Amy Coupal: Global Champion of Disability Inclusive Learning Opportunities

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AccessTALKwithTrish.com – Radio Episode

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Trish: Hey there listeners welcome to access talk with Trish. A 30-minute weekly online radio segment dedicated to examining the good the bad and the reality of accessibility in our communities. I'm your host for the show Trish Robichaud. A disability inclusion coach facilitator, author and motivational speaker. I'm a woman with a disability but I'm definitely not a disabled woman, so there. The access talk with Trish radio show can be heard live on Wednesdays at 11:30 Eastern at accesstalkwithtrish.com or you can listen live to past show recordings on-demand at anytime at the same address or on iTunes if that's how you roll. This show is brought to you by changing paces, an accessibility consulting firm that simplifies disability legislation for organizations that think they don't have the time or money for compliance. Visit changingpaces.com and nurture a culture of inclusion where everyone matters. And on that note I'd like to introduce my guest for this week Amy Coupal. Amy's career has been focused on learning and development across multiple sectors and disciplines for over a decade. She's passionate about creating meaningful learning opportunities that positively impact lives and communities. Joining curriculum services Canada in 2006, Amy soon became the CEO of their learnography and it's charitable affiliate my classmates foundation in 2009. Prior to onography she oversaw the development of multiple teaching programs both online and face-to-face at the learning disabilities Association of Ontario. Awesome! As a lifelong champion of accessibility Amy is proud of the many accessibility related learning programs at monography including the free online course on the AODA called access forward and we have some history there. Her organization champions both accessible training in all of their work and has spearheaded a number of initiatives on accessibility inclusion and diversity. Amy applies her broad education background which includes teaching in Canada and Japan cool to all national and international initiatives she oversees. She holds a Masters of Education in workplace and adult learning. Welcome Amy thanks for joining me today.
Amy: thanks for having me I'm excited to be here.
Trish: I understand that you grew up with disability in the family. Can you tell us about how that shaped your perspective on life?
Amy: Yeah for sure so my brother's John who passed away over 20 years ago was born with cerebral palsy and so he was my older brother which for me meant that I only knew what it was like to have a sibling with a disability. I always say I was born into his world and so for us that meant a wheelchair in the home it meant a lift into the home and eventually an elevator as well. It meant that choices for us in terms of where we went as a family were very much informed by what was accessible and available and I'll say that particularly in the 70s and 80s that was a little bit of a different landscape than it is today. So it really helped me to understand in a clear and ongoing way in my life what it meant to live with disability and some of the barriers to access that existed at that time some of which continued today.
Trish: Wow I can't imagine having such an extensive exposure to the disability world as you did with your brother and what a blessing. What a huge blessing that was that he brought to your life.

Amy: You know I still feel that way and did throughout my childhood and early adulthood as well you know. My brother was one of my greatest teachers and he taught me a lot of things that other people couldn't teach and one of those were nonverbal communication. So my brother never did speak and we had a very active communication in our lives. It just had to happen in nonverbal ways and so he expanded my thinking in my world in so many ways and I think that's something that people often miss when they see someone with a disability they see something or someone to a more narrow vantage point and that's really the opposite of my experience because really people who have experienced barriers to access or who have to find other ways of communicating as my brother did actually expand those horizons they don't narrow them.

Trish: you know I hear exactly what you're saying and I'm thinking the gift, this learning how to communicate without verbal anything so you could talk to him right?
Amy: yeah.
Trish: nonverbal communication was his first language right?
Amy: That's right and he was well versed in letting people know what he thought and what he wanted without having to say word.
Trish: So god bless him for being opinionated as well right?
Amy: [Laughter] Definitely.
Trish: The world got to know him as a result right people with disabilities especially with physical disabilities to the extent that your brother had one of the most common misperceptions is for people with CP is people assume that they have an intellectual disability as well right?
Amy: Yeah yeah that's so true and you know I experienced that throughout so many different experiences with my brother that you know people would lay eyes on him and make a set of assumptions without actually getting to know the individual and I think one of the other things that I learned through that experience is you just cannot look at a person and think oh I know you. I know who you are. I know what you bring to the table. You really have to get to know someone to understand what's going on for them and who they are and what they bring to the proverbial table and any conversation. So that's another big thing that I learned early on in life as a result of you know those kinds of experiences with my brother.
Trish: You know I'm going to do a little leap here. I'm gonna I'm gonna be so presumptuous as to say that your brother had a lot to do with your career.
Amy: You know you'd be right though.
Trish: My next question to you was so what drew you to building accessible learning environments? Well hello that's exactly what you knew.

Amy: Yeah no it's true. I mean I will say even from one of my very first jobs. I have always loved swimming and I knew I wanted to be a swimming teacher as a teenager but where I ended up doing that was as a part of a rehab facility working with both kids and adults with physical disabilities and that was just a more familiar kind of environment for me and I knew that I was up for some of the unique nuances that that would bring having to adapt to different physical parameters for people. And that was the first in a series of many steps in my career where accessibility has been either off forefront or an indirect kind of theme. You mentioned in some of my background I worked for several years of the learning disabilities Association and now all the kinds of work that we're doing at learnography around accessible learning, there's a lot of work to be done still on making sure that we are creating learning experiences for people at any age or stage of life where they get to access that full learning experience. And it really depends on how we build it and how we offer it.
Trish: Isn't it just truly miraculous how when you build an inclusive learning environment not only does it enable people of all abilities to access that learning but it makes the learning so much more richer and so much more experiential and rewarding for people of any ability level?
Amy: Well you know Trish I know you've experienced this in many different ways over the years but when we build something that's truly accessible whether it's learning or otherwise it's good for everybody. So it helps to raise the bar for everybody in terms of that learning experience so I completely agree with that.
Trish: Speaking of raising the bar, I remember you being lead on the access forward project for the accessibility director of Ontario. How did that project evolve your AQ your accessibility intelligence?
Amy: Great question. Yeah that was such a fantastic project to be a part of and it really helped us in Missouri as an organization kind of get to the next level of contribution around accessibility in Ontario. So access Florida some of your listeners probably know is a free online training program that's available not only to people of Ontario but broadly as well and you can check that out at accessforward.ca and what we have done with that training and we've refreshed it as well in the last few years is help people to understand the standards for the AODA and what that means for things they need to think about in their particular workplace. So to your question about how that helps to increase my AQ it really gave me a sense of some of the other accessibility issues that I haven't interacted with as much or from a different perspective. So what I love about the way the AODA is designed is that it helps people to look at it and think about it according to different standards and so being a part of that project working with experts like you and people from so many different fields and disciplines, I really learned that I scratch the surface in terms of knowledge on accessibility and the way to move us all forward whether it's in the province of Ontario or beyond is to learn from each other on an ongoing basis.
Trish: Absolutely and bravo. Like seriously I have to say bravo the access forward project as you know not all government projects make the grade so to speak and eventually disappear but access forward has been built upon and as you said you've done refreshes on that and I just want to say it was certainly an honor to be involved in content development for that program for you guys. Of course I had to throw that little dig in there. It's truly amazing to see all that that program access forward offers not just the one thing that most small businesses need right now desperately if they haven't done their training and with their reporting deadline coming up is to be able to send an employee to a specific link and say take this training and then send me your certificate basically. But it also provides modules PowerPoint modules that you can download so that as an accessibility person responsible for accessibility within a small organization you can actually deliver that training yourself correct? Does it's still...

Amy: Yeah one of the ways we originally designed access forward and we wanted to maintain this in our refresh of it as well is that you can access each of the training modules in a multitude of formats. So that's one of the ways that we make sure it's accessible to people who want to work with or use your content in different modalities and formats. So I certainly a PowerPoint is one way. Usually we're working on a minimum of four so we want people to be able to watch it read it hear it or present it so your point being able to present the content and share it within your environment. We want access forward and a lot of the other work that we do in this area to simulate more conversation. So we want people to take this back to their workplace because you can't go through this training and be done, you then need to look at okay how will we as an organization depending on what kind of organization you are compliant with this legislation and if we're not in certain areas what do we need to do. So that's where those presentations can be really valuable in terms of stimulating that next step of conversation and making sure that you're looking at what are your requirements and how are you fulfilling them.
Trish: And giving you the resources to do so the knowledge.
Amy: Exactly.
Trish: Very good we're going to go to a commercial break Amy. When we come back I'm going to ask you about Japan.
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Trish: And we're back. Amy I am so intrigued by your experience teaching in Japan. How about sharing. Get this: please share one joy-filled memory from the trip and one learning moment.

Amy: One joy-filled memory and one learning moment. Okay I'm going to start with the learning moment. I think one of the biggest eyeopener's for me in that experience because I did go to teach in a high school in Japan and I had previously been teaching in Toronto was that the mythology that we have about education and education systems in other countries can be different from the reality. So when you read articles about what happens in a country like Japan or certainly other countries around the world we hear about perhaps best practices or worst practices for that matter but it isn't necessarily a reflection of what happens day to day within the school and so I had the privilege of working in more than one school and frankly neither of them were reflected what I had expected to see based on what we think those kinds of schools are doing based on what you might read in the paper or in education magazines or things like that. So my learning moment was always ask yourself if there's more to the story than what you hear in the news or read online and that is something I've never forgotten based on that experience. So that's my learning moment and my joy-filled moment was discovering one of my absolute favourite places in Japan called Alashi Ama which is a small city I guess technically it would be a city that's near Kyoto and so Kyoto is known around the world for being this beautiful historical City and the sights there are amazing. But what made this place Alashi Ama such a joy-filled experience for me was that it was quiet and they had this beautiful bamboo forest there where you'd see these huge tall bamboo trees which gave a different quality to the sound in the area and the light in the area. But the thing that I appreciated the most was how quiet it was in such a busy hustle-bustle country where people are really operating in much closer proximity to each other than we're used to in Canada because the population density is so much greater and so the joy for me was the quiet and the space. And I still hold that image very clearly in my mind.

Trish: Beautiful that must be a lovely source of tranquillity when you reflect on it now.
Amy: Yeah.
Trish: As an active international player and advocate in the field of accessible learning do you see Canadian corporations getting the message about making education accessible to learners of all abilities? In short are we getting any better?
Amy: I honestly have to say yes we are getting better. I'm an optimistic person so I frame my comments that way. I will also give significant credit to legislative requirements like the AODA in helping us to get better. Because there's no question that that kind of pressure makes a big difference in terms of making sure that people pay attention to this. And we work not only on content related to accessibility but we do learning in lots of ways that doesn't focus on accessibility as content but where we need to make sure that the learning in and of itself is accessible. And being able to lean on those legislative requirements helps us to support the conversations with the kind of clients that we work with to say we have to do this. It's like muscle right we have to do this folks. I know it might feel like you know it's not necessary in your environment even though it is but this is why we've got to do it. So we're getting better, the legislation makes a difference and I think the other thing that it's really done and I suspect you seeing this too is that it just helps people to be better informed. It really reminds them they've got to consider that.

Trish: And I agree with you. Yes there are you know there are numerous shortfall wings to the legislation just like any other piece of legislation but overall I think the AODA is the best thing that happened to not only Ontario but it's one of the best things that happen to Canada and in North America and the world. Because Ontario has set a standard for compliance based legislation as opposed to complaint based. And this compliance based is way more powerful to affect is far more you know greater reaching. I'm thrilled. The AODA in Ontario I'm concerned about whether we're going to make our objective by 2025 as many are. Amy do you have one or two recommendations for accessible inclusive work environments that you would like to leave our listeners with?
Amy: That's such a good question. Recommendations for accessible and inclusive work environments. So one recommendation would be try not to make your decisions based on what you see right now but based on what's possible or what's coming. So for example we have conversations with people who say you know but we don't have anybody who needs that. Okay well you don't maybe have anybody who needs that right now but what does it open it up to you in terms of employees or potential clients if you made your workplace for example you're learning for example more accessible. So I really encourage looking at things not from for example the demographic of your current employees or clients but rather what your potential or employee potential employer client base could be right. Sort of being more expansive in the thinking and being more forward-looking. And then I think the other piece would be to go beyond the legislation. Ontario is well recognized around the world for this legislation and rightfully so. So the other piece that I would recommend is going beyond the legislation. So you know you've pointed out that Ontario is well recognized and rightfully so for this legislation and that were looked to even on an international basis to recognize the kind of accomplishments that we've had. But there are things that organizations can do in particular go beyond the legislation and make a huge difference. If we look at something like physical space where things may have been grand parented for example is there a way for you go beyond your requirements and make your space more accessible. We looked at this when we moved into our new space very recently and we knew that there were some things that our landlord wasn't obligated to do because of the age of the building but we said this is really important to us. And it's part of who we are and we've got to make sure that there are pieces that are accessible that go beyond the requirements. And so I think that would be my other recommendation is to go beyond the legislative requirements.

Trish: Awesome. Can you give me an example of that as in the example in your building.

Amy: Yeah so we looked at this with our washrooms. We didn't have to have accessible washroom doors but we knew that that was something that was important because we have people coming into our office space who need those accessible doors for a variety of reasons. So yes we paid for them ourselves because it wasn't a requirement for the landlords but we knew that has to be done because it aligned with our values and our priorities and our places and organization and so it was a no-brainer to make sure that we had that.

Trish: Fabulous great example. Can you think of another?

Amy: Going beyond the legislation. I kind of want to move beyond the physical space and see if I can think about something else. So as you know in terms of the requirements there are different requirements for organizations based on the size of the organization and so one of the other things that we do in talking with our clients is okay as a small organization your legislative requirements are this but what potential opens up for you if you actually meet a greater standard and how will that send a different message if you do that to stretch yourself. And so if nothing else that stimulates a conversation that I think is quite useful to sort of just because just not do it as a more mechanical activity of we have to do just because we're required but what makes sense in this case and what's the potential if you actually go beyond that.

Trish: Great. And when you start thinking about when going beyond the legislation then that becomes about doing it because it's the right thing to do doing it because it benefits everyone. All of those little power doors. You don't think power doors benefit women with strollers and people with mobility challenges and in seniors and people in a hurry.
Amy: Exactly and that's the thing is you can't just say oh well we might not have somebody who needs that well how many different kinds of folks would benefit?
Trish: And the thing is when people say I don't have anybody that needs that. I always remind people that one in seven to one in five people have a disability. Whether you know it or not. If you have 20 employees you have employees with disabilities. You just don't know it.
Amy: Yeah so when I was at the Learning Disabilities Association we certainly dealt with issues related to invisible disability and helping people to understand how to navigate systems around invisible disabilities and just because you can't see something doesn't mean that there isn't accommodation or discussion required.
Trish: Right. So Amy tell me. If any of our listeners want to contact you about your services how can they do that?
Amy: Sure so they can go to our website at learnography.ca. You're also welcome to email me directly. I'm Amy C. So that's amyc@learnograpy.ca. I'm on twitter as well. So i'm happy to have dialogue there. I'm at Amy Coupal. I do tweet regularly about accessibility in lots of different environments so it's as an area particular passion and interest for me as you know and that's one of the ways that I'm able to share that out. So love to connect with people who are working in this area and love to learn more because I know that there is a vast wealth of knowledge and experience out there and I really benefit from connecting with people who shed a light on something that I am not familiar with or don't understand and grateful for those opportunities as well.
Trish: Wow Wow thank you so much Amy. This interview has been such a joy. I thank you I thank your brother. What's your brother's name by the way what was his name?

Amy: John
Trish: Well thank you very much John and Amy it's been a blessing and I look forward to us connecting again next time.
Amy: Me too and I want to thank you Trish because you're doing amazing work in lots of ways including with this show. It's been an absolute pleasure to have spend the time with you so thanks.
Trish: Excellent thank you and thank you to our listeners so much for joining us for today's episode of access talk with Trish. A 30-minute weekly online radio segment dedicated to examining good the bad and the reality of accessibility in our communities. Please join us again next week on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. Eastern. This show is brought to you by changing paces and accessibility consulting firm that simplifies disability legislation for organizations that think they don't have the time or money for compliance. Visit changing paces.com and nurture a culture of inclusion where everyone matters. Till next time take self-care seriously and god bless.

Or CLICK HERE to download transcript

My guest this week is Amy Coupal. Joining Curriculum Services Canada (CSC) in 2006, Amy soon became the CEO of Learnography and its charitable affiliate, My Class Needs Foundation, in 2009.

Amy’s career has been focused on learning and development across multiple sectors and disciplines. She is passionate about creating meaningful learning opportunities that positively impact lives and communities.

Prior to Learnography, she oversaw the development of multiple teacher training programs (both online and face-to-face) at the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO).

As a life-long champion of accessibility, Amy is proud of the many accessibility related learning programs at Learnography, including the free online training on the AODA called AccessForward.

Her organization champions both accessible training in all of their work and has spearheaded a number of initiatives on accessibility, inclusion and diversity.

Amy applies her broad education background, which includes teaching in Canada and Japan, to all national and international initiatives she oversees.  She holds a Masters of Education in Workplace and Adult Learning.

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