BUILDING BRIDGES THROUGH TECHNOLOGY: ATRIEV’S TRAINERS’ TRAINING IN BAGUIO CITY 

It has been said that true inclusion can be achieved if the differences of all learners are recognized and their unique needs are taken care of. Inclusion further advocates the adoption of universal design for instruction and assessment of learners with special needs so that they can perform at par with their peers and acquire meaningful learning experiences. The use of technology inside a diverse classroom environment is one effective tool in creating equal opportunities for all. In pursuit of this, ATRIEV, as the premier organization in assistive technology for blind and visually impaired individuals in the Philippines–in partnership with Abilis Foundation of Finland and the Philippines Australia Community Assistance Program (PACAP)–conducted the first Training of Trainers in Android Accessibility from November 4-8 at St. Louis University Institute of Inclusive Education (SLU IIE) in Baguio city. The 22 participants –20 of whom are sighted–of the training included the staff of ST. Louis University’s Institute of Inclusive Education, social workers and educators coming from different special education centers of Northern Luzon. Four of the best ATRIEV trainers—all of whom are visually impaired–namely Antonio Llanes, ATRIEV’s Executive Director, Bobby Baja, Irish Ayesa Mendez and Stephanie Senin traveled 207.6 kilometers from Manila to Baguio for this very first Training of Trainers in Android Accessibility.

Each training day was divided into two parts: the first session on how to navigate Android devices using Talk Back, a screen reader program, and the second session on how to use the technology inside the classroom particularly in teaching the blind. During the morning sessions, participants were introduced to the Android operating system and its accessibility features for blind and visually impaired users. Basic gestures for navigation were learned through demonstrations by the ATRIEV training team, hands-on activities and through exploration. Teachers were able to decipher the differences of using an Android device with and without Talk Back and learned to appreciate the accessibility features of Android devices. On the other hand, the afternoon sessions touched on the basic concepts of inclusive education, basic teaching strategies and assessment for learners with visual impairments with tips on how to incorporate the use of Android devices as a teaching methodology. While the morning session provided means in which to learn basic accessibility features, the afternoon session stimulated discussions about inclusive education and how to accommodate learners with visual impairments. Moreover, the afternoon sessions stirred discussions between teachers, social workers, and from the blind trainers themselves on how to plan for a more appropriate instruction for the blind learners.

The Training of Trainers in Baguio has three main highlights: First, teachers were asked to create tactile representations of the different applications that can be seen on the screen of an Android device. This activity helped teachers to consider factors that are needed in order to make a tactile material that is easy for visually impaired learners to understand. Second, cooperation and collaboration were practiced throughout the sessions. In the different activities during the training, participants were given opportunities to group with different people in order to build connections among themselves. In this way, participants will have different networks that can help them as they practice their profession and provide quality education to learners with visual impairments. Lastly, participants were required to do a teaching demonstration on how to use the accessibility features of Android devices. This simulation activity enabled the participants to know the most effective means of teaching the blind through pointers and feedback from the training team and fellow participants.

The Android Trainers’ Training held in Baguio was truly a learning experience both for the participants and the ATRIEV training team. While the training had successfully taught teachers and other stakeholders about Android accessibility, there is still room for improvement. The Baguio training will serve as a model for the upcoming training of ATRIEV in other parts of the Philippines and in the quest of building bridges for learning through providing skills on assistive technology for all Filipino learners with visual impairments.

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