This is an all y’all thing

For love of cats, it’s not that big of a deal. All y’all need to chill. First of all, for those of you unfamiliar with the use of “all y’all” in the southern American dialect, let me explain. It’s a highly praised expression among those with advanced English literature degrees. Shows that you’re cultured, indeed. You may want to extend your pinky finger as you sip from your tea cup. People will know you’re classy if you use “all y’all” outside of the south.

Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Nothing says, “I’m a rube!” like using “all y’all” in the presence of non-southerners. When I get angry or very drunk, my southern accent takes over a bit. I lived in the south for my teenage years, and I find that there are certain expressions that I can’t kick because they just work so well. Recently I was asked: What’s the difference between “y’all” and “all y’all” because aren’t they both plural? Yes, but one has a certain emphasis that feels SO good when you’re a bit frustrated.

You can say “Y’all” to mean more than one person. Imagine you have two friends you need to explain something to and they aren’t listening.

You can say, “Y’all need to listen to me. I’m about to drop some wisdom. But before I do, y’all need another beer? I’m going to the kitchen.”

Now take those same two friends and add them to a population of people. Imagine as many people as you can. Like say, everyone in higher education who is wigging out about Accessibility, Universal Design, and lawsuits. Wigging.

You can say, “All y’all need to chill the fuck out because it ain’t that hard. It’s something we can do together. This is not just another eLearning thing. This is not just a faculty thing. This is not just a student services thing. This is an ALL Y’ALL thing. Chill out. All y’all. This is good for everyone. As in, ALL Y’ALL.”

See, I already feel better.

So this all got me thinking about two questions and I jotted some notes into the federated wiki:

1] What makes people panic so much and why is eLearning/EdTech/OL learning a target for rage benders? and 2] What can I do to teach people about accessibility in a way that’s humorous yet respectful to people with disabilities?

One question is easier for me to answer than the other. So I’ll start with the hard question. I have no evidence to substantiate this claim beyond my own experience but the EdTech rage target for faculty frustration is very real. We are an easy target for frustrated faculty. And I get it. I work in a union environment, I’m pro-labor, so I’m on the side of the teachers.

Administrators, on the other hand, are not unionized. I’ve stepped away from the efforts to unionize administrators because I think we have a much bigger problem with adjunct labor. This has not been a popular stance. Until there are organizing efforts for adjuncts, I told the union folks, I’m just not interested. When I was promoted, they had several reps come to my office within the first month. I’m pretty sure I scared the guy with my rage-filled rant about how the union ignores adjunct issues but they are happy to deduct their dues from their paychecks. How the adjunct dues help the union perpetuate a broken system that only benefits the few with the exploitation of many. How his brothers and sisters should be ashamed to say that they represent adjuncts. He didn’t even give me his card.

The union environment for higher education faculty in America is shrinking. I heard some eyelash curling stories from my like-minded colleagues in the American south recently. The administrators scared me more with their “solutions using technology.” Top-down mandates using certain technologies will just make everything better, they said. Easier. Faster. More efficient. Less costly.

Um. No. It won’t. The faculty–none of whom are in a union–do not have a choice. They say jump; they have to ask how high if they want a job that they love. All y’all have to do this. All y’all. Like it or not.

And let’s face it. Teachers love teaching. The truly good ones, that is. So they do what they are told to do. They want to do a good job. They care. They like feeling supported. Appreciated. Praised. Taught. Respected. Valued.

And when they don’t feel that way, it’s one giant shit storm for all y’all in EdTech. All y’all. The rage is palpable in every help ticket. Every phone call for help. Every email seeking advice. Every bitch session about technology. Sometimes it’s like trying to rationalize with an ill behaved dog or a toddler. You either let them have their way or you listen to the crying and whining that it’s all y’all’s fault. All. Y’all.

I have not  answered my first question,  but it felt good to tell that to all y’all. So let’s move on to question two:

What can I do to teach people about accessibility while being respectful to people with disabilities?

First of all, the Americans with Disability Act is not new. The panic level among faculty and administrators is very new. And let me do some full disclosure here. My grandmother was in a wheel chair for over ten years as a stroke survivor. She lost the ability to move half of her body and half of her brain function died minutes after her stroke. I’ve been on a blind date with a deaf guy who could lip read while suffering through my awful finger spelling. I’ve taught so many students who need accommodations that I’ve lost count.

Having ASL interpreters in my classes made a better, more patient teacher. I’ve been friends with ASL interpreters who introduced me to their deaf friends. One of my good friends uses a wheelchair. Maybe I have more experience with people with visible disabilities. Maybe not.

It’s the invisible disabilities that gets everyone’s heart racing. Welcome to Panic Town, friends, we’re being faced with something we’ve never truly been forced to care about despite the law until now. We have to think about all learners. Color blindness falls under this category. Not being able to see size 6 font falls under this category. Loss of hearing falls under this category. So many things fall under this category. Now ALL Y’ALL need to pay attention. And it’s a good thing. It is.

Accessibility at our local institutions was celebrated in a newspaper article recently, and I was so disappointed to see the colleges taking credit for something that Canvas, the LMS by Instructure, has accomplished. Not us. It’s not the colleges investing in accessibility; it’s the way Canvas forces better course design on teachers who may or may not know about accessibility as a course design concept.

But that’s not a good story for the public. And I don’t want to diss on my beloved system because we’re doing good work. We’re trying. We’ve got some amazing folks really trying to make things better for teachers and students.

We even have a helpful handout you can give your teachers when they are shopping for software or textbooks created by my colleague, Jess Thompson. I’m not a fan of making handouts but I made sure every single faculty got a copy of this handout during winter quarter when they are all being courted by Big Publisher. When they got frustrated, I was able to ask them, “Are you familiar with open education resources?”

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about folks who are new to what I’ve been doing for the last four years. What I wished had existed for me. So I did some research.

Today I read Nuts and Bolts: It’s Not Just About “Compliance”: Accessibility in eLearning by Jane Bozarth on the Twitter machine. Magic.

Here are her two best quotes if you are very familiar with the accessibility. Tell it, sister:

We’re talking about a lot of people who would appreciate a larger font or the ability to turn the volume up.

I can’t cover the details of all this in 1,000 words, so if I’ve piqued your interest I’ll try to boil it down: Don’t think of it as making eLearning “accessible” for special people. Think about making it usable for everyone.

If you are new to eLearning or EdTech, you need to read this article.

Then read about the lawsuits. Look very carefully at the products mentioned in the lawsuit. Make a note of those companies. The problem lies in the people who are buying the products that aren’t accessible from those companies. All y’all.

I’m in that group. I was part of a pilot project looking a lecture capture software and captioning a video wasn’t even a criteria in our considerations. It was brought up several times, but it wasn’t one of our deciding factors. We were looking at ways to ease faculty frustration in the transition from one software to the next, and that’s important. Had those lawsuits hit the mainstream media at the time of our pilot, our criteria would be different today.

Let me repeat that:

Our criteria would be different today.

And that’s where we are with UDL. We’re figuring out the necessary criteria. And that’s a good thing. We recognized we made a mistake and we’re not going to do it again. Check out the amazing use of captions as a learning tool in this video series. Brilliant! We have some new ways of thinking about teaching and learning with technology. Hot damn!

So how can I teach people about a very sensitive topic while maybe making them laugh? Thanks to my brilliant history teacher friend Shelli and her summer project of watching Little House on The Prairie with her kids. Thanks to her sense of humor and quick wit. I think I have an idea.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the television show, there is also a great little series of books which detail life on the prairie grasslands of pioneer era America. It’s cheesy down-home writing that was really quite influential to me as a young lass. The television series was one of my kid era favorites up there only with The Incredible Hulk.

Quick digression for Incredible Hunk fans: We recently watched all of the Incredible Hulk TV series and we got such a kick about the angsty existential questions that Dr. David Banner was struggling with in his amazing clothes. Somehow, we decided, all of life’s major questions are answered while hitchhiking in southern California. How did we not see that? As a kid, we didn’t think about those big questions about life. As adults, we were like “That’s straight up Kierkegaard” or “Holyhell, he’s dropping some wicked Freud.” I highly recommend revisiting this series, especially if you’re into tapping into the potential that all humans have. With a beer or two and your favorite snark buddy, of course.

Where was I? Okay, back to the point of this post.

On Little House on the Prairie, Laura, the main character, faces many challenges and we grow with her as viewers. One issue she faces is that her big sister, Mary, became blind. I remember being so freaked out for weeks that I was going to lose my eyesight like Mary. I cried during those first episodes if Mary’s blindness. I convinced several of my Barbies to become blind in solidarity with Mary. She was SO pretty and her blue eyes are perfect, I told them. And now she can’t use them to see! Cruel world. OMG y’all. We need to support her. It was a major plot line for a very popular character and my Barbie dolls.

And here’s the thing.

Everybody dealt with it. She was still Mary, she just couldn’t see. Shit happens to good people. Laura and Pa were the first screen reader I ever encountered. They had to read to her until she learned braille. They made sure not to move furniture so she could feel her way around their log cabin. Mary went to college. She snagged herself a hottie lawyer. She fell in love without knowing what he looked like.

WHOA, thought my little brain. He’s smart. She likes his voice. They are in love without knowing what they look like. Barbie can’t see Ken. Yet they are in love like “normal” people. WHOA, thought my little brain.

Suddenly, life was pretty good for Mary once everyone considered her needs and helped her when she needed it. Most importantly, she was autonomous and lived her life the way she wanted.

For my generation, we encountered people with disabilities, for the most part, via television. Unless, of course, you knew somebody in your community or your family.

Things are different now.

Our criteria is different now.

We still have a lot of work to do.

And we can get better. Me and you. It’s not that hard. Yes, some of it’s hard. There just has to be a WE. Not just the teacher. Not just student services. Not just the families of these people. Not just IT. Not just eLearning. Not the state board. Not the private sector. Not with fancy software. Not just the teachers. Not just the teachers. Not just the teachers.

All y’all.

photo credit Little House on the Prairie Wiki

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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