By Indrani Solomon
I always tend to ask questions at meetings to connect better with people around me, doing the thinking together as we find ladders and chutes in the process. While some call this brainstorming, I call it fine tuning or simply, connecting the dots.
So let me start with my first question -
• What does communication mean?
As we work in teams - in settings that look communal or corporate, startup or educational - building human capital is key to success, under which one of the key elements is effective communication. While communication comes in many forms, and means different things - to me, it has always been a two-way process where each person wants to, needs to, and should be included, heard and valued.
But when you don’t have a natural voice, how do you communicate effectively and yet be unapologetically yourself? My son taught me how to work on my own social circuitry to understand this scenario deeply. For someone with an intellectual disability and a speech disorder, anything in life can be hard enough without the right access points for a universally designed environment.
So let me take you on a journey -
Every year, Pranoy’s stellar school offers a meet and greet with the new teachers before school begins. A great opportunity for everyone to connect, build relationships, embrace variability and design an accessible and equitable academic experience. Also, a great opportunity to innovate, learn from mistakes, and become change agents. Embracing variability, I would imagine, is what every teacher aspires to do on any given day in the classroom. Who doesn’t really want to see growth?
I continue our journey by questioning my environment -
• What does success mean?
• Who is allowed to achieve it?
• Is innovation a state of mind?
Let’s talk about framing the learning experience. In order to embrace variability, the teachers would need to engage with the class through multiple means of representation and expression while also allowing the students to do the same. Instruction led classrooms are a thing of the past as we know. At a UDL conference last year, Emma Van der Klift articulated my thought well - “the idea that ability leads to opportunity needs to be reversed. Give people opportunities, and it will lead to ability”. If we were to apply this thought in a Physics classroom, focusing on context and connecting it with grade level content, how would learning look like for everyone?
My son, Pranoy, has Down syndrome, is 12 years old, and as you can imagine, the light of my life. I must share with you that he’s a terrible speller but an excellent word reader. Somehow, spelling the word, HAPPY, came naturally to him at a very young age, he spells it perfectly each time even if he forgets spelling his name correctly sometimes.
Not that he’s always happy, if you picture a 12 year old, soon to be a teenager, but he sure does aim to be.. simply happy! So each time you challenge my son to learn something new or choose to become a silent mentor, you give him the gift of “happy”. Remember when King Lear asked Gloucester, “how do you see the world?” To which Gloucester, who was blind, answered, “I see it feelingly” - that’s just how life sums up for the Pranoys of the world. After all, learning is for everyone. For the marginalized, even more so. Unfortunately, they are the first to get written off due to our internal biases. But with educators leaning in, and finding ways to design an equitable learning experience, it helps to create the “my” versus “I” concept of self reflection, making room for both ends to develop their minds and improve processes along the way.
Pranoy’s presentation of his summer adventures this year is a shining example of thinking AROUND the box, focusing on the corners and edges to see how best he
applies his learning by navigating the path of self discovery, perfecting the staccato over time. Every student with a disability can learn Physics or for that matter, any subject. We as experts need to connect the why to the what for it all to come together. So as we build on artificial intelligence, let us take the same methodology to help build on our own human intelligence. Because truly caring is truly liberating!
I am a Disability Inclusion advocate, a community builder and a lover of cognitive science. My role as a social entrepreneur and Design Thinking practitioner is at its
infancy but growing with speed and accuracy as I pursue connecting the dots.
I lead storytelling projects (using TEDx format) in mycommunity to engage with the youth, connecting them to topics related to their inner being and social justice -
I choose to write and create communal videos for my inner circle; recent guest blog publication -
Stories and Strategies fo... - aac, communication, education, learning, parent