessible by design competition from the University of Sheffield.
Their idea involves enabling individuals to explain their own solutions for coping with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling, and can manifest itself in a wide range of difficulties for students.
A successful intervention for one student may well be of little value to another with a similar diagnosis, so it’s important that a wide range of experiences are taken into consideration when devising solutions to help learners. This project will provide a collection of real-life examples from individuals who can explain just how they use technology to overcome any difficulties, for others to draw from.
For example, Chloe is studying for a master's degree in librarianship. She finds reading and understanding text at the same time difficult. She therefore takes any text and converts it to an audio file. This then means that she can listen to the text being read out loud and follow it more clearly. There are a wide range of ways of converting digital text to audio including a built-in 'speak' button in Microsoft Word and free to use text to speech applications such as Balabolka and Dspeech, as well as paid-for tools such as VisionAid.
Watch a video of Chloe's story:
Aiding understanding for learners with autism
Students who are on the autistic spectrum sometimes have difficulty in understanding different social situations. They may struggle to know how to behave appropriately.
Although some people with autism may struggle to make sense of stories that are highly complex or metaphorical, many learning providers find they can use them successfully, through a process called Social Stories™. Social Stories are simple accounts of situations and reminders for an individual of how to act. For example, learners with autism can find it difficult to cope with changes in their routine. If there is a timetable change that student may become anxious or behave in a challenging way.
They may find it beneficial to talk about these situations with their teaching or support staff and work out a process that enables them to manage their emotions, and this technique can be a good way of encouraging them to do so. Their social story may be something like:
- I don't like it when we have to move rooms in college as I don't like things to change
- If there is going to be a change I can ask the staff where the new teaching room is
- If possible I can go to the new room in advance of the lesson and look inside
- I know that if I feel anxious or upset I can go to a (already agreed) place and calm myself down
- I have ways to help me keep calm
An autistic student may have a number of these stories that they can go to at relevant times. In the past they would be available as books or cards, but mobile devices now make these available at the touch of an icon and can include text, images, including photographs and symbols as well as audio and possibly even video. They are simple to produce and provide instant reassurance for vulnerable young people.
Digital storytelling can also assist with supporting learners with disabilities through the assessment and feedback process.
Many young people with learning difficulties work towards non-regulated qualifications. Although these achievements are not accredited it does not mean they should not be evidenced in the same way as more traditional qualifications.
In fact, the system of recognising and recording progress and achievement (RARPA) is now compulsory for all aspects of non-accredited Skills and Education funding agency (SFA and EFA) qualifications, including work experience or personal and social development. The diverse nature of these achievements means that evidence is also diverse, varied and in many different forms – all adding to the challenge for the learner in recording their experiences and accomplishments.
Treloar College is using digital devices to enable its students to create their own stories as evidence of achievement. Colleges such as Treloar are using apps including Book Creator that allow learners to create content that includes text, audio and images and video, to chart their personal education journeys and share their stories with teachers and staff.
Find out more
If you want to find out more about digital storytelling to support accessible learning, or share your experiences, I’d love to hear your own examples. Please contact me for more information.