As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we cheer ourselves by thinking of future socializing in-person. We also think about returning to work or activities we love. These hopes help us through the challenges of physical distancing. Moreover, these challenges show us that we can be more flexible or more creative than we thought we could. For instance, organizations, from media outlets to stores, have adapted to new ways of providing information during the pandemic. Many of these adaptations are also practices that make information more accessible for viewers with disabilities. More information is being offered online, in accessible formats, or with communication supports. In the post-COVID-19 future, more people may recognize the value of adapting information to meet citizens’ diverse needs. Consequently, more schools and school boards may offer high-quality AODA training for educators after the COVID-19 pandemic.
AODA Training for Educators After the COVID-19 Pandemic
In response to the pandemic and physical distancing, school boards have needed to develop new ways for teachers, support staff, and other educators to communicate with their students. For instance, some classes may be happening in real time through video conferencing. In contrast, some school boards may not allow video-conferencing, especially for young children. Instead, these school boards must support their staff as they learn to contact and teach their students in other ways.
For example, teachers may post written lessons, handouts, or assignments online. Alternatively, they may post brief videos of their lessons. In addition, they may contact students by email to clarify lesson content or explain something a student has not understood. Moreover, teachers may need to coach students about the online learning process itself. Finally, teachers have learned to mark assignments that students submit online and to give online feedback.
In short, school boards have quickly needed to train educators to teach in ways that may be new or daunting for them. In the same way, school boards can adapt just as proactively to provide their staff with high-quality training on best practices for serving students with disabilities.
Current Requirements for AODA Educator Training
Under the Information and Communications Standards of the AODA, all educators must receive training on how to create accessible courses and lessons. Educators must also learn how to teach in ways that accommodate the needs of students with different disabilities. For instance, educators should learn about how different disabilities may affect the ways their students learn. Moreover, they should know about the barriers these students may face when accessing spaces, information, and technology. Furthermore, educators should know that some barriers can come from sections in school or school board policies. Likewise, other barriers can come from negative ideas that some staff or students may have about disability. In addition, educators should learn how they can create solutions to prevent or remove some of these barriers. Finally, educators should learn about resources and materials they can use to achieve all these goals.
Educators can have training in many different formats, including workshops, handouts, or online learning. On one hand, this lack of direction can be helpful. For instance, school boards can tailor training to their own students and staff. On the other hand, this variety may create differences in the quality of the training educators receive. For instance, the different possible formats lend themselves to different levels of knowledge. A teacher who attends a workshop will talk about course content with other trainees. This teacher will likely gain much more understanding than a teacher who is given a handout and does not look at it again.
Some school boards may offer brief training modules because their leaders lack experience interacting with people who have disabilities. Alternatively, some school boards may assume that only specialized teachers should need to work directly with students who have disabilities. As a result of this discomfort or false belief, some teachers and other professionals may not receive enough training about ways to teach students with various visible and invisible disabilities. For instance, school staff could learn about:
- Making audio and visual lesson content accessible or conversion-ready
- Communicating with students in different ways, such as using communication devices or plain language
- Physical accessibility in the classroom and throughout the school
- strategies to support students with mental health challenges
- Interacting with service animals in school
- Accessible field trips and job placements
- Including disability as part of the curriculum
School boards have succeeded in training their staff on new protocols in response to COVID-19. School board leaders have researched or consulted experts to develop solutions to the problems the pandemic has posed for their students and teachers. Therefore, school boards can use the same strategies in order to offer high-quality AODA training for educators after the COVID-19 pandemic.