Nineteenth-century reformers, including Transcendentalist Amos Alcott, fought a prevailing belief on the part of educators that students were little more than receptacles for information. Alcott’s efforts were guided by a simple principle: let kids ask questions, and they will offer insight into the process of learning.
In a study that Alcott himself could have designed, Jayne Renee Pivik of the University of Ottawa’s School of Psychology asked students to help identify potential architectural barriers for children with such biophysical challenges as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and paralysis. More than 50 schools in Ontario participated.
The study involved two groups, both composed of principals, special education teachers, and students (nine and older); in one group the students were disabled, and in the other group they were not. Using an assessment form, participants walked through their own schools noting design obstacles that might affect a learner’s mobility, vision, and hearing.
In both groups, students were better than adults at identifying impediments, and children without disabilities identified significantly more roadblocks than the adults did—particularly in classrooms, libraries, and recreational facilities. More research will explain the differences, Pivik writes. Meanwhile she suggests that these findings could help architects and interior designers develop better barrier-free schools.
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