‘Not every disability can be seen’ – a feature interview with Andy Gough on improving the DSA sector now and for the future

e-quality learning

‘Not every disability can be seen’ – Andy Gough talks of improving quality of provision for DSA students and where the future of the sector is heading.

As we head towards the end of 2018, we spoke to Andy Gough, who joined Invate, e-Quality Learning and Learning Labs at the start of the year as General Manager. We wanted to find out about his experience of his first year working in the sector and where he sees the future heading.

Andy, you have over 27 years’ experience in the IT sector, working in both public and private sector roles, what made you want to make the move to working in the DSA sector?

It all started when I received a message on LinkedIn saying, “would you like to work for a good business that does good?” – this had me hooked, instantly.

“Would you like to work for a good business that does good?”

This idea of doing good for others, and as I learnt more about the company itself, specifically doing good for students with disabilities in the education sector, spoke to me on a very personal level. My son has additional learning needs and at this stage I don’t know where he might end up in terms of higher education, but I do know he is going to need additional support, including assistive technology and training. Me being offered a position that can help develop these services and push positive solutions that are designed to help others, really appealed to me. It’s this genuine passion that has given me my purpose in driving the business forward.

Being entirely new to the sector and starting to settle in to your role, what was your initial impression?

I can see how anyone just starting out in the sector could find it confusing; there are very unique processes, legislations and various key perspectives to understand.

For example, as an ATSP, Invate has a huge product list, but our corporate group’s core focus is on personalisation. Invate has to ensure every individual student gets exactly what they have been recommended by an assessor and we have to be able to stock, order, deliver and install that within the time scales that are defined within the QAF – a time scale that is critical for the student. There are a lot of moving parts and that makes it quite a complicated business, and a complex sector as a whole.

Using your outsider’s perspective, what changes did you want to affect?

For me it’s about improving the quality of provision for the end user – the learner. Why do what we do, if we are not consistently looking to improve the lives of students receiving DSA?

“Why do what we do if we are not consistently improving students’ lives?”

Within our business, it became clear that we could create greater positive affect, simply by ensuring every member of our staff understood the learner journey, and specifically, what role they had to play in improving learners’ lives. This is an emotive aspect of our work and it is a basic human understanding that anyone can connect with. When we understand our learners’ barriers to learning, we understand how we need to work, so that we are leading the solution and we avoid ever becoming part of the problem.

What we really want to achieve is for every individual at our group of companies to have the opportunity to understand more about diversity. We started to look at specific internal training, utilising the existing knowledge and experience we have in our vast team. One of our trainers is experienced in visual impairment technologies – he carried out a workshop showing people what it’s like to be visually impaired. We also deliver our own disability confidence training course, which is accredited online, so all of our staff undertake this upon joining the company.

Every touch point we have with a learner, whether you’re in the customer team having a conversation on the phone, or face-to-face in training or as a delivery engineer at the learner’s home, we all need to understand and respect that every person is an individual.

For an AT training provider like e-Quality Learning, there has to be a primary focus on the outcomes for the learner. eQL puts a huge amount of effort into this and there are four key values that are measured regularly; quality, personalisation, effectiveness and flexibility. This is our learner-centric ethos we call, ‘The eQL Way.’ We have an exceptionally high rate for learners taking up the training sessions recommended by their assessors, which stays at over 75%. This is all down to engaging each learner personally, and tailoring training to help them achieve their individual goals.

“There has to be a primary focus on the outcomes for the learner.”

All of our booking team staff understand it’s about getting the best for the student. Every learner sees the equipment and it’s a tangible asset, so they know they want that. But there is more of a struggle with the desire for training, they think, “do I really need this training?” I want learners and the sector as a whole to see the benefits of training, because we have heard first-hand from learners who tell us their success stories as a direct result of AT training. It is genuinely very moving to know the positive impact it can have, when it is done right.

With an ATSP like Invate, our tech support team has a great deal of contact directly with learners. We hold an open forum where we discuss words, phrasing and language that we use to advise a learner. Because, if we don’t know in the first instance what their disability is, let’s not use words that might not work for them, such as “can you see that on your screen?” We shouldn’t assume that everyone experiences the world in the same way. This has focused us in considering our language when talking to students and explaining things in ways that are inclusive.

“We shouldn’t assume everyone experiences the world in the same way.”

The other area I want to still see more change in is e-learning for assistive technology. e-learning portals are a relatively new product category in the sector. Learning Labs has a very well-developed product, but unfortunately it was, and still is to a certain extent, one of those ‘best kept secrets’. We hadn’t gone out enough to spread the word, and not only that, but there was also a real confusion over whether an e-learning portal was meant to be in place of training! We knew it was designed to complement training, because that was how and why Learning Labs was first created. Every student needs that time with a real human, but on a 3,4,5-year course – how can they continue to learn and practice the software without any form of ongoing support? An e-learning portal fills that ongoing support gap with online tutorials available anytime and anywhere with WiFi. We are continuing with that message to try and eliminate this confusion in the market, as unfortunately we do still hear it today and this is something that can provide such an easy advantage to all DSA students.

“An e-learning portal fills the ongoing support gap for DSA students on 3, 4, 5-year courses.”

That said, we have started to see a change in the sector with us getting more feedback from needs assessors about the types of content they expect to see in an e-learning portal. Based on what UK assessors are recommending to learners, we have been able to create a road map of Lab development and release dates for the coming year. Learning Labs was also named the winner of this year’s ‘Tech for Good’ award at the Dynamites Awards (technology sector awards). Recognition from thought leaders in the technology sector for a product like an AT e-learning portal is really motivating.

Having been working in the sector now for almost a full year, what do you think the future holds?

I think the future is extremely exciting. When I started out here in January 2018 there was a real sense of excitement with what we can do within this sector and how we might use the various emerging technologies and harness those specifically to further support DSA students.

Our group of companies has always approached learning design from a perspective of neuroscience, because when you understand that every brain is unique you can create inclusive learning design. This puts us in a really great position to help influence how new technology is best used to support learning. For instance, I’m a big fan of our interactive ‘Do’ Labs in Learning Labs, which are supported by a set of additional resources. Learners can have a go at the interactive Lab, then download written guides to annotate and save to their desktop, or watch a video tutorial if they ever get stuck. In the future, I think we will start to see a lot more innovation in learning design, because of the developments in technology. It’s something we are very excited about, as the more we can maximise the use of emerging technologies, the more individual learners will experience personalised learning that will help them overcome their barriers to learning.

“It’s really encouraging to see a lot more openness about mental health.”

The other thing that excites me personally, is that it’s really encouraging to see a lot more openness about the mental health agenda in the UK. People, and particularly influencers with wider platforms, are more willing to talk about it and wanting to help change the agenda. That is going to open up a whole new avenue within the DSA. The more we open up the DSA, the more we support a wider variety of disabilities, which is the point – it should be truly inclusive. Because, after all, not every disability can be seen.

Andy Gough is general manager at Invate, e-Quality Learning and Learning Labs. If you have a question for Andy, you can email him at info@learninglabs.co. Read more about ‘the eQL Way’ in our story on their latest infographics by clicking here. 

 

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