5/16/17 ASHLAND, Ohio – Six Ashland University teacher education students were involved in a project this year that resulted in them helping to design splash parks for children with special needs.
Dr. Jason Ellis and Carla Abreu-Ellis, both associate professors of education in the Dwight Schar College of Education at Ashland University, were leaders of a project that led to the undergraduate students collaborating with Rain Drop Products LLC on making their products more inclusive for individuals with disabilities. Rain Drop is an aquatic play manufacturing company located in Ashland.
Four of the AU students -- Kayle Timura, Hollis Coldwater, Olivia Chudanov and Abigail Chandler -- are Intervention Specialist majors (K-12 – mild to intensive disabilities), while Alexa Moore, an Early Childhood Education Intervention Specialist major, and Austin Borton, an Early Childhood Education major, were Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad (GPA) participants on a project called “Accessing Carioca Culture through the Lens of Disability.” They studied the accessibility of the metro system while in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“This group of students had the expertise to effectively collaborate on inclusive play with an industrial setting,” Dr. Abreu-Ellis said. “These students went through the list of products manufactured by Rain Drop and provided suggestions on how to make them more inclusive to children who may have sensory needs. They also trained their staff and sales people on person-first language and terminology used in the field of special education. This allowed the company to begin to change their paradigm in order to produce and sell products that will meet the diverse needs of individuals with disabilities.”
Dr. Jason Ellis noted, “Employers complain that graduates, and in particular millennials, from professional programs have difficulty applying the formal knowledge acquired through their professional programs once employed. For the student group involved in consulting in this process, the benefits were clearly the ability to apply the knowledge gained through their professional program to a completely different environment: industry and business.”
Several of the AU students commented on the project.
Alexa Moore said that inclusion, in its simplest form, is being included or integrated into a group, and is a topic well discussed in the education field when it comes to individuals with disabilities.
“In the field of education, inclusion refers to the type of setting or classroom a student with a disability should be placed; in broader terms, including everyone and every form of disability,” she said. “In other professions, and particularly in the design of aquatic play areas, inclusion mostly takes the form of wheelchair accessibility, however, to be fully inclusive, designers need to consider all forms of disabilities, such as autism, sensory processing disorder and other disabilities.”
Moore continued, “Through this experience, I was able to see how other disciplines use inclusion in their work. It was neat to be able to use my knowledge I have gained in the education field to bring awareness to other professionals. It was also great to be able to experience how other disciplines work and broaden my horizons beyond education.”
Olivia Chudanov said she worked these past two months on inclusive play with Rain Drop. “Through that time I was able to apply the knowledge I had gained from my inclusive classes here at AU to the real world, which was an amazing experience! It is a really remarkable thing to apply classroom lessons and teaching into the real world to help change something to make it better for everyone. This project allowed me to step out of the classroom and into the real world of inclusion. It was an experience I will never forget, and luckily I can do it again in the fall. I'm so passionate about this field and am so thankful that Rain Drop allowed me the opportunity to work alongside them on such a remarkable project,” she said.
Abbie Chandler said, "Working with Rain Drop Company was an incredible experience. Being able to create a product with universal design in mind for all children to use will make a huge impact on water play. Hopefully other companies realize that universal design is the way to go and we see much more of it in the future."
Kayle Timura said, “After having an entire class dedicated to Sensory Processing Disorder, I was able to solidify and apply the knowledge I learned to help include all children in an environment that hasn't previously encountered this type of accessibility. This project allowed me to practice breaking down concepts and ideas to educate individuals in this field. This opportunity helped me practice and learn important skills, such as advocacy, and apply them in real world situations.”
Ashland University, ranked in the top tier of colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2017, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) deeply values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###