In July 2018 we were asked by the Ministry of Education in the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda to do some training for their general education and special education teachers. They were interested in workshops that promote inclusion and integration not only in their educational settings but also in their community. They wanted to use local talent and resources to help create environments that accommodate students’ abilities.
A major part of the mission of the Adaptive Design Association is to encourage and assist others to do, in their localities, the kind of work we do in New York. We were thrilled, therefore, to have the opportunity to teach this workshop. It’s our first exposure to a unified school system for a whole country, which offers an unprecedented opportunity for the workshop to have far-reaching impact.
At the end of August, therefore, we traveled to Antigua to do a 5-day workshop as part of an annual summer institute that included a wide range of education-related topics. Our aim: to teach cardboard carpentry skills and the principles of assessment and design of custom adaptations for students with disabilities.
It was a hectic and fruitful week. About 30 participants were able to make many adaptations for their schools and home settings such as: communication cards, reading easels, perches (stools), foot rests, and study carrels. We were especially fortunate to be able to meet a 6 year old boy with cerebral palsy and epilepsy and to create for him a freestanding chair with a laptray and a floor seat.
Key factors that made this possible were the determination of the team from the Ministry of Education to maximize the educational experience of all students in this nation of 68,000 people; encouragement from UN ambassador Dr. Aubrey Webson; extensive preparations, such as making multi-layer cardboard in advance, purchasing supplies and tools, securing additional power tools on loan from staff; allocating a spacious, airy work space at the brand-new school where the Institute was being held; and most of all, the course participants who were teachers and teacher assistants (6 of these from Antigua and Barbuda’s deaf community). Each of them voluntarily took 5 days out of their summer break to participate in this professional development training workshop.
Teaching this workshop was a wonderful experience. In addition to the warm welcome we received from everyone, being exposed to an educational system that is like, and yet very unlike our own, was eye-opening. We were glad to share some of what we know with others who want to learn it and who can put it to good use.
We hope this experience can expand, that some of the participants become leaders of the project and keep practicing. With continued support from the Ministry and school administration -- dedicated time for building adaptations, physical space, tools and materials, plus encouragement -- workshop participants can develop further skill and become an adaptive design center that serves students with disabilities all over Antigua and Barbuda. In the future, perhaps they can provide workshops like this to the wider educational community in the Caribbean.
About the authors:
Rocio Alonso is a Senior Adaptive Designer and Fabricator who has been with ADA for over 6 years. She sees each creation as a celebration of hope and is proud to be part of the community that creates it.
Susan Fridie is ADA's Occupational Therapy Consultant, who joined the staff shortly after Rocio. She loves simple, elegant solutions to real-life problems and how a single change can sometimes re-make a person's life trajectory.