Australian National University Logo
Australian National University Logo

Celebrating GAAD 2022 with greater inclusion and accessibility

6 May, 2022

Dr. Scott Rickard

  • Home
  • Blog
  • Celebrating GAAD 2022 with greater inclusion and accessibility

As ANU continues studying and working in flexible mode, let’s increase our accessibility ‘wins’ and keep the traction we’ve gained during Covid. For Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) this year, I thought I’d write about a simple tool: participation cards.

I was inspired by autistic academic Dr Chloe Farahar’s use of participation cards for teaching. The cards were designed for use by neurodiverse students who may be experiencing anxiety or other co-occurring conditions whilst attending a class. It’s also not uncommon for autistic and other neurodivergent individuals to struggle with putting their thoughts into words and to speak quickly with the clarity that they want. We can also take our time with processing what’s been said as we will often need to de-literalise something, can miss sarcasm and jokes, or have auditory processing issues which are fortunately reduced in online meetings due to the use of headphones.

Example cards

These cards present an opportunity for all students and staff to participate in an inclusive and accessible way that supports neurodiverse communication practice on the day. Our neurological differences fluctuate meaning that we can talk comfortably one day and not the next. Using indicators such as these gives us an opportunity to simply indicate our preference for that day without having to clarify or ask for permission first. It is also useful for other staff too. It’s not just inclusive of neurodivergent students and staff; it’s a process that includes all students and staff irrespective of disabilities.

As an autistic person, living through the Covid era with two years of online meetings, I felt empowered being able to participate via chat rather than talk. It’s given me the flexibility to communicate in another format if I’m unsure that I can vocalise what I want to say in a timely way and it’s given me a level of communication freedom I’ve not felt before. Aware that I’m not the only individual who benefits, I’m keen to ensure that alternative communication formats continue within the ANU community.

Writing is a much easier way to communicate for many neurodivergent individuals as we don’t lose thoughts whilst waiting for others to finish talking, our minds aren’t disrupted by voices as generally the voices are limited to one person at a time in video calls, and, if we are using chat, we can press send when we’re ready. In a meeting I attended recently I just wrote, “HAND UP” and then my contribution each time I wanted to “say something”.

How do I use participation cards for teaching or a meeting?

For teaching face-to-face: 

Use printed cards and in your first class encourage your student/staff cohort to get creative and make their own cards to bring along to future classes. Although some standardisation, maybe colour as in this Edutopia video, would be helpful. It also works best if all students use them.

For teaching or meeting via Zoom or Teams: 

  • Use your Teams’ status as a space to indicate your preference as it will appear in a Teams meeting chat area.
  • Add your preference to backgrounds on Zoom/Teams – create a range of options that you’re likely to use.
  • Students can use coloured objects or pieces of card as in this example video if they are unable to make their own backgrounds or change them sufficiently quickly.

Dr Scott Rickard is an Education Transformation Officer at the School of Computing and the Chair of the ANU Disability Action Plan Education Provider of Choice Action Group. 

Links to additional resources:
GAAD 2021 – Tips for making content accessible to disabled students
Understanding your neurodivergent students and their needs in the classroom

Related blog posts