Pause: An Advocacy Project

Mental disorders that lend themselves to learning disabilities are often stigmatized unfairly in schooling environments. While certain classes and allowances are specifically established to accommodate people who struggle with said conditions, these are often seen as handicaps that inherently suggest a lack of potential in the students they accommodate. Could there be any possible means of showcasing the talents that those who struggle with learning disabilities have? If these were emphasized more strongly than the struggles, would people with learning disabilities receive less stigma from their peers? These are considerations that I firmly believe deserve greater attention and exploration through a variety of media.

As such, the goal of the pieces within this puzzle is to reinforce a step forward in solving the dilemma at hand: given the fact that practically all children learn most adequately through a variety of different means and styles, children with learning disabilities need to be given more opportunities to realize their potential rather than being deliberately held to a low standard and possibly stigmatized for it. This message is meant to reach two audiences: those with learning disabilities and those without. With regards to those with learning disabilities, the aim is to encourage a sense of confidence and the necessity of self-awareness; that is, the ability of each learning-disabled child to determine for himself/herself how s/he learns best and thereafter apply that awareness to slowly but surely determine whether or not s/he is capable of performing consistently to the best of his/her ability. With regards to those without learning disabilities, the aim is to encourage a sense of empathy in noting that children who struggle with learning disabilities needn’t be dismissed outright; rather, they should be given the chance to succeed in schooling environments and elsewhere as their abilities dictate.

In order to most effectively and cohesively reach both groups, I designed three pieces to communicate the message. The first piece, an interview conducted with a friend of mine looking to become a teacher with a focus in special education, is primarily meant to appeal to those who don’t struggle with learning disabilities. I published it publicly on Sound Cloud for easy accessibility, using the tags #education, #learning, #disability, and #outreach in order to reach users on the site interested in those particular subject matters. The interview documents my friend’s responses to a series of considerations I offered her. These were primarily rooted in the aforementioned opening points, but occasionally branched out into other ideas, particularly her recollections of the time she spent in special education growing up. In order to ensure my audience of the validity of my points, I made an effort to characterize my voice as carefully as possible according to Theo Van Leeuwen’s criteria for culturally formed communicative means. Following the descriptions of said criteria articulated in Heidi McKee’s Sound matters piece, I attempted to give my voice a calm and collected tone, minimizing the breathiness in order to establish an intimate and engaging effect. Furthermore, by making my voice less airy, I avoided falling into a trap that McKee describes regarding Western cultures, noting the airy voices tend to carry less authority; as such, I was able to provide a solid indication that I knew what I was talking about. However, I tried not to speak with a booming loudness; instead, I kept my volume level and casual in order to avoid coming off as overbearing. My interviewee sounded a little louder than me as a result, but that was more due to the nature of the recording equipment we used. More importantly, I intended for her voice to be louder than mine since she was the one supplying the actual information during the interview: I was merely the messenger and the guide as to what content she ought to touch on. As a final note, my voice does take on a slight vibrato near the end of the interview as I reflect on everything that’s been discusses. This is done in order to leave the listeners with a lasting impression that the material means something to me and that I hope it can mean something to them as well. Prior to that shift, the bulk of the audio centers around conveying one’s life while dealing with learning disabilities, outlining the process of transitioning from one learning environment to another and identifying what ought to be improved within said process. The shift itself reminds listeners that people with learning disabilities do indeed feel in the same ways that others do even if they don’t necessarily think in the same way: they deserve the chance to better themselves intellectually all the same.

The second piece is meant to appeal more to those who do struggle with learning disabilities. It resembles something of a hybrid between a poster and a map: a visual documentation of compared paths, as it were. The entire piece—a depiction of the two halves of a child’s brain being reworked to resemble the dichotomy between the thought process of someone with a learning disability and someone who doesn’t have a learning disability—is handwritten and drawn on paper in an effort to identify with younger audiences. Rather than being professionally polished, it harkens back to one’s childhood with a somewhat crude yet altogether more honest presentation, one that could have possibly been made as an art project in a classroom. As such, I’ve hung the piece on bulletin boards throughout areas on the university campus, starting with this classroom and the Student Services Center in Turner Hall (it hasn’t been officially hung, just propped there). This is a common practice for groups that wish to advertise to the student body (as I do, hopefully reaching fellow students that may struggle with learning disabilities): every time I’ve seen an ad in a classroom, it’s typically the first thing that catches my eye upon entering the room. As such, I hope to mimic the eye-catching effect here. The piece is composed with pencil, pen, and colored pencil, each serving distinct purposes. Pen was used to write out the large text on the top and bottom of the piece, indicating the permanence of the themes described in the text. Pencil was used to write out the thought processes present in the halves of the brain, suggesting the impermanence of each: they might be touched on regularly, but as thoughts, they’re subject to change, just as they do throughout the paths outlined in the brain. Color was used to make certain aspects of the piece pop (stand out visually) with different meanings behind each color: green is used to depict positive affirmations in the learning process, associating the words ‘solutions,’ ‘you,’ and ‘can’ to encourage children to keep working through their struggles with learning disabilities; red is used to outline the actual brain, resting in the center of the piece to serve as a visual hub that sticks out for viewers (particularly as the only hot color in the piece) in an effort to consistently center their thought process on the idea of navigating one’s mind to work through a learning disability; blue is used as an ‘aha’ color, signifying when a solution (represented by a bright yellow star) has been discovered to whatever problem is being dealt with in the picture. The problem in question ends up framing the divide between the left and right halves of the brain in the piece. Playing on the idea that ‘left-brained’ and ‘right-brained’ people are inclined to learn differently, each half of the brain approaches a dilemma with a different process. The left half, that of someone who doesn’t have a learning disability, has a clear progression of thought: moving from left to right, the text passages that run through the sections of the brain suggest that the problems that arise can be solved methodically through acquiring more information and applying it. Upon solving the problem–that is, the path clearly points to the yellow star of a solution–messages of confidence follow. The right half, that of someone with a learning disability, doesn’t have orderly thoughts arranged in neat columnar paths. Rather, the paths of the brain twist all about, jumping from one seemingly unconnected thought to the next amidst frustrations and uncertainties as certain phrases are repeated over & over (suggesting that the person in question is trying to constantly reinforce his/her bearings within the process of problem solving) and the text supplies stronger emotional impacts. However, the ultimate difference occurs when the learning disabled individual arrives at a solution: the path describing the solution is actually shorter than the path of the non-learning disabled individual, suggesting that if not for the anxious mess of thoughts brought on by trying to learn the problem through inadequate means (in this case, visually), the learning disabled individual is actually more skilled at solving the problem than his/her peer. The other key distinction between the two halves is the font in which the penciled text is written. The left half of the brain consists of text written in clear lines and sentences, essentially like those that would be found in books and other texts. This is meant to imply that as a reader, the left-brained person is a visual learner, something that’s also indicated in the phrasing the s/he uses in his/her thoughts. On the other hand, the right half of the brain consists of text written completely in capital letters that turn freely to their own paths and give off the impression of being loud. This is meant to imply that the right-brained person is an auditory learner, one who needs to hear things rather than to see them in order to understand them, something further indicated within the jumbled thoughts. Overall, despite the fact that the two halves of the brain offer very different learning styles, the point remains that both sides are capable of arriving at a solution to the problem they face: the important reminder, as the penned text indicates, is that learners must understand how they work best in order to have a clearer grasp of problems and solutions, reinforcing the need for self-awareness in the learning disabled as a means of drawing out their potential. In doing so, children gain a deeper level of understanding about not only how they learn best, but how they can apply said learning style effectively as opposed to another child who learns best in a different way. In effect, this process encompasses an observation made by writer Stephen Hall in Katherine Harmon’s You Are Here. In considering the transitional applications that maps have been used to execute over the past few decades with regards to more abstract concepts, he notes that “…by rearranging the lines we privately knit, we enable and expedite our own exploratory thoughts; and while the world is changing much faster than it did for Mercator, at the same time it provides many more possibilities for connection, understanding, evolution” (Harmon 19). This is the core of the self-awareness process, the realization of how to navigate one’s thoughts in order to come to an understanding of the process and the output. Challenges may certainly exist within the navigation, but if children aren’t given the opportunity to learn how to navigate the trickier scopes of their mind, they’ll be limited to refusing to explore the possible techniques that could indeed reveal the depth of their potential.

The third piece represents the unity of the first two in a sense, the combined presentation of audio and visuals as well as the combined intended audience of both the learning disabled and the non-learning disabled. I opted to use Facebook as a platform to offer a video of a fitness expert describing his experiences with dyslexia, mainly doing so thanks to the fact that my greatest amount of social media presence (blogs notwithstanding) occurs there. Furthermore, an algorithm has been developed at the social media host known as Buffer that determines what kinds of Facebook posts are likely to go viral as opposed to others; I attempted to apply this algorithm in as many ways as I could within the presentation of this video. One of the first key elements is to simply post a video: Facebook posts that contain links that go beyond spam or memes are likely to be promoted, especially ones that offer videos. Not only that, but the video is sponsored by a reputable source—TEDx, the locally organized branch(es) of TED Talks—that has its own Facebook page, one that can be tagged to increase traffic (especially since the page has over 1,000,000 likes). The video itself has received a fair amount of traffic already, amassing over 130,000 views and nearly 300 comments. Furthermore, drawing from a personal study conducted by Baraa Hamodi, a student writing on behalf of Stratford University, I officially created the post at 8:00 pm on Monday, August 3, 2015 (given that the time frame in question was the most productive one for her, I decided to see if the case would be the same for me). Facebook also provided the opportunity for me to write additional text along with the link, text that I used to maintain the informative tone of my other pieces with a slight emotional tinge. The presence of the video enhanced the use of text (given that Facebook is typically not fond of promoting posts that contain test alone) while the text itself wasn’t limited to 140 characters (which is why I declined to use Twitter) and thus offered enough room to establish the proper tone. The tone is generally carried over into the video: Scott Sonnon, a world-renowned martial artist and fitness expert, recalls his experience of dealing with dyslexia as a child. The topics he describes are quite emotionally heavy at times, touching on periods of abuse from his father, teachers, and fellow students. However, Sonnon balances this tone with some humorous anecdotes as well, tying the talk together with an informative look into his brand of ‘physical’ learning—that is, the process of applying motion and movements to solidify them mentally when reading about them won’t suffice. Sonnon essentially had to devise this method for himself since his teachers weren’t too keen on providing him with any guidance, labeling him as a hopeless case and a disturbance. Despite facing limitations, Sonnon took it upon himself to determine how he learns best, tapping into a deep-seated sense of self-awareness that allowed him to withstand the abuse he received from others and to develop his talents, a process that he explains further by detailing the key fact that there are reportedly over seventy different known learning styles. As such, the video and its presentation as a whole are meant to deploy certain messages to both camps of viewers. For the learning disabled, it is indeed possible to succeed and develop oneself even with a learning disability; one can be limited in certain ways yet brilliant in others. For the non-learning disabled, success doesn’t come solely from those who have an unhindered mind to work with; a stronger sense of empathy would do well in nurturing talent that might just come from unexpected people.

Just as all three pieces find unity through the audiences they appeal to, their connections run even deeper stylistically. As mentioned earlier, each piece carries a similar tone: primarily informative with emotional undertones. This is meant to inspire clarity and empathy regarding children with learning disabilities. Their situations can be understood, but only if they are approached with the right mindset from all parties. The same logic can be applied to stimulating their otherwise dormant talents. Furthermore, every piece places a great deal of emphasis on pausing—that is, a deliberate break in the observation process in order to stimulate periods of deeper comprehension and understanding. The interview features a number of pauses between certain passages, the largest one coming before my emotional shift near the conclusion. The poster/map requires viewers to take in a great variety of strong colors; in order to do so most effectively, viewers must pause and observe each aspect of the piece on its own, moving through slowly in order to receive the full message and considering the impact of each aspect before moving to the next. The social media outreach inspires pause in a variety of ways: the catching of one’s attention on the platform to observe the post, the pause in the test to plant an idea in the viewer’s head before continuing, and the expressive use of pauses that Sonnon employs during his speech to allow listeners time to reflect on his story. This motif of pausing serves to encourage a tendency to stop judging people with learning disabilities on their outward situations. Rather, these people deserve the time for consideration and understanding as they take a closer look at how to better themselves while their peers take a closer look at empathizing with them and helping to create an environment that allows them to flourish. Despite having the three pieces hang together as such, I would definitely try to think of a more cohesive method of branding if I had the chance to redo the project. As I composed each piece, I was primarily concerned with making sure that each one communicated the core message well and hung together stylistically; however, I didn’t take the time to think of a cohesive label that I could attach to each in order to further solidify that they are a sum of parts and not merely the parts. Given the opportunity to take another stab at the project, I would explore deeper methods of connection between the pieces, most likely through a logo, title, or perhaps a catchy slogan.

Of course, composing each piece of the project required specific frames of mind and awareness of the target audience in order to execute effectively. The interview not only incorporated the techniques of adequate vocal delivery, but did so with intentional regards to format. While the map and the promotion can each be explored at their own pace, the interview is structured: it supplies information in a straightforward and no-nonsense manner, requiring that listeners are invested in the piece for the seven minutes that it plays out. Although seven minutes might seem rather long, the breadth of information necessitates a runtime of that nature, especially since the piece is directed towards those who don’t have a learning disability. It requires them to take the first step of empathy in taking the time to clearly hear about their learning disabled peers and what they might be able to do in order to possibly guide them. The map not only incorporated a great deal of subtle psychological cues, but it did so with the intention of allowing multiple ideas to bloom at once, standing in contrast to the interview and the promotion (which each tackle the ideas they present one at a time). Considering that the piece is aimed at people with learning disabilities, these ideas can take roots depending on what captures the attention of the viewers first. All of the possible takeaways are intended to be positive. Focusing on the green text creates a small but empowering message that viewers can keep in the back of their minds. Focusing on the presentation of the brain not only reminds viewers that what they experience compared to other people can be conceptualized, but also that they still have the potential to succeed in learning environments if they tap into the right tools. Focusing on the large penned text creates a louder takeaway for viewers, one that’s firm in its message but nevertheless encouraging; it continues to suggest the viability of self-awareness as the primary tool of empowerment for dealing with learning disabilities. The social media promotion offered the dynamic ability to be interpreted in a multi-sensory manner by utilizing both visuals and audio as opposed to the unimodal media employed elsewhere. As such, not only does its dynamicism allow it to appeal effectively to both the learning disabled and the non-learning disabled (as elaborated earlier), but it also allows observers to tap into the aspect of the presentation—visual or audio—that best fits their style of understanding. The visual aspect allows observers to dwell on the considerations I posit in the post and the evolution of Scott Sonnon’s emotional cues as he recites his story while the audio aspect allows observers to take in his words and trace the fullness of his journey. Granted, the piece is most constructively viewed when both aspects meet; in that sense, perhaps observers could inspire one another to consider each aspect in a spirit of harmonious learning. That may very well be the greatest step that anyone could take towards creating a learning environment committed to opportunities for those who struggle with learning disabilities.

References:

Hamodi, Baraa. “How to Find the Best Time to Post on Facebook.”Curious. Stratford University, 10 July 2015. Web. 03 Aug. 2015. <http://curious.stratford.edu/2015/07/10/how-to-find-the-best-time-to-post-on-facebook/>.

Harmon, Katherine. You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination. Princeton: Princeton Architectural, 2005. Print. <https://wamsummer2015.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/2015-harmon-1.pdf>.

Lee, Kevan. “Inside the Facebook News Feed: A List of Algorithm Factors.”Buffer Social. Buffer, 04 Nov. 2014. Web. 03 Aug. 2015. <https://blog.bufferapp.com/facebook-news-feed-algorithm>.

McKee, Heidi. “Sound Matters: Notes toward the Analysis and Design of Sound in Multimodal   Webtexts.” Computers and Composition 23 (2006) (n.d.): 335-54. ScienceDirect. Web. <https://whatisanedcafe.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/computers-and-composition-2015-mckee.pdf&gt>.

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