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If Technology is to be Revolutionary, We Need Everyone at the Table with Jeannette Washington, M.Ed.

Jeannette Washington joins Maddie for Episode 29.

Jeannette Washington (00:00):
If technology is to be innovative, if it is to be revolutionary, then we need everybody at the table.

Maddie (00:25):
Hello everyone, and welcome back to another episode of the EdTech Classroom Podcast. We have a great conversation lined up for today. I’m sitting here on Zoom with Jeannette Washington, an educator and techie with a ton of experience in speech therapy, dyslexia, advocacy, digital accessibility, and so much more. Jeannette has a really impressive background.

Maddie (01:26):
With a Master’s in Education, she’s worked as a speech and language pathologist, as a software engineer, and as an educator. She has nearly a decade of experience working with students that exhibit special abilities. She’s written articles for the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, and she’s even published a book titled Technical Difficulties: Why Dyslexic Narratives Matter in Tech. Currently, she works within the intersection of technology, accessibility, and social justice.

Maddie (01:53):
Now I’ve personally gotten to know Jeannette over the past few months on Instagram. She runs Bearly Articulating and shares so much knowledge every single day around dyslexia, advocacy, speech therapy and technology. I’m personally not an expert on speech therapy and dyslexia advocacy, for example, but I’ve found that she’s really able to successfully communicate these topics through really beautiful graphics with concrete tips, concrete strategies. And so Jeannette, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.

Jeannette Washington (02:25):
Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve been fan girling over your Instagram account for several months now. So, the feeling is mutual among us, enjoying each other’s posts and what we’re putting out into the world before I talk, I definitely want to highlight a quote that I’ve read by George Couros and it goes like this: “technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers can be transformational.” So as I am kind of having this conversation with you and talking about these really important topics, I want to just put that on your mind to kind of marinate a bit.

Maddie (03:12):
I’m so happy you just shared that quote because that’s actually one of my favorite quotes. And it’s one that I shared on a podcast episode a few episodes ago, I think my last episode of 2020. So that’s so neat that you just shared that. I really love that quote. I think it speaks so much to, you know, there’s so many conversations these days about ed tech and people are constantly talking about technology, but I think it’s a really great reminder for teachers that at the end of the day, they’re what’s the most important. So thank you for sharing that.

Jeannette Washington (03:42):
We have to bring some of the quotes from 2020 into 2021 and repurpose them. So I am happy to have been able to reiterate that quote for your audience.

Maddie (03:55):
Thank you so much. Yeah, I wish listeners could see my face was literally lighting up as Jeannette was saying that. So just such a fun connection. I just went over your bio for listeners. But I know they’d really love to hear directly from you. Like I said, you have such an impressive background. You’ve done so many really, really cool things. So could you talk about your career path as a former speech and language pathologist and now into this space of digital accessibility?

Jeannette Washington (04:23):
I will say that as a millennial, I find that I get bored very easily and not only do I get bored very easily, but I am competing with myself. I’m looking at ways to reinvent myself at every turn. So, I began my matriculation at a historically Black college Jackson State University, and I really wanted to pursue speech pathology. So I did that and I had so much fun doing it. And I noticed that my population, which was within the school district, there was mainly students with dyslexia or students with language-based learning disabilities. Or as you’ll see on IEP, SLD specific learning disorders or disabilities. So I started to do more research on dyslexia and I found that that was a market that was fairly untapped. I mean, there was research that existed on dyslexia and there was a lot of information as it relates to ways in which you can identify dyslexia and intervene to create those positive interventions for students.

Jeannette Washington (05:37):
However, within that field of speech and language pathology, people, or my colleagues, wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole because they were like, “Hey, we aren’t versed in that.” And it’s funny because now that I’ve working with teachers a lot, I see that they’re not versed with dyslexia either. So it’s one of those, topics and themes that are that’s really popular right now, but everyone is kind of just standing behind like the line and glaring over to see like, okay, so what are you going to do? So after working as a speech pathologist and advocating for students who have language-based learning disorders, I moved out of state and I moved to Michigan and I was looking for ways to reinvent myself. So I was like, “Hmm, let me try to look into creating apps or augmentative and alternative communication devices.”

Jeannette Washington (06:36):
What would that look like for me? And so I took a class learned how to program, I learned Java, I taught Java script eventually and learned Python as well. And so I started working as a software engineer. So with my work as a software engineer, I was able to work for Fortune 100 companies. And it was a wonderful experience. However, I was missing being around my special needs learners. Like that’s always been something that I was extremely passionate about. So I decided to tap back into that passion by creating research around how people in technology can utilize. Well, how dyslexic people in technology can utilize their gifts to really change the scope of the work that they’re doing. So that’s how my book evolved and I’ve been able to speak all around the world just about those two factors in how dyslexia can disrupt technology ultimately.

Maddie (07:44):
I really love hearing your story. I think you paint such a nice picture for me and for listeners. I love this idea of you being interested in reinventing yourself. I think that that’s something that I personally can really relate to. I think that’s actually something that I’ve noticed through my conversations with other people in tech that that’s something that a lot of people can relate to as well. It’s interesting hearing your path from first, starting off doing a lot of research in the dyslexia, dyslexia research space, figuring out ways to identify dyslexia, positive intervention, and then, second, sort of this shift that happened for you when you moved to becoming really interested in coding and then figuring out how you can sort of combine these two interests. I love hearing when people have these two interests that seem sort of diametrically opposed, and then all of a sudden they find a really beautiful way to create that intersection in their career. So it’s really neat to hear you share that experience.

Jeannette Washington (08:46):
Yeah. It was definitely something that nobody was doing when I started and not only that, but that is what gave me that edge. And it helped me to leverage my skills as I was pitching myself to tech conferences saying, Hey, I’d love to talk about dyslexia and language-based learning disorders or disabilities. And they were like, huh, we’ve never had anybody present on that. So yeah, absolutely. We want you to come talk about that. So that was my edge up for sure.

Maddie (09:18):
Do you feel like there was some, you know, specific “aha” moment that you had that made you realize you wanted to focus on this area specifically?

Jeannette Washington (09:33):
So my “aha” moment was probably when one of my friends was putting on a tech conference and he was looking for speakers and he was like, “we really want some innovative or dynamic talks. Do you know anybody who’d be willing to give a talk on something that’s just, you know, out the box?” And I was like, “well, no, I don’t think I know anybody.” And so he was like, “well, what about you? Haven’t, you worked in education and, and worked within that, a speech and language gap, like what can you bring?” And I was like, “you know what? I can bring a little something” because I think for me working within the tech industry was so new. So I didn’t feel like I had information to really bring to the table, but I think we have to really start leveraging our past experience, or the things that, we were passionate about, the things that we love to do, and then find out how we can bring that to what we’re currently doing. So that was an aha moment for me because I never considered blending or aligning the two paths. But when he asked me, I was like, yeah, I’d be happy to do a talk. And it was really well-received. And that for me, helped me to see that there was a market for the educational background and experience that I had within the tech industry.

Maddie (11:07):
And so after your friend asks you to speak at this conference, could you talk about what your next steps were?

Jeannette Washington (11:15):
Well, after speaking within this conference, it gave me that love, that joy, that momentum to pursue more events where I was basically teaching and curating these spaces to have these conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, even accessibility as you’ve mentioned earlier. So, I think that is what helped me to pick up the steam because as I was standing in front of this group of individuals who had intermediate to expert experience within the tech industry, they wanted to learn from me just seeing their eyes light up and see how inquisitive they were. You know, when I asked, did anybody have questions? All the hands were going up and I’m just like, wow, this is, you know, something that I’ve never experienced before. It reminds me of my time working as a speech pathologist or working, within the education sector where you’re able to teach and pour out information to individuals. And I think that for me was really exciting because I missed that working in technology, I was behind a computer and I was tapping the keys and coding, developing websites, but I’ve missed being around people that they wanted to learn more from you. So it was not only an “aha” moment to kind of piggyback on that question previously, but it definitely helped me to see like: Okay, this is where I want to be. This is the sweet spot for me.

Maddie (12:52):
Yeah. That’s, that’s neat to hear too. And something again that I can also resonate with because for me, when I was in school in college, I studied tech. That was kind of my thing. All the classes I took pretty much in college were related to tech, but I could never envision myself sitting behind a computer screen. Like you’re saying coding all day long through the night, that just didn’t feel like a career path that excited me. I know it’s a great fit for a lot of people, but it just didn’t really feel like it was very neat. So it’s neat to hear that that’s something that you’re, you’re doing too, because I think there are some, so many people, when you think about, you know, working in technology, for example, people do think about people who are coding all day long, but there’s so many really great ways that you can still be involved in the tech space. The ed tech space by giving talks, speaking at conferences, different things like that. So it’s neat to hear that experience.

Jeannette Washington (13:46):
And that kind of evolved too, because once people saw that I was knowledgeable, on, you know, different disabilities, mainly dyslexia, they want to know how they could create websites. That could be, you know, accessed easily by someone who had a language based learning disorder. So that opened up an entirely different portal of understanding for me, because I was like, wow, I didn’t know that this is a thing. And that’s kind of how accessibility falls into that line or is aligned with what I do because now companies come to me to ask, what can we do so that people who may be blind or who may have hearing deficits, how can they experience our online content? And at the time, honestly, I didn’t really fathom that. I didn’t think that that was a thing, so to speak, but I think when I established myself as a thought leader and people feel comfortable with asking me about ways in which they can improve their web services.

Maddie (14:52):
Because I’m into technology, I’ve thought about this before, you know, I’m aware of things like closed captioning, ways you can use better fonts for example, but I’m not an expert. Are there any other sort of go-to tips that you give people when they’re thinking about ways that they can make tech more accessible for everyone?

Jeannette Washington (15:15):
I have quite a bit, so I would say, make sure you’re using alt texts when you are putting pictures out, make sure you consider whether people are able to read your font. Sometimes our font gets a little fancier than it needs to be. I would also say to consider getting plugins that will read your website to individuals who cannot see it at all. There are so many different ways you can go with this. There’s a company that I used recently that does a free assessment of your website and they tell you everything that’s wrong with it. And I think I have like a 14 page audit and I was like: Wait a minute. I thought I was doing right. I thought this was good.

Jeannette Washington (16:10):
So, I’ll get the name of it for you, and maybe you can put it in the show notes. But I think that that’s helpful too, to have an outside source kind of do a free or even a paid audit to see what you are not doing correctly and how you can, established a presence. That’s inclusive, no matter what the person’s need is because you have to think about it like this. You are missing out on millions of people just because your content is inaccessible. We look at our market of our target customers and we may be missing our target customers. Essentially, if you were working within that space where you’re a teacher and you’re providing resources online, you could essentially be missing out on your audience because your content is not easy for them to access.

Maddie (17:03):
Hmm. That’s a really great recommendation. I am definitely gonna make a note to do that myself on my own website, to look through some of the things that I’m putting out online to make sure that I’m making things more accessible for everyone. The majority of our listeners are teachers or classroom teachers. And I think that, we’ve mentioned this, but ed tech obviously is a really hot topic during this school year. But my hope is that for many years to come, teachers are going to be able to use tech to support all different types of learners. So what recommendations do you have for teachers specifically to better support students that are exhibiting special abilities when they’re using tech in the classroom?

Jeannette Washington (17:46):
So, again, this is something that could probably write a dissertation on, I have tons of info, but I want to make sure I’m giving you all the info. That’s the most important to me. So as we’re facilitating these unique classroom structures, now that they’re virtual, it’s important to acknowledge that all of our students are not going to be on the same page with the material we’re presenting. One in five students has dyslexia, and 88% of those with dyslexia have phonological processing disorders. So you want to kind of think of those statistics and provide accommodations. Even if that child doesn’t have a 504 plan or an IEP, we want to look at things like creating captions, live captions in our Zoom conferences we have with our students. We want to look at providing them with additional resources, like sending the recording to them if possible.

Jeannette Washington (18:50):
We want to look at ways in which we can give graphic organizers or outlines before our lessons so that they know what they’re going to be covering and what needs to be done for the week. I think having conversations at the very beginning of our each class meeting, whether it’s at the beginning of the math lesson or the beginning of the ELA lesson and setting the expectations, telling them exactly what it is we’re going to be doing. And, letting them know that there are resources that are going to be available to them, giving them that space to really grow and learn, and also acknowledging that a lot of our home settings are kind of chaotic right now. For instance, I’m recording this with you. I’m in my attic, and my attic is like my, I don’t even know what to call it.

Jeannette Washington (19:44):
I have Christmas things here. I have summer clothes. I mean, I have board games, I have tons of stuff up here and I’m making it work. So we want to be mindful of that. Our students, they are, their parents never assumed that they would have to be in school virtually. So I’m just providing that grace and giving yourself grace ultimately, I know that standardized testing has been something that has been of important dialogue right now. And even with observations, we have the principal and the curriculum supervisor coming in to observe what we’re teaching, but just give yourself grace. And that’s just my little, uh, key points. And I went on a tangent there. So bear with me sometimes I just keep going.

Maddie (20:35):
I’m the same way my listeners are so used to my incredibly scattered thoughts, but you weren’t scattered in your explanation to clarify, but I think that advice of giving yourself is something that people talked about throughout 2020. And like you said, at the beginning of today’s episode, I think that’s something that we should continue to be thinking about into 2021 as well.

Maddie (21:00):
I really enjoyed and appreciated your recommendations of having captioning on your videos, sending out recordings to students. I think that one in particular is something that I haven’t thought about before. So that’s a really, really great idea having graphic organizers to giving students a plan ahead of time. So those are all really great recommendations that I appreciate as a teacher myself. And I know our listeners are going to appreciate as well. So thank you for sharing that.

Jeannette Washington (21:27):
And also just another thing. I have noticed with a lot of the online learning that we’re expecting our parents to print things out, we’re expecting them to have access to, uh, to printers. I mean, I don’t think it’s a terrible idea to send out like some planners or have your staff look into ways of what you can send physical copies of things to students. I don’t know if that’s a thing where you are, but I think it should be everywhere because a lot of us are not able to just mitigate all of these digital worksheets and all of this paperwork, it would be nice to maybe have some type of physical representation, whether that’s a daily journal or a planner where kids can keep up with. And so they can kind of set the stage for their learning. And when they are able to set that stage and create that agency for themselves, then the engagement is going to fly off the the handles

Maddie (22:32):
Yeah, that’s another great tip. It reminded me too, of when you were talking about your workspace, because when I, at the end of the day, I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted after a day on zoom and I’m an adult. And so thinking about my students, you know, some of my youngest kids (kindergarteners) thinking about what their experience is like right now just feels just incredible. I don’t even have words for it. It feels so challenging. And strange, it’s a strange, strange time. I know people are probably tired of hearing me talking about how strange for remote learning is

Jeannette Washington (23:06):
It’s strange, and this is something that we were not prepared for. And just watching the news, I’m like, ooh, it looks like something that we’re going to be invested in for a little while longer. I can’t have, I can’t imagine having gone to school virtually as a child, I’m very grateful that that was something that I didn’t have to experience, but you know, I do have an eight year old and that’s something that he’s experiencing. Another tip I’d like to say, or add is to, for parents and teachers alike to consider supplemental, classes like with Ouschool. Have you heard of Outschool? We do Outschool twice a week. And it has definitely strengthened his mathematical capabilities. And so he’s taking two math courses and then obviously he’s in virtual school, but that supplemental education has, has really been stellar.

Jeannette Washington (24:07):
Like they’re teaching him things that I was struggling to teach him. Like I struggled to tell, tell him how to tell time and just kind of going over that now. So it was hard for me to teach him how to tell time, however, he is like in this Outschool class and he is learning and I’m like, wow. So, you know, maybe let parents know, “Hey, it’s a resource available to you. If you want to strengthen or get some more in-depth learning.” And give them that Outschool link.

Maddie (24:47):
I’ll be sure to have Outschool linked in the show notes in case people want to check it out. But, I had never heard of Outschool until probably like March or April when all of this started. And it’s amazing. I mean, there are hundreds and hundreds of classes that kids can take. I personally don’t have any children, but I’ve looked through the website and considered teaching afterschool throughout Outschool. It’s really a wonderful resource for families.

Jeannette Washington (25:13):
It’s a great way for teachers to even make that second little income or that side hustle. I know we’re all looking for ways to maximize all that is coming in, especially with all of the stimulus craziness and wondering whether or not we’re gonna get it or how much we’re going to get. I mean, looking at how cool to, to be a means of, you know, supplementing your income could be awesome.

Maddie (25:39):
Definitely. So far, it’s just very clear from our conversation. You’ve shared so many wonderful nuggets of wisdom. You’ve shared so many great recommendations and advice for teachers. It’s very clear as I’ve been sort of constantly emphasizing throughout this episode, you have a lot of experience at the intersection of technology accessibility, social justice. And, you know, at the beginning of today’s episode, I mentioned that you’ve written a book, called Technical Difficulties: Why Dyslexic Narratives Matter in Tech. I’ll have a link to that in the show notes in case people want to check it out. And you know, this is a really big question, I guess, but what do you think excites you the most about your work and accessibility?

Jeannette Washington (26:26):
Wow, that is a big question. So I think what excites me is helping to create awareness so that more people can acknowledge that, Hey, I may be different, but don’t count me out. So that is just who I am as a person. I love to help people to realize their true potential and for people to acknowledge that, Hey, I may look different. I may sound different. I may be different, but I still am valuable and I can still add great unique ideas and to any atmosphere that I penetrate. So I think that is really what I feel called to do is to inspire people, even if teachers are listening and they’re saying, Hey, I’m ready to get out of the classroom. I want to be the one to inspire you, that you can, you can take all that you’ve learned and transition into tech or any other career for that matter and do exceedingly well.

Jeannette Washington (27:36):
Or for that person that’s listening that has a child with a special ability, and you may be feeling a way about what his life or her life will be like, what their life is going to be like once they reach a certain age, I want to let you know that there is possibilities that are endless for them to exceed, whether it’s with the tech industry or some type of engineering, mechanical engineering, or culinary arts or whatever. So that’s kind of what I want people to take away from my book, technical difficulties, why dyslexic narratives matter in tech? I talk a lot about dyslexia and how it may look different for individuals because it’s a continuum. So it’ll look different. But I also just want people to understand that no matter what, you can take your skillset and you can just do what you want to do with it.

Maddie (28:37):
Hmm. I love this idea of I may be different, but don’t count me out. That’s something that I’m absolutely going to take away from today’s conversation. If you heard me typing, I have a little notes section on my computer where when I hear a great idea that someone shares with me, I write it down. So I’ve added that to my list of quotes that I want to take with me into this year. I think what you just touched upon is something that I remember reading when I was reading about your book, and I think you said something to the effect of technology will only be as good as the people that it does the least for. I love this. Could you elaborate on this idea for listeners?

Jeannette Washington (29:19):
Yes. If we create technology based on our passions, based on our abilities, then it’s going to be very one-sided. We need more people at the table. We need more narratives to be exploited so that technology can not only suit us, but it can suit any. Just for example, if your website is something that you love, because you created it yourself and you just think everybody is going to enjoy it and you notice, and people are like, “Oh, I didn’t find that it was easy to read” or, “yeah, the colors were a little alarming to me and the fact that they were flashing make me uneasy,” you know? So I think it’s just ultimately important that we have people that don’t necessarily look or think like us at the table, because as we’ve seen through the past four years, it has been a unique experience for America to reconcile with the fact that a lot of these infrastructures were built up on just one white man or several white men. So, that is kind of how I envisioned that particular quote. If technology is to be innovative, if it is to be revolutionary, then we need everybody at the table, regardless of gender, ability or anything for that matter, their race.

Maddie (31:00):
Absolutely, I could not agree more. So thank you so much for sharing that, and thank you so much for chatting with me today. I’ve absolutely loved getting to know you more like I’ve been saying, getting to hear some of your wisdom. But before we end off the episode, could you tell listeners where they can find you, how they can learn more about you, how they can learn more about your work, how they can buy your book?

Jeannette Washington (31:24):
Sure. My company is Bearly Articulating and it is spelled as an actual physical bear, B E A R L Y Articulating, and you all can find me on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest I’m on everything really. I’m on Twitch now and TikTok. So I’m expanding my brand so that I can create content for every little nook and cranny, but my book can be purchased on my website. You can go bearlyarticulating.com or buymytechbook.com and grab a copy. It’s available on Amazon and it’s available on Barnes and noble. However, I am expanding so that it can be available on audible. So I just recently I recently recorded my audible. So sit tight for that. I’m excited for when that comes out.

Maddie (32:27):
That’s amazing. That’s so great to hear. I will be sure to have everything that — well you do a lot of things — but as many things as I can put together in the show notes so that listeners can learn more you and find you. I’m also excited to hear that you’re on Twitch and TikTok. I’m not on TikTok, but I really want to be. So maybe, maybe you’ll have inspired me to do another thing today.

Jeannette Washington (32:52):
You know what? I think it’s important that we brand ourselves and I would hate for someone to get your EdTech Classroom on TikTok and people are thinking like, “Oh, that’s not Maddie.” So go ahead and grab your account and make a video.

Maddie (33:09):
Well, thank you so much for chatting with me today. I absolutely loved our conversation. You’re so amazing. And I know our listeners are really going to love it too.

Jeannette Washington (33:18):
We’ll have to do this again.

Maddie (33:24):
Wasn’t this conversation amazing? I loved hearing Jeannette’s perspective and work at the intersection of dyslexia, advocacy, technology, and social justice. Jeannette really, really knows her stuff. And I don’t know about you guys, but I’m planning to order her book ASAP. I’ll be sure to have a link to that in the episode description. This is just a topic that I feel like I really want to learn more about in 2021. As I continue to think about ways that I can make school more accessible and supportive for all learners.

Maddie (33:56):
If you liked this episode, be sure to give me a five-star rating, write a review. It helps new podcasters like me so much. Thank you so much for listening and I’ll see you back here soon. Bye friends.

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