A lot of people have anxiety about math, which is understandable. Most mathematics education is totally disconnected from the human story behind math: the people who contemplated, argued, and succeeded or failed in their time. Math is largely taught as an abstract, separate, and inhuman subject. But there are real human stories behind each notation and each equation, from all over the world! I think that the world is ready for someone to write a Hamilton-esque musical about Évariste Galois, for example.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to attempt to convert you to a lover of mathematics or anything like that. I thank you for taking time out of your life to listen to my story today.
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I’d been a straight-A student in all subjects in my youth, but I never realized that I was good at math until I got to university. My placement test put me into a 200 level course on calculus which was much more interesting to me than my other courses. To be fair, I wasn’t all that excited about being a Business major or using financial newspapers as my “textbook.” So I switched my major and dug into mathematics.
I was in my Intro to Logic class in my second year when I first noticed it. When reading or writing, the characters on the page had a mind of their own. They refused to stay put! I would write an F instead of a 5 or a C instead of a 6. Something was getting lost in translation. I had undiagnosed dyslexia. I would eventually figure this out, but the astonishing thing was that I’d gone 13 years in school without anyone knowing– including me!
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Silent Suffering as a Student
When I finally figured out what all that letter-wriggling was about, I thought back to my years in school as a straight-A student. I spent most of my time trying to fit in and meet my teachers’ expectations. Even if I had known about my learning disability then, I might have been afraid to ask for accommodation.
I have spoken to a lot of people who have learning disabilities and discussed the ways that we found to get around them. It’s amazing the creative solutions that we come up with when we are trying to create their own accommodations instead of asking for help! We all had our reasons for thinking creatively. Mine was that I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. But I wish I had asked for help earlier, because working around my dyslexia worked in grade school, but it did not work at university. I had to find a new way of interacting with the world that acknowledged and included my neurodiversity.
I now see my dyslexia as an integrated part of who I am. I have days when I am frustrated by it, but I also have days where it comes to my rescue. But most importantly, accepting my dyslexia has helped me see the value in neurodivergence in other people. After all, two heads (or more!) are better than one. So it follows that it is better to have more than just one kind of mind. Neurodiversity makes a better and more interesting world to live in!
My dyslexia makes me see the world anew each time I look at it. My brain doesn’t have the same linear mode as most people’s brains do. It is constantly looking for patterns and possibilities. This can be frustrating when I just want to read one word after another but my brain is more interested in something else. But it also allows me to view a webpage as if I’m a visitor even when I’ve been there a hundred times before. I can see the distractions, the patterns, and the potential paths of confusion. This helps me design processes, workflows, and interfaces that help people get the information that they need with less frustration.
My dyslexia makes me a better writer because I know what it is like to struggle with reading. I want to provide the important information for my reader and let them get on their way without too many detours. I write with more clarity and confidence now that I celebrate my neurodiversity!
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I feel lucky to be living in the 21st century because there are so many learning resources to choose from! And most of the online courses I found had multimedia presentations of their content. As a dyslexic person, I found that learning from videos helped me retain information a lot better than struggling through lengthy text.
But one issue that I found was that a lot of the video content in these courses didn’t have subtitles. I have always been a big fan of subtitles on content as a neurodivergent person. (Sometimes my brain just doesn’t process sound correctly!) And I wanted to help other people feel empowered to learn on their own just as I was.
So I started searching around for a subtitling tool and found the Amara Editor. It was really cool that this tool was available for free! But I’d never added subtitles to a video before, so I was a little intimidated by the task of learning a new tool. But it took me under a minute to get used to the shortcut keys and workflow. And in just a few hours, I’d subtitled an entire series of videos. And I could download the subtitle files, use them locally, share the link to the video on Amara’s platform, or send the subtitle files to the course creators themselves.
I kept subtitling for fun, and then started subtitling for profit! I joined the Amara On Demand subtitling team in 2015 and then volunteered when they needed people to recruit more subtitlers from around the world. As I learned more about Amara and PCF, I wanted to get more involved. Eventually I made the leap into working as a member of the core staff. And it was a leap of love: love for accessibility, empathy, and inclusivity. This leap has been repaid many times over, little by little, through the kindness and keenness of my colleagues.
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Subtitles Integrated into Education
While many academic institutions are required to provide subtitles for video content, accessibility is about more than compliance. It’s about connection. Subtitles create another way for your audience to connect with your course, your content, and your platform. The more inclusive your content, the larger your potential audience: it really can be as simple as that.
I’m still passionate about education as a neurodiverse person. I am an avid autodidact, wiki contributor, and book club organizer who believes that education is a lifelong pursuit. And, for me, this has only been possible through accessibility of video content! My favorite education channels right now are Khan Academy, Crash Course, and Numberphile!
For example, as a neurodivergent person, the optimal educational environment for me is a series of subtitled videos that I can skip around and watch multiple times. I’ve read entire textbooks that immediately fall out of my head when I close the cover. But if I can remember the face of the person who told me that sharks are older than dinosaurs, then that information is locked in forever. And with more online education opportunities available than ever before, I think we can learn a lot from each other.
The nature of online education allows for less rigid expectations for both educators and students. I’m excited to see more from online educators in the years to come as they blaze a trail for digital inclusivity in education! Because the world needs neurodiversity just as much as an ecosystem needs biodiversity in order to flourish. And if we can make learning more accessible to more people, they might not be as afraid to speak up to ask for help, share an idea, or to change the world.