Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing

Disability is Part of the DEI Conversation

November 01, 2021 Andrea Bown Season 2 Episode 3
Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing
Disability is Part of the DEI Conversation
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, educational publishing professional Andrea Bown discusses her experiences living and working with a visible disability and why it's important for people with disabilities to be included as active participants within education publishing. She also shares why it's important that education content is developed in a manner that fosters autonomy for people who have disabilities.

Speaker 1:

[inaudible]

Nicole Tomassi:

Welcome to Westchester words, education ed tech and publishing. I'm Nicole Tomassi, and in this episode, I'll be speaking with Andrea Bown, who is a writer of education content for literacy and social studies. Andrea has worked with several publishers and content providers during the last two decades, including McGraw-Hill education, Tighe, and Cenveo Andrea, welcome to Westchester words.

Andrea Bown:

Hi Nicole, thank you for having me.

Nicole Tomassi:

Very glad to have you here today. Let's get started. As I mentioned in the introduction, you've worked for several education companies throughout your career. However, like so many people who work in education publishing, you began your career as a teacher. Can you talk about your experiences as a teacher and how that led you to the next phase of your career creating, education content for the classroom?

Andrea Bown:

I started teaching in the early nineties. I started work as a substitute teacher and I did that for a combination of four years. Actually the educational publishing part goes back a little further than that. I, I was first introduced to the industry when I was in graduate school. I had a speaker come to one of my graduate classes and he talked about working in educational publishing and actually creating, which was at the time it was more of a, what we would think of as a textbook, the paper version more than digital stuff and how that, that industry functioned and , and how people worked in it. And I, that sounded really great. But at that point I hadn't, I hadn't taught yet. And he said that most people who work in educational publishing usually teach first because that informs how you write and what you write and, you know, your thought process. So I couldn't, or I didn't couldn't and didn't pursue it right away because I needed to teach first. So I spent four years substitute teaching, then I spent two years in what we would call a brick and mortar classroom teaching fourth grade, another three years, in an online school teaching in third grade. And then by the time I had taught in the online school, I kind of decided that I wanted to do something else. So I started to kind of pursue educational publishing at that point.

Nicole Tomassi:

I I'm just kind of fascinated by that there was, there was online school and it sounds like probably quite a while ago, is that what I'm hearing?

Andrea Bown:

I taught an online school in the early aughts.

Nicole Tomassi:

So what we've seen in like the last year or so is not entirely new, is what you're telling me.

Andrea Bown:

All of the teachers , most of the teachers that went from in front of their kids to remote, they were essentially doing what I had been doing years ago. And they had many of the same situations that I had years ago when I was teaching in the online school. Promotion and retention were much bigger conversations than they ever were when I was in a brick and mortar school, because I had kids who logged in two or three times for an entire year . It was usually very important that you had an adult that was there to help guide the child with what you said, kids who were successful often had some adult to help them along. And if they didn't, they usually were not successful.

Nicole Tomassi:

I worked with several of the members of the Westchester education services team , uh, when you were at , uh , other companies and when they were at other companies as well, including Kevin Gray, who is currently Westchester's president and chief content officer. Can you tell me what the impact was of those experiences for you?

Andrea Bown:

I started in educational publishing in 2006, Kevin and I met in 2012. I had worked for, for people before meeting him. When I made, when I made the jump from teaching in a classroom, to educational publishing, excuse me. I made a conscious decision because I wasn't in a place where people could see me that I made a conscious decision to not tell anyone that I have a physical disability, which is the first time I actually got to do that because obviously when I'm teaching and I come into a room, you know, what's going on. As soon as, as soon as I show up, when I started writing in ed pub, I didn't have to tell anyone because no one could see me. I began to realize, Hey, I don't have, because this you know, song and dance, 10,000 questions, and what's going on with you and dah , dah , dah , you know, tell me this, tell me that, you know, often comes with a disability that's seen. So I just decided very early on to not even bring it up. And I did that for a very long time, just because it was easier .

Nicole Tomassi:

You had brought up two terms to me, which I wasn't particularly familiar with, which are person first and identity first. And I was hoping that maybe you could explain that here for anyone who similar to me was not familiar with the terms and what the distinction is between them

Andrea Bown:

Within the disability community there's those two types of language. And there's not consensus about, about how they're used. Some people really like one versus the other. Some people use both. I tend to use both back and forth just because I do, but person first language is like, if I were to say , um, I use a wheelchair for mobility or the person, the I , or I'm a person who uses a wheelchair for mobility. I'm a person and then I, and then the wheelchair comes second that's person First language. If I were to say, I'm a wheelchair user, I said the wheelchair first and that's identity, first language. And some people like that, they, they feel that their disability is a central part of their identity. And there are different groups of people who have different disabilities who use those terms in various ways.

Nicole Tomassi:

Thank you for explaining that for me and for everyone else, who's listening who may not have, you know , understood what the differences are between those two terms. It does bring up a question for me in terms of when you're writing education material , um, where there is an individual with a disability, how do you decide whether to use person first or identity first language?

Andrea Bown:

Well, sometimes it's not up to me sometimes it's up to the client. If it's up to me or it's up to the writer, my advice would be to do some research on a specific disability. I will use the language that is preferred by the majority or the most of the members of that community, because it reflects what they, how they want to be talked about.

Nicole Tomassi:

While the conversation should clearly be about everyone. Who's in a marginalized or underrepresented group. The focus doesn't always tend to come over to children and adults who have disabilities, and they're not always experiencing the level of inclusion that is explicit in the very term of diversity, equity and inclusion. And I'm curious, what are your thoughts around that?

Andrea Bown:

That is true. I think that among the DEI conversation, that disability is still not as included as it could be. Also because disability also intersects with other things there's disability and race, disability, and gender disability and sexual orientation. So it's , it also intersects with a lot of groups. When you have a disability, that's just, you're also something else, race or gender, those other there's, other marginalized communities. It may inform what you write. Those things typically are not going to inform things like how fast you write, how much you write the complexity of what you write. Other marginalized communities are really kind of what you are, not what you, not, what you can do .

Nicole Tomassi:

So , um, likewise when conducting culturally responsive education reviews, oftentimes people with disabilities are not either , uh , initially a part of the content that's being reviewed, or if they are included within the content, they may be presented in a way that often doesn't give agency or autonomy to the individual with the disability. What I would like to know is why is it important for education publishers to ensure that their content is accurately representing people with disabilities?

Andrea Bown:

You have kids with disabilities who go to school and you have kids without disabilities to go to school. And this is the time when you need or when we should be presenting kids with disabilities. As agents of themselves, we need to start showing everyone that kids can be agents and kids can do things. Kids can succeed in school. Kids can go to college. If their disability precludes them from going to college, they can do some other sort of education. They can have a job, they can get married, they can have children and they can just not be the agent of someone else. They can be their own agent .

Nicole Tomassi:

Yeah . That makes sense to me.

Andrea Bown:

People tend to assume that because you have a disability , um, you are not intellectually capable

Nicole Tomassi:

There have been some steps taken within the education and education publishing areas in terms of improvements in how students with disabilities are perceived and considered. But obviously there's still so much more work to be done, as you said, and there needs to be more people to do the work side by side with the disabled community. And I'm wondering what you think are some additional steps that education publishers and content providers ought to be considering in terms of, you know, how to create more equitable materials, where students of all different capabilities can see themselves and identify with it and help to reach their full academic potential.

Andrea Bown:

You have to talk to us. And when I say talk to us, I mean, talk to us. Person who works with is not the same as person with, whether a parent or a sibling or a teacher who teaches someone with a disability it's not the same as a person with a disability. When I was a kid, I almost never saw a kid in a wheelchair in a textbook , not, not that I can recall anyway. And if I did, it was probably some old person who was an infirm individual who couldn't do anything. If you want to pull those kids, the young, like you said, the y ounger kids forward. They need to see themselves. They need to see themselves as, as going to college or getting a job or being in, being in charge of s omething. But they need to be seen as agents o f themselves, and not just as people who are taken care who can't do anything and all of this.

Nicole Tomassi:

So that then that needs to be put into the materials . So bring those people in, bring those people into that discussion, relate their experiences.

Andrea Bown:

And you need to talk to a lot of people. Our experiences are all going to be different. Educational publishing needs to find as many people with disabilities as they can to get all of those narrative in there. So we're not just, you know, inspiration or you know courage, or we're not here for that. That's for people without disabilities.

Nicole Tomassi:

Right? You, you want to be a productive member of society, just like everybody else.

Andrea Bown:

Yes, yes.

Nicole Tomassi:

So before we wrap up our conversation, is there anything else that you want to share with listeners?

Andrea Bown:

Because we're talking to the educational publishing community. I really hope that makes sure that they're including disability in , uh , all the DEI initiatives. They are in a position or the industry is in a position to really change some perceptions because they actually make the material and they can see that from beginning to end. So this is the time to get both kids with kids with disabilities, to be able to see themselves and kids who do not have disabilities to not be so freaked out or, or upset or, or intimidated, and hopefully help both of those groups to age into adulthood so that we make more progress then we have made to this point.

Nicole Tomassi:

I think that's a good place to end this conversation off on. And Andrea, I just want to thank you so much for taking the time to come on here with me today and to talk about your professional and your personal experiences. I think it's been invaluable for me and I hope it was a good experience for you as well.

Andrea Bown:

Yeah it was. Thank you very much.

Nicole Tomassi:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Westchester words. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with like-minded colleagues and friends, and be sure to follow us on your favorite streaming platform to learn about new episodes as they become available. You can find all of our episodes from season one, as well as the current season plus additional content that's been shared by some of our guests on the podcast page of our website, Westchester education services.com. We love hearing from our listeners too. So drop us a [email protected] with your thoughts or comments about today's discussion and let us know what content you'd like to hear Westchester cover in future episodes. Join us for the next episode of Westchester words. When I'll be speaking with Sarah Arbuthnot of Supadu limited. Until then stay safe, be well and stay tuned.

Speaker 1:

[inaudible] .