Michael Miceli's Summary of his fall term (at last!)

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Hi Everyone:

I trust that all is well.

Please accept my warmest good wishes for a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season and a great 2003!

Now that the Fall 2002 term has ended, I thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to share with readers of the Stats Forum what has transpired with my independent study course (ISC) with Dr. Neita Israelite.

I'll continue where my November installment left off. After the cross-disability simulation and panel discussion of York students with disabilities, it was time to evaluate what students had learned from the experience as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of such an experience in terms of raising awareness of the barriers that students with disabilities encounter on campus.

To evaluate what students had learned from the experience Dr. Israelite had assigned as part of their course requirements that students submit a disability barrier diary identifying all of the barriers that they experienced on campus as a result of participating in the cross-disability simulation. Students were not limited to only identifying physical barriers but also those of identifying technological, bureaucratic and attitudinal barriers. It was also encouraged that students share their personal feelings as to how they felt when they encountered a barrier and were excluded from participating in certain activities.

I read all of the barrier diaries and it was an incredible experience to be aware of what students had written as they shared their innermost thoughts with regards to the experience. Many students expressed a strong emotional reaction in that a significant number expressed that they were emotionally and physically exhausted from encountering all of the barriers. One student even expressed that she "would drop out of York because she could not cope with all of the barriers that she experienced." It should be noted that even though the cross-disability simulation was only for a three hour class, it produced long term lasting effects in that it exposed students to the reality of barriers that exist in society and how such barriers can take a toll on an individual.

As compared to previous years, there was a variability in student responses. Most students found that whenever they were asking for assistance they would encounter Staff/Faculty Members who were very unhelpful. Several of the ordinary tasks that I designed involved that students find library resources in Scott Library. Most students found that it was when they were in Scott Library that they experienced attitudinal barriers. For example, one student wrote that when she asking for assistance, a Staff Member spoke to her in a very patronising voice in which the student described as if the Staff Member were speaking to a young child and not a university student. This sentiment was expressed by many students in that they felt that they were ignored or made to feel like they did not exist.

As a side note, one of the concerns that I alerted Dr. Israelite to was the fact that a significant number of students did not use person first language. Person first language is a means of using appropriate language to describe persons with disabilities. The goal is to reclaim the use of language so that disability is framed in a more humanistic way and not in a pathological/abnormal/deviant manner. Students were provided with a handout (which some did not use) produced by Human Resources Development Canada entitled "A Way with Words" that describes which language is inappropriate and alternatives for use. For example, students were encouraged to avoid using the term "Down Syndrome Child", but to identify such individuals as "children with Down Syndrome." The goal being that such individuals are human/persons first and that their disability is not the centre of their existence but merely a small component as to who they are.

Another example of inappropriate language is that several students used the expression "when wheelchair bound" or "when confined to the wheelchair" to describe their experience during the mobility simulation. Dr. Israelite had to refer students back to the handout that she distributed to the class which indicated that such expressions infer a negative stereotype in that they do not adequately describe the situation at hand. Correct language instead should be individuals/persons who use a wheelchair. To measure the effectiveness of such exercises, we conducted a survey in which we asked students to evaluate all aspects of the cross-disability simulation. Students ranked both the mobility and hard of hearing simulation quite high with many positive comments. Several described that it had such an impact on them that they would like to have another simulation during the Winter term. Others described it as the highlight of their undergraduate careers and that it was far more educational than a lecture.

Dr. Israelite indicated that while the idea of having another simulation is wonderful, there would be insufficient time to conduct another simulation with all of the other wonderful things that have been planned for the Winter term.

One of the suggestions that I have for enhancement of the simulation is that while students are experiencing all three disabilities that they also have either 5 or 10 pound weights attached to both their wrists and ankles. Using weights or even "water wings" would simulate both muscle weakness and arthritis as it would be more difficult for students as they would need to expend more muscle strength with reduced joint flexibility to complete all scenarios. Dr. Israelite and I are currently exploring possible options to see if such features can be added to future simulations.

One area for improvement is that despite damaging the chemistry goggles as much as possible, it was not as effective in reducing visibility as had been hoped. A possible solution is that the following week a representative from Variety Village(a sports/recreation centre for persons with disabilities) came and we had a session on accessible sports such as wheelchair basketball in Tait Mackenzie. While there, the Variety Village representative had goggles from the Canadian National Institute from the Blind (CNIB) that simulate blindness/reduced visibility very well. As such, Dr. Israelite and I are exploring the option to purchase such goggles for future visual disability simulations.

A possible confounding variable to the simulation is that in previous years Dr. Israelite has scheduled her class during the middle of the day when the population at York is increased. This is the first year in which the class was held from 2:30 to 5:30 PM. Dr. Israelite believes that when the class was scheduled earlier students found the simulation exercise more difficult as they encountered more people and the effects of crowding. This was not experienced this year.

The remaining few weeks of term were spent on lectures describing the social construction of disability as well as expressions of the disability experience in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and film.

For the last class of term, Dr. Israelite was in Boston so I was responsible for the class. As such, there was a Library session for the students at Scott Library were they learned how to search for internet resources and professional journals. Basically a refresher course on how to navigate PSYCinfo. Such skills will be necessary when students complete their Major Research Paper (MRP) in the Winter term.

Also during the final class students were responsible for submitting their Fall Media Projects which is worth 20% of their final course grade. The Fall Media Project is a critical analysis whereby students must select 6 newspaper articles that feature disability issues. They must analyse them in relation to both lecture material and readings to conceptualise how the media portrays disability and how such portrayals form and inform dominant public and societal discourse towards disability.

Dr. Israelite thought that it was very important that I gain an appreciation of the challenge that professors have in measuring the level at which students have mastered both the lecture material and the readings. As such, she has asked that I assist her in formulating the necessary criteria whereby we will grade students in terms of their comprehension of the course material in application to the newspaper articles.

I have a very active role in contributing to the organizational format of the Winter term, which includes both the lecture schedule and the readings associated with each lecture. Dr. Israelite and I met on December 10th, 2002 to formally organize the Winter term and to begin grading the Fall Media Projects. I'm not allowed to divulge the contents of the Winter term until after every single schedule detail has been confirmed. However, I will post any possible major event announcements for the Winter term on the Stats Forum.

Last but not least, on December 17, 2002 I was invited to a Volunteer Appreciation Dinner on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada (MDAC). I was about one of twenty who received a MDAC 2002 Volunteer Certificate, a MDAC pin and a MDAC scarf. This was in recognition of my contribution as a Panelist and Presenter to the MDAC "Let's Get Together" event held on October 5, 2002, in which I have already described in a previous posting.

Once again, please accept my warmest good wishes for a safe, happy and healthy holiday season and a great 2003! Looking forward to sharing more in the New Year.

Michael Miceli

-- Anonymous, February 19, 2003

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