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Conducting an online training is not ideal. The opportunity to implement the various participatory methods that we often do in classroom setting is very limited. Yet, this is the reality that many of us around the globe have been faced with since the Covid-19 pandemic kicked in. As an organisation working for inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction and humanitarian response, Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (ASB) Office for Indonesia and the Philippines has experience in ensuring accessibility for persons with disabilities in face-to-face training. But how about online training? Can we still apply the same inclusion principles in planning and delivering the training? Can online training be accessible for persons with disabilities? How do we make it as engaging?

The ‘Investing in Inclusive WASH’ research project supported by Elrha’s Humanitarian Innovation Fund has given us the opportunity to find answers to these questions. In this project, ASB is partnering with the Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) Working Group in Central Sulawesi, and Center for Health Policy and Management (CHPM) of Gadjah Mada University. As peer researchers, ASB and the OPDs have set out to uncover the barriers and opportunities for inclusive WASH services in humanitarian response setting. Since the prior knowledge of WASH and research experience varies, the training aims to build the capacity of the members of OPDs in these areas. And since we cannot wait for the pandemic to be over before we get started, we decided to switch the method from face-to-face to online training delivery. This is what we learned throughout the process.

Prior to the training

  1. Know your participant’s types of functional difficulties and plan for reasonable accommodation. As in the face-to-face training, you need to know the functional difficulties that your training participants have in advance. To do this we carried out a training needs assessment at the onset of the project through a survey, using the Washington Group Short Set Questions (WGSS)  to help us identify the types of functional difficulties. Based on this, we made reasonable accommodations such as hiring Sign Language Interpreters (SLIs) for the Deaf participants, ensuring participation of personal assistants for those who need them, adjusting our training materials to make it accessible for participants with difficulty seeing, and so on. If you have external trainers, please remember to share the result of the survey with them and also brief them about disability research etiquette.
  2. Use the lens of intersectionality to analyse the unique barriers that participants may face and plan to adapt assistance. Persons with disabilities are not a homogenous group. Their social identities such as gender, class, education, or age shape their experience as persons with disabilities differently. Each person may have different learning barriers due to these intersecting identities that need to be taken into account when planning for adaptable assistance. For example, we learned that members of the OPDs needed support to cover the expense of accessing the internet for online training, hence we budgeted for mobile credit support. Others need support in terms of the hardware, as they did not have smart phones or laptops. We invited this group to ASB’s office and facilitated their participation while still following Covid-19 prevention protocols. Others who are less tech-savvy need support with installing and operating the online meeting platforms. For them, we conducted a separate training and provided tailored assistance.
  3. Share training materials at least two days in advance. To get around the limitations of online learning, prepare and share your training materials in advance. We found that sharing the handouts two days prior to the training gave participants enough time to review the content first and come prepared with questions, allowing more training time for discussions. It is better to have concise training materials in a variety of formats, such as audio, visual, written handouts, depending on the types of disability of your participants. Braille is another format option, but since Braille printing is not available locally in Central Sulawesi we opted to create an audio version of our written handout for our Blind participants.
  4. As always, conduct dry runs! The regular practice for offline training is also very relevant for the online version. In the trial sessions, the training facilitator can practice task sharing with the co-facilitator/training host and can familiarise themselves with the interactive functions such as breakout rooms, polling, and how to use the closed captioning function (if being used as another option to signing). Dry-runs are also important for us to ensure that we can deliver training within a maximum of 2 hours, anything longer will be too tiring for an online training. We also found that trial sessions helped us to practice talking slower to allow for the signing to catch up, and to practice remembering to mention who is talking and to explain all the pictures/graphs/illustrations in our shared screen or presentations for Blind participants.
  5. Include Sign Language Interpreters (SLIs) in steps 3 and 4. In research, just like in all other fields or disciplines, there are specific terms that the SLIs need to familiarise themselves with. Sharing our training materials with them in advance helped them to prepare for the correct translation, and flag specific terms that needed to be explained further (ie. ‘instruments’) thus needing more time for translation.

During the training

  1. Open early! If your training begins at 9am, open the ‘meeting room’ by 8.30am. This gives participants time to overcome technical problems logging in (if any), and gives everyone the chance to socialise, which creates a more relaxed atmosphere.
  2. Maximise the opportunities to make your training interactive. Albeit limited, there are opportunities for participant interaction even in online training, including by optimising the use of interactive features such as polling, group discussion through breakout rooms, questions and answers, and so on. Using these features may take time so it’s important to factor this into your agenda.
  3. Provide the opportunity for your Sign Language Interpreters (SLIs) to alternate. Translating takes a lot of concentration and hence can be really tiring. Therefore, always plan (and budget) for having at least two interpreters in each session. Specifically designate times for them to alternate, as otherwise it will be confusing for the Deaf participants which SLI that they should be paying attention to on the screen.
  4. As always, ask for feedback. Just as in regular training, always ask for the feedback from your participants regarding the training delivery. There are different ways to do this online such as through polling or a quick online survey using software like google forms that you can share with the follow up materials after the training.

After the training

  1. Share the training recording and the training notes. If you recorded the training (of course with prior consent from participants), it is good to share the recording so that the participants can go back to it in their own pace. You may want to share further study materials a way to support independent learning on the topic.
  2. Encourage learning reflection and practice. Provide a space for your training participants to reflect. In this research project, we keep a learning diary that has a list of questions to help participants reflect on their learning. You can find practical ways to translate their learning into practice. For instance, we provided the opportunity for the participants to use the consent form and interview guide with ‘pretend informants.’ This gives them the chance to practice at the same time testing the applicability of these tools.
  3. Study the feedback received and act upon it. To improve future training delivery listen to your participant’s feedback. For instance, the idea to open the meeting 30 minutes before the session starts was based on earlier feedback from our participants. The same with adjustments that we made in avoiding technical terms or using them without explanation.

As you can see, the same principles that you use in supporting inclusion in face-to-face training are handy for online training too. And with good preparations and some tailored adjustments, we can make the training be accessible for persons with disabilities and as engaging! Hope these ‘top-tips’ can be useful for you as you plan for your inclusive online training.

Written by Chrysant Lily, ASB

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