Making and Using! Two Faces of Learning

Accessibility, an experience allowing anyone to be autonomous in their activities and to develop skills within the relational dimension.
Marco Fossati, teacher of physical education, specialist in technology for the blind and visually impaired I.Ri.Fo.R.

“What nice ideas they had!” “If only I had had these things when I was at school!” “I finally had the chance to play checkers!” “How pleasant to read a tactile book with a scent too!” These are some of the impressions reported by the students of the Course for Communication for Switchboard Operators in full swing at the Istituto F. Cavazza in Bologna. They refer to the opportunity they had to touch, learn about and use some of the products produced in the Sensory Disabilities Education Laboratory at the University of Florence. 

A moment in the tactile lab

For several years now, within the specialization course aimed at training future specialized teachers for classes of all levels, conducted by Unifi, workshops have been offered in addition to the curricular subjects, including those aimed at and addressing the issues of persons with sensory disabilities in general and visual impairment in particular. During the past editions, the workshop was led by the late Prof. Antonio Quatraro, who carried on the experience in an exemplary manner for several years. In the present academic year, I have had the honour, and a distinctly bearable burden, of conducting this teaching. In addition to the necessary basic information and knowledge conveyed in interactive face-to-face lessons, part of the time was deliberately used in the productive experimentation of practical work. 

Tactile books Using the dynamics of doing to understand and building in order to learn, the different groups formed were actually able to arrive at the realization of precise artefacts, complete with Braille inscriptions and appropriate and stimulating tactile sensory references. Following the logic of sharing experiences and knowledge with a view to collaborative learning between different realities, a distance contact was fostered between the community of the Course for Switchboard Operators and the different Unifi groups. The materials produced in Florence were transported by bicycle, train and again by bicycle to Bologna. This crossing of the Apennines was appreciated by all. The blind and visually impaired persons who were able to touch, try and test the objects, clearly enjoyed it. They had pleasant sensations, involving multiple senses, for the types of materials used and the design and didactic work expressed. The attention with which the Unifi students designed objects was certainly appreciated. Similarly, the feeling that one’s work and the objects constructed were immediately used and tried out, tested, by people living with vision loss who provided positive feedback, strengthened the motivation of those you designed them. This positive feedback was rewarding for everyone.

Tactile objectsThe training methodology with the manual construction of an object and its didactic design proved to be very successful. Fundamental concepts of education for the visually impaired have been given persistence and greater understanding precisely through the production of a series of objects. It was wonderful to have the opportunity of getting feedback and a range of information directly from people with visual impairment who were invited to use the material. It would no doubt be opportune to recreate the situation in order to foster correct learning, personal and interpersonal knowledge and collaborative teaching..

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