A black squirrel, a chipmunk and a groundhog were spotted at the University of Guelph’s ‘Designing for Diverse Abilities’ Conference and, together with friends and colleagues, gave us a great welcome.

The conference focused on the diverse population of students using technology in education, covering research into process, policy and outcomes. There were practical demonstrations of some of the support tools available to the diverse population in schools today.

Hearing directly of the experiences of people whose lives have been changed and shaped by their diverse abilities is always powerful. The positive accounts from those with both physical and social challenges showed us that the mind is indeed more powerful than the body.  The personal advocacy they are providing continues to push legislation to incorporate universal design principles, so that no one is ignored.

My presentation focused on the needs of people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and what adapted captioning could provide. Ai-Media has developed a captioning program specifically aimed at addressing some of the challenges faced by people with autism, we call it Simple Text. Specially trained captioners remove metaphor and figurative language, replacing it with concrete terms more easily understood. Key concepts are delivered in real time, slang and jargon are removed. Instructions are presented as single ideas and put in a logical order, with one idea per short sentence. Rhetorical questions are changed into statements.

We shared the idea that this form of captioning could be widely used for all students, including those with English as a second language (ESL). The creativity and enthusiasm that the delegates brought to the conference was reflected in the abundant post-presentation discussion. 

Eileen Hopkins presents Simple Text. One screen shows standard captioning on left side, another screen shows Simple Text on right.

It has been 10 years since the conference began as an internal training and development meeting for Guelph University staff. It has now grown to 500 attendees from a diverse number of schools, colleges and universities. The celebration of the first decade both reflected on the contributions made through the conference and anticipated the next 10 years. It highlighted the role that the conference will continue to play, in profiling both needs and technical solutions for those with diverse abilities.

We look forward to continuing the conversations all the way to Designing for Diverse Abilities 2019.

EIleen Hopkins wearing a stripped top

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