A learning disability can be challenging for many students, but it doesn’t have to be a barrier to success. Shakira Rouse understood this well when she faced her own learning curve as a student at university. “Things didn’t go according to plan,” she said. “I would kind of look at the feedback, look at the marks and kind of blame myself, thinking I was the problem and I needed to work harder, and so that’s what I did.” She was still having difficulties with her classes despite pushing herself twice as hard to meet her expectations, and yet she wasn’t able to get the grades she’d hoped for. However, a discussion with her friend about getting student learning assistance for her learning disability was the “aha” moment that helped her gain better insight into her needs. Her return to school to pursue another degree brought another breakthrough moment when she decided to take a minor in inclusive education. “It was really through all my studies and especially that one course on learning disabilities that I was really able to understand my whole experience,” she said. Rouse launched Special Compass to create tailored learning assistance for students to give others the boost that she needed in the past.
To further develop the capabilities of Special Compass, WIMTACH has partnered with the organization to create a web application that will enable administrators to securely exchange data between educational institutions and the organization as it continues to expand its reach. Since the Toronto District School Board approved Special Compass as a community partner to do workshops in schools across the city, Rouse has assisted many students. The partnership with WIMTACH is especially useful for streamlining the processes of attaining details about students to tailor aid and share resources towards their specific needs. It has also expanded her ideas about future goals for Special Compass. “It showed me that ‘yeah, that this is what I want Special Compass to be,’” she said. “I want us to be the innovators when it comes to accessibility and education and inclusive education in general.”
For Rouse, developing the scope of the functions for her web application was easy. She was able to consider her own experiences when deciding on the components of the application. As a result, communication between both teams was effortless. “It was just like a nice smooth motor coming together. There were no hurdles; everything was just crystal clear. [The WIMTACH research team] were understanding what we were trying to do,” she said. Once completed, Rouse hopes to also use this web application in post-secondary educational institutions in the city and eventually expand its use province-wide.
A big part of that next step will include incorporating technology into the framework of the accessible learning environment at Special Compass. “Being able to work on this project has also been able to show me that we can also push forward some of the other bigger visions,” she said. She notes that post-secondary institutions that were using some form of educational and adaptive technology within their curriculum were better able to transition into remote learning than others during Covid-19 lockdowns. So she hopes to create a similar tool to use within the Kindergarten to Grade 12 level. “I want to take this experience and be more proactive,” she said.
To this end, Rouse is carefully considering how she can further develop this tool to ensure that it is enjoyable and engaging for student use, while also enabling parents and teachers to find purposeful use of the application. As various hidden and overt barriers hamper ease of learning for students, Rouse hopes to inspire the public to reflect on the proactive approach needed to successfully implement inclusive learning. She wants people to understand that it begins with tangible steps, steps like the one she has taken to create an inclusive learning web application with WIMTACH. “Just because you put a ramp into a building doesn’t mean you created accessible education. There are still other barriers that need to be looked at and, sometimes these are systemic processes, policies and different things,” she said. “How are you being inclusive and welcoming to others?”
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