Inclusive Meetings, Classes, and Presentations with Access Notes, Bodymind Affirmations, and Small Changes

I’ve noticed a trend among neurodivergent and disabled speakers, notably Lydia X. Z. Brown and Jonathan Mooney, of prefacing their presentations with an access note and a bodymind affirmation. They encourage people, be it in an auditorium or a group video chat, to move around and get comfortable.

I believe we should all move in our space in whatever way is most comfortable for our bodyminds.

Please use this space as you need or prefer.

Sit in chairs or on the floor, pace, lie on the floor, rock, flap, spin, move around, come in and out of the room.

This is an invitation for you to consider what your bodymind needs to be as comfortable as possible in this moment.

This is an invitation to remind yourself to remember and to affirm that your bodymind has needs and that those needs deserve to be met, that your bodymind is valuable and worthy, that you deserve to be here, …, to belong.

Source: Against Ableism & White Supremacy: Disability Justice is Our Liberation – YouTube

I know that I myself could not sit still in a room like this for even 15 seconds. So if you are like me and you need to take a break during my presentation, that’s all good. You need to go to the back of the room and pace back and forth, I won’t be offended. You need to leave the room, it’s all good. I myself may wander off in the middle of my presentation, and you all will be accepting, inclusive, and accommodating of that for sure. (Laughter) But, hey, you know what, this is your time.

Source: Lab School Lecture Series – Jonathan Mooney – YouTube

We Stimpunks really like and appreciate these affirmations and need the access and understanding they offer, both online and in physical space. We bring our whole bodyminds — stims, senses, perceptual worlds, and all — to every learning experience.

Though autistic people live in the same physical world and deal with the same ‘raw material’, their perceptual world turns out to be strikingly different from that of non-autistic people.

Source: Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome, Second Edition: Different Sensory Experiences – Different Perceptual Worlds eBook: Bogdashina, Olga, Casanova, Manuel

Where disability comes into the picture is thinking about how someone’s body or mind might function best in an environment, a built environment or an emotional or communicative environment or infrastructure that perhaps wasn’t designed to begin with with that particular person’s bodily capacity or neurodivergence in mind.

Source: Making Work Accessible, Wherever it Happens – Distributed.blog

Flexibility makes a big difference in inclusion. Small changes have big impact.

Small changes that can easily be made to accommodate autism really do add up and can transform a young person’s experience of being in hospital. It really can make all the difference.

Autism + environment = outcome

Source: “It’s Not Rocket Science” – NDTi

Our family, by necessity, near constantly advocates and negotiates for these small changes. Small changes go a long way to bringing the access promised in access notes and bodymind affirmations.

For example, making cameras optional during video classes is a small change that makes a huge difference for us.

So I repeat my one small but crucial piece of advice (more than advice: it’s an admonition): Make cameras optional.

We should treat video presence in our online Fall emergency distance education courses in the way we treat all accessibility, building in digital accommodations in the way one would physical. If you or your institution requires presence, offer alternative forms for students for whom presence means disenfranchisement, hardship, shame, or lack of participation (ie. bandwidth–I had to turn off my video yesterday at our FI staff meeting in order that we could hear better). This is an opportunity for digital literacy and for demonstrating your concern for learning. What are your system’s capacities? Perhaps, if a student doesn’t want to be seen or cannot be, subtitles are the answer. Maybe chat. Maybe blogs before class or texting. There one that matters most: how can you, as an educator, find an open, equitable way to help students learn what you most want to offer them.

Source: Cameras Optional, Please! Remembering Student Lives As We Plan Our Online Syllabus | HASTAC

A “cameras on” policy for classes and presentations, especially when the camera is used to enforce neurotypical notions of attention, is ableist and exclusionary.

For those of us with stims deemed anti-social, like nose-picking and scalp-gouging, turning off the camera allows us to stim and regulate without judgment, stigma, or distracting others. Stimming is an adaptive coping mechanism necessary to managing sensory overwhelm and attention. Making us sit still, in frame, on camera, suppressing stims is no way to learn.

A hostile learning environment, whether at home, school, or work, is a place where fear elicits the self-censoring instinct and shuts down the learning process.

Learners rarely put forth the effort to learn unless learner safety is in place. It’s a “build it and they will come” principle. If you don’t build it, they may still come, but they won’t learn.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (pp. 44-47)

In addition to allowing cameras off, complementing video chats with a text backchannel makes all the difference to including us. Before retiring, I had difficulties navigating the rise of video conferencing. Like Vint Cerf, I found it to be a huge challenge.

Around 1971, Ray Tomlinson developed the idea of networked electronic mail, which was hugely attractive to me because it replaced uncertain voice calls with the clarity of text. The development of the Internet was undertaken in the context of heavy use of email.

The rise of video conferencing has actually been a huge challenge for me as it reintroduces some of the uncertainty of voice calling and I look forward to real-time, automatic captioning to overcome the limitations that medium poses for me.

Source: Vint Cerf on accessibility, the cello and noisy hearing aids

Luckily, at the time, I was on a team that appreciated neurodiversity, differentiated instruction, and accessibility. We alternated meetings between video and text, allowed cameras off, and used a backchannel so I could type instead of talk during video sessions. Situational mutism marked my childhood and strikes me still, especially on group video.

And that’s not even touching on the ways this kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who’d rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it.

Source: SpeEdChange: Bringing the “Back Channel” Forward

Let us stim. Let us move. Let us be kinetic. Let us turn off the camera. Let us type to talk. Don’t force us into non-compliance to meet our needs.

Our non-compliance is not intended to be rebellious. We simply do not comply with things that harm us. But since a great number of things that harm us are not harmful to most neurotypicals, we are viewed as untamed and in need of straightening up.

Source: THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: On Hans Asperger, the Nazis, and Autism: A Conversation Across Neurologies

Make the small changes now, and affirm our divergent bodyminds as valid and belonging and not in need of straightening up.

Foster inclusion and belonging with an access note and bodymind affirmation at the beginning of your class, meeting, or presentation.

I’ll be using Lydia X. Z. Brown’s affirmation as a template:

I believe we should all move in our space in whatever way is most comfortable for our bodyminds.

Please use this space as you need or prefer.

Sit in chairs or on the floor, pace, lie on the floor, rock, flap, spin, move around, come in and out of the room.

This is an invitation for you to consider what your bodymind needs to be as comfortable as possible in this moment.

This is an invitation to remind yourself to remember and to affirm that your bodymind has needs and that those needs deserve to be met, that your bodymind is valuable and worthy, that you deserve to be here, …, to belong.

Source: Against Ableism & White Supremacy: Disability Justice is Our Liberation – YouTube

Additions to Our Philosophy on Equity, Learning, and Psychological Safety

Our Philosophy page lists acquired phrases that we steer by. They are compasses and stars that align us on our mission.

I added several phrases on equity, learning, and psychological safety from Human Restoration Project, Equity Literacy Institute, and Timothy R. Clark.

Learning is rooted in purpose finding and community relevance.

Social justice is the cornerstone to educational success.

Dehumanizing practices do not belong in schools.

Learners are respectful toward each other’s innate human worth.

Source: The Need – Human Restoration Project

In order to achieve equity we must prioritize the interests of the students and families whose interests historically have not been prioritized.

Equity requires the redistribution of material, cultural, and social access and opportunity.

Educational outcome disparities are not the result of deficiencies in marginalized communities’ cultures, mindsets, or grittiness, but rather of inequities.

Source: Basic Principles for Equity Literacy

Psychological safety is a condition in which you feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo—all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in some way.

Giving inclusion safety is a moral imperative.

All human beings have the same innate need: We long to belong.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation

We highly recommend all three resources.

Try Again: Mercy is Necessary to Learner Safety

“Retesting clearly works, so I give endless chances. If you’re willing to work, there’s always mercy. You can try again.”

— Craig B. Smith

Craig invites students to learn without adding fear to a subject that already creates its own. He recognizes that students who are emotionally distressed—anxious, angry, or depressed—are cognitively impaired and don’t learn well, so he fosters a challenging and yet nurturing climate of learner safety to dramatically reduce learning risk.

Based on his extraordinary perceptive capacity and ability to ward off compassion fatigue, he has mastered the art of shaping the social, emotional, and cognitive context, in creating a figuratively “clean, well-lighted place” where the whole student can flourish. This is learner safety.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (pp. 50 – 52)

If you’re going to test, then retesting is essential to learner safety. Not offering retesting is ableist and exclusionary to those of us with spiky profiles.

Craig maintains that slow students are not less intelligent students. They simply assimilate at a slower pace, so his focus is on student effort rather than aptitude. That ability to resist making discriminating judgments of students’ abilities is a skill, but it’s also a moral capacity, and one that many teachers don’t have the discipline to develop.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (p. 48)

Not offering retesting fails the imperative to encourage learning.

The moral imperative to grant learner safety is to act first by encouraging the learner to learn.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (p. 45)

Learning is invited, not commanded.

We need to remind ourselves that we don’t command learning, we invite it. The climate we create feeds the desire and motivation to learn. In an ideal setting, learner safety is a mutual giving and receiving of ideas, observations, questions, and discussion. If leaders are to meet learners where they are, you may need to back up and begin by supplying the inclusion safety that’s been absent. I have yet to see learner safety where inclusion safety is absent. One builds on the other.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (p. 46)

Testing creates a hostile, uninviting climate fraught with inequity and incompatible with many divergent bodyminds.

Standardized testing is a plague on the school system that does little to hit its intended goals. If we are to measure success of our students, then we’re on the wrong path. Traditional standardized testing simply reflects the inequities present in society.

If standardized testing must remain, why not cater it to the elements we need to promote in schools? Why not have standardized testing that measures students’ intrinsic motivation to learn?

Or how valued they feel as individuals in their classrooms?

Just as scientists measure soft skills in research studies, we could redefine the testing scenario to one that provides actual information that’s valuable to schools.

Source: Primer: A Guide to Human Centric Education

Don’t make testing more fearful and inequitable by not offering retesting.

In every learning context, consciously or not, we assess the level of interpersonal risk around us.

A hostile learning environment, whether at home, school, or work, is a place where fear elicits the self-censoring instinct and shuts down the learning process.

Learners rarely put forth the effort to learn unless learner safety is in place. It’s a “build it and they will come” principle. If you don’t build it, they may still come, but they won’t learn.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (pp. 44–47)