Ok, yes. I had to use Google Translate for that one. But I promise, my Danish is getting a little better!
This week I had a wonderful opportunity to visit an inclusive elementary school, Asgårdskolen, located an hour outside Copenhagen. An inclusive school is one where students with disabilities are placed in mainstream classes and are actively learning and engaging with students without disabilities. These types of classrooms are pretty common throughout Denmark and are a big part of what we focus on during our class lectures.
During our field study at Asgårdskolen, we participated in a fourth-grade physical education class! We first met with the school’s program director who gave us a brief rundown of a typical school day for the students. She then led us to the outdoor field where we met the students and participated in their warm-up exercise. I’m not sure what the game is called in Danish, but it seemed pretty similar to the American game of freeze-tag. There were four individuals responsible for tagging, and everybody else had to fend for themselves. It was pretty tough to keep up with the energy level of these fourth-graders, and while I hate to admit it, I was ‘out’ for most of the game.
After warming up we formed groups of four, two American and two Danish students, and played a game they referred to as ‘Orientation.’ In simple terms, we were given a picture of a random object around their school’s campus and had to find it, and then take a selfie with it! The physical education teacher described this activity as part of the students’ navigation curriculum, a skill I definitely need help improving on. He told us that as the students progress through each grade they are given less and less guidance, with the ultimate goal of navigating entirely on their own. Better watch out Google Maps!
Following our time with the children, we had a wonderful opportunity to interact one-on-one with the school’s program director. She was incredibly welcoming to all of our questions, and did her best to answer them to the best of her ability! She even brought us ice cream, which was much needed after those outdoor activities!
My course, Children with Special Needs, offers a glimpse into the world of childcare and elementary schooling within Denmark. Our class periods are predominately discussion based, allowing ample opportunity for each student to share their personal experiences and knowledge about the field. Many of the other students are education majors at their home universities and are able to share the best practices and theories that are taught in America.
During our first week in the course, we visited the House of Disabled People’s Organizations located in Taastrup, a town about 20 minutes outside of Copenhagen. This house, built in 2012, serves as the home for 32 disability organizations serving the disabled community throughout Denmark. In total, these 32 organizations work with approximately 300,000 citizens! The house is coined as “The Most Accessible Office Building in the World,” and I have to say I definitely agree with that statement.
We were given an incredibly thorough lecture on nearly every facet of the building, from the decisions on lighting in each room to the additional 60cm on each window. The precision in each architectural choice for this building was astounding and truly shows how important (and simple) accommodating individuals with special needs can truly be. The most surprising moment of this field study came when our tour guide revealed the final cost of the building.
(For those of you trying to imagine how many zeroes to add to the end of that number, think again.)
The architects specifically designed this space to be comparable in price to other office buildings under construction in the same area. Not only did they achieve their goal, but they did better! The world’s most accessible office building actually costs LESS per square foot than other comparable buildings. How’s that for surprising?
Another super unique design feature in the house was in the placement of elevator buttons. For those without disabilities, use of these buttons is natural. We reach our hand out, press either up or down and wait for the elevator. Once we’re inside, we reach our hand out again and press the button corresponding to which floor we need to visit.
For people in motorized wheelchairs, however, use of these buttons is incredibly challenging due to decreased mobility in their hands. To combat this difficulty, architects and computer scientists developed a unique set of buttons located closer to the ground for motorized wheelchair users to press with their chairs. When these buttons are selected the elevator is immediately called to the ground floor and each button inside is automatically selected. This innovative programming enables motorized wheelchair uses, and others with limited mobility, to travel throughout the building independently.
This unique design is the perfect example of how simple it can be for architects and design teams to create accommodative spaces for all individuals.
If you can’t tell, I’m loving my class! Even though it has only been one week, I’ve learned so many new things and am eager to share them with peers and colleagues at my home university. With one week to go, I can’t wait to see what other wonderful experiences I’ll have to share!