How Along partners with Understood for greater accessibility and usability

Guest Contributor

A student wearing headphones with a laptop in front of her smiles at the camera. A student next to her with a laptop also smiles for the camera.

By Melinda Evans, Executive Director of Learning Experiences at Understood

Understood is a lifelong guide that supports the 1 in 5 people who learn and think differently. Learning and thinking differences are lifelong brain behaviors like ADHD, dyslexia, and dyscalculia (trouble with math). At Understood, we provide resources, tools, community, and expertise to help those with learning and thinking differences at critical moments in their lives.

Understood was honored to be one of the partners that helped design and review content for Along. We believe that Along is an important tool because strong relationships with teachers are critical for all students — including students who learn and think differently.

Designing for Accessibility and Usability
My role in the Along design process was to review drafts of content created by partner organizations from the lens of accessibility and usability. The ultimate goal is to ensure a seamless experience for all learners.

Compliance with accessibility standards is just the starting point — we should strive to be truly inclusive. When we design for the margins, it’s a better experience for all. Many of the suggestions we made for students who learn and think differently will support engagement for all learners.

For example:

  • We included ways to aid attention, like clearly defined key terms. This helps all learners by reducing the overall cognitive load.
  • We also added elements of choice to increase agency, meet learners where they are, and provide multiple means of engagement. Choice leads to a more authentic experience for all.
  • Finally, we included support to meet the emotional needs of all learners, like considerations of potential emotional triggers and ideas for ensuring that all students are comfortable sharing in their own way.

Each of these considerations makes Along accessible and usable for students who learn and think differently and improves the overall experience for all.

Why Accessibility and Usability? Why Now?
As students return to the classroom this fall, it’s essential to reach all learners. During the pandemic, many students have experienced layer upon layer of inequity. Understood research shows that nearly 60 percent of parents of kids with learning and thinking differences believe their kids are now a year behind in school, compared to 33 percent of parents of neurotypical kids. If teachers are to meet the challenge of reaching all learners, students first need to feel known. They need to develop strong relationships.

As we know, a primary goal of Along is to build relationships between teachers and students. One thing I also love about Along is that the prompts and activities encourage authentic reflection before sharing. For example, Understood created growth mindset activities in the tool with multiple opportunities for reflection — giving students time and space to strengthen their relationship to self. For the 1 in 5 students who learn and think differently and for all students, self-awareness and relationship to self are just as critical as relationships with others.

As a former teacher, I find it inspiring to know that Along is supporting educators on the ground during such a critical year. The Along team listened to our expert input and created playbooks from our ideas to ensure implementation. It was an honor to review strong content contributions from partner organizations and suggest ways to increase inclusion for all students. Because the work involved so many partner organizations, Along is a stronger product — one that teachers can trust.

I want to thank Gradient Learning, CZI, and the Along team for this opportunity for Understood to serve students with learning and thinking differences in such a powerful way.

For more information about Understood and our mission, please visit us at www.understood.org.