Packing and Unpacking: Distance Education and the Social Model of Disability

I am finally packed.
Gah – I am so terrible at packing…
It taxes my executive function because… anticipating… and predicting… and sorting… and organizing… and planning… and DECISIONS!!

So now that this is done, I will tell you about my next adventure because there are some potentially amazing opportunities on a global level and I am excited by the possibilities.

The Commonwealth of Learning, an organization created by Commonwealth nations to support an international educational initiative for the development and sharing of Distributed Learning (distance ed/open learning) resources and technologies, has invited me to present at their conference in Belize: Innovative Schooling: Transforming Pedagogy, Increasing Access, to Ensure Learning.

And I am leaving today…

I will be presenting with Education Professor, Dr. Maxine McKay, from the University of Belize, whom I met in 2013 when she and her colleagues visited the school where I work, on the outskirts of Vancouver, BC.  At the time of her visit, Belize was opening its first Open Learning school, and we took the opportunity to discuss the possibilities that exist within DL (Distributed Learning) to support students with disabilities.

Dr. McKay and I will each have short time to present as a part of a panel, followed by a period for questions and discussion, so I am trying to figure out how to make the most of this time.

I am mindful that this conference is not just about DL/Open Learning in Belize or other developing countries, but that it is also an opportunity to influence ideas around disability for those in positions to make decisions that affect educational policy. I am humbled at the opportunity to be a part of this conference, one that promises to examine the intersections of disability and poverty and access to education in developing countries and beyond.

The Commonwealth of Learning’s mandate is to provide access to education for students regardless of race/sex/economic situation, and it is exciting that they are interested in considering how DL/Open Learning can create access for students with disabilities. I know that other presenters will have the technology and resources aspects covered; I understand that I have been invited because they want to ensure they also continue to focus on the students, and they think I can talk about that with heart and passion…

So I am leaning toward discussing the Social Model of Disability vs the Medical Model, and how DL/Open Learning can function as a bit of an end-run around the barriers that might exist for students with disabilities, in that it can give them access to education where inclusion is not widely practiced or implemented. This is a beautiful opportunity to look at creating structuring systems and building understanding and capacity in order to support students with diverse learning needs.

More specifically I can talk about how distributed learning (distance ed/open learning) can be a good match for students – and why – and what our schools and teachers and systems and society can do by building their understanding and capacity to be open to other ways of seeing and doing and experiencing things, and the multiple and diverse ways to represent and measure learning.

And we need educators to learn from the voices and perspectives of disabled people who are the real experts… There is a lot of stigma and untruth out there… and it hurts…

And that it is the attitude of acceptance of the individual in the very moment – exactly as they are – combined with presuming competence – that will create the most opportunities for diverse learners…

So I am stepping back from specifics in some ways and speaking more philosophically to work on strategies that build capacity and understanding and will encourage educators to draw on this information like the blogs in my blogroll (Pssst over there to the right —> ) to inform their practice…

I also want to discuss that just because we have the technology – or the programs and resources… it doesn’t mean we will meet the needs of diverse learners; that takes building capacity in our educators, and we need to build understanding about presuming competence and welcoming dissent and so many other things…

And, too… the home facilitator/parents need to be supported in unwinding the pathologized aspects of the diagnostic process, because Developmental Disabilities, such as Autism, are generally diagnosed by comparing a child to what is commonly expected and looking closely at the things that are not  developing in ways that are typically expected. The diagnostic process is deficit based, and in my experience, parents need support and direction in breaking away from this perspective.

We need educators and parents to understand that they are being sold a bill of goods with the negative rhetoric around disability, and beyond this – as a society – we need to realize and recognize that disability is not a tragedy but a natural part of the full range of human experience. People with disabilities are valuable and should be honoured, respected, and INCLUDED, and DL/Open Learning educators are positioned in a way to make this happen!

Autstic Sun - A painting by H


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2015)



About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in acceptance, Autism, Disability, Distance Education, Distributed Learning, diversity, Educator, executive function, inclusion, Special Education and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Packing and Unpacking: Distance Education and the Social Model of Disability

  1. Suvarna says:

    Yay Leah, good luck on your journey, so glad to have you in our corner. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. seventhvoice says:

    This is fantastic. My Aspie daughter used distance Ed for all of last year. It really helped her to build her confidence back up and she really needed a year away from the pressures of main stream schooling. Distance Ed works. Good luck with it all.


  3. Pingback: Packing and Unpacking: Distance Education and t...

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