A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of encouraging disabled pupils to take Art as a school subject if they wish to do so. I now want to talk about another group of school subjects that involve a very physical element that should also be made available to disabled pupils: Design & Technology. D&T covers a range of subjects such as product design, food and nutrition and textiles.
Everyone at my school had to take a D&T subject for GCSE; everyone, that is, except me. It was felt that because I wouldn’t be able to do much of the physical side of things myself it wouldn’t be my own work and therefore there’d be no point.
At the time I agreed, but having since been to college, university and now living independently I’m not so sure of this view.
D&T does heavily rely on physical input, much of which I may not have been able to do myself, but could I have taken a slightly different approach so that the work was still my own?
I think the answer to that is yes, and here’s how. Since leaving school I’ve learnt a very valuable skill: how to direct people (remember my blog about what it means to be independent?). In the 8 years since I left school I’ve learnt to direct people in many areas of my life to do things for me, in exactly the way I want them done. I do this on a daily basis with my PA’s, I’ve sat numerous exams that have involved dictating mathematical equations in great detail (and I did A Level Maths and an Economics degree, so the maths could be quite advanced) and I even use this skill when I’m out socially and need a hand with something specific.
How does this relate to D&T? Simple. If a disabled student can’t physically complete the task themselves, as long as they have the knowledge of how to do it they should be able to direct a support worker to do it for them, just as I directed scribes by dictation in maths exams. This isn’t, and shouldn’t be, as easy as it sounds. Directing someone to do a technical task such as those involved in D&T requires a high level of skill because very precise directions need to be given, including instructions for things you may just do automatically if you’re doing it yourself. The person physically doing the task, therefore, should just be considered the pupil’s hands and should not be contributing their own thoughts on how the task should be completed. This way they are not influencing the outcome in any way with what they think they should be doing. If it goes wrong (as long as it doesn’t start a fire) then that’s OK, because it’s the pupil’s responsibility to give precise instructions as to how the task should be carried out, and this is how they can learn.
The key to D&T, just like anything else, is the mind. If a disabled pupil has the intellectual ability to create something, to understand how elements need to come together for it to work, and most importantly to direct somebody else as to exactly how they want every task executed then it is still their creation and can therefore still be assessed as their own work.
Imagine someone like Stephen Hawking, a scientist who has the potential to envision the most advanced invention of our time but can’t physically bring it into being himself. Should he not take D&T, not learn how things work, and therefore never gain the knowledge that could spark the idea for that invention?
Or should he be encouraged to take D&T and learn to direct a support worker to do the physical elements for him, exactly as he instructed?
School is about pupils developing their individual skills and exploring what they’re capable of. That goes for disabled pupils too. If they have a disability that limits their physical ability to complete certain elements of a D&T subject they can develop an equally valuable skill, one they will most likely rely on in the future, by learning how to direct others.