Steven Kelley

In 2020 Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired (Hadley) will celebrate its 100th anniversary. As I am a new employee at Hadley, I had a unique opportunity to chat with Joan Jaeger, Hadley’s Chief Marketing Officer, about how this milestone has prompted a process of rediscovery at the Institute.

Our conversation began with a bit of Hadley’s history. At age 55, William Hadley, founder of the Hadley School for the Blind, lost his vision. As a former public school history teacher in Chicago, Mr. Hadley was an avid reader, with a significant personal library. “His whole reason to learn braille was to tap back into his personal passion for reading,” Jaeger explained. “One of Mr. Hadley’s realizations at the time, and it hasn’t changed all that much nearly 100 years later,” she said, “is that there were not a whole lot of resources available, so he taught himself braille. Another realization was that there must be other people who also wanted to continue pursuing their passions later in life after a vision loss.”

As a teacher, William Hadley recognized he had the skills to teach others braille and developed a correspondence course that launched in 1920. Hadley’s first student, a homemaker in Kansas, was also an avid reader, and hoped to return to reading after experiencing vision loss. As Jaeger pointed out, “Thinking that you didn't have to come somewhere to learn, you didn't have to go to a brick and mortar school in order to learn something, was very cutting edge at the time."

Both Hadley himself and his first students were individuals who lost vision later in life and sought the resources needed to resume their activities and continue to pursue their goals. The needs of this first group of students has provided a touchstone for today's Institute. “Hadley's rediscovering a target audience that could really use our help," Jaeger said. "It's a rediscovery. It’s actually almost like Hadley’s returning to our founding story.”

As many long-time Hadley students and professionals who refer clients to Hadley’s instructional materials know, the older learner, with an acquired vision loss, has traditionally been a welcome student at Hadley. According to Jaeger, however, learners 65 and older with an acquired vision loss have been enrolled at lower rates than expected, despite being the demographic with the greatest incidence of vision loss today.

“When I came in two-plus years ago, for months I just dug into numbers, internally and externally," Jaeger explains. "You know, the category of people with visual impairments and our enrollments, and all of that. And that's where the disconnect became just so clear. Looking at the aging baby boomer population, where you have 10,000, people turning 65, every day… it's like, we need to do better by this audience, right? I mean, there's an urgency to it, we need to do better by this audience.”

The Future of Hadley

If you speak with a Hadley staff member about some of the recent changes, you will hear terms like “Classic Hadley,” “Hadley 2.0,” and “our target audience.”

"Classic Hadley" refers to instructional material, available in a structured, correspondence-style delivery, requiring prerequisites at times, the sequential completion of sections, and a letter grade at completion. Classic Hadley courses often took weeks to complete.

"Hadley 2.0" refers to a well-researched approach to adult learners, with content development and delivery specifically created for this learning style and goals of this demographic. Often, this content is being developed from the Classic Hadley instructional materials and redesigned into more concise workshops that take approximately ten minutes or less to complete. For example, in a Microsoft Office Series of workshops, “Microsoft Word with a Screen Reader,” learners can access a series of 11 short workshops, each focused on a specific set of tasks in MS Word. Learners may pick and choose which workshop to take, without the need for pre-requisites, grades, or a defined sequence.

Hadley’s stated target audience is the learner who is 65-plus years old with an acquired vision loss. Although it appears this demographic group has been traditionally part of the enrollment mix, it has only been within the past year that content and services have been specifically designed with a focus on these learners.

To be sure, the adult learner’s needs and goals of today are different from those when William Hadley developed his first braille correspondence course in 1920, and even different from those enrolled in more recent Hadley Classic courses. According to a recent AARP article, “More Americans Working Past 65,” more than 20 percent of those over the age of 65 are either working or looking for work, up from 10 percent in 1985.

This number is expected to rise. More older adults today will want to continue working or return to work. Based on research into adult learning styles, and the needs of these learners, Jaeger summarized, “It's all pretty clear, smaller bites are better. Smaller bites equal bigger results. Little clips on something, not something that's going to take me a month to get through. Something I can do in 10 minutes or less. Concise, targeted, meaningful learning, that's what folks are wanting, right? More choice and fewer rules. Learn what I want when I want it.”

Jaeger reported that she considers her audience before calling Hadley’s rediscovery “Hadley 2.0.” “It’s a judgment call,” she said. “How much they would have of the background for it, and not be misled into thinking it is only online, or getting rid of our braille, hard copy and audio. That’s just not true.”

The Advisory Panel

Hadley developed an Advisory Panel to help identify the topics that would be meaningful for Hadley learners. Jaeger described their panel as 900 participants with visual impairments, including nearly 400 older adults who acquired their visual impairment later in life. In addition to conducting surveys with these panelists, Hadley uses focus groups and individuals from support groups within the Chicago area to identify relevant topics for upcoming podcasts, discussion groups, and workshops. She explained, “So when we consider a podcast topic, or a discussion group topic, that goes out to the whole panel for their feedback. We're doing a lot of one-one interviews and focus groups, and really trying to make sure that we understand the audience as much as we can.”

The advisory panel is reporting strong interest in such topics as home maintenance, cooking, and gardening, Jaeger reported. “Technology too has been very popular, and I think that is due in part to Douglas Walker. He created the “iFocus” videos. There was a lot of it on YouTube and we started to get a name for ourselves in the field, which is terrific. So we have probably more than our fair share of people coming to Hadley to learn the latest features on their iPhone or to learn the latest app. That also gets fed by our discussion groups.”

“If you don’t know how to use it,” she continued, “it’s of no use to you…so we’ve done a series of videos on how to use your Windows computer, and Microsoft are of course delighted with that because it makes their products more easily understood by a certain target audience. ‘We have partnered with Hadley in order to make sure that the features we have built in are actually useful to you.’ Wow! And really, Apple has done the same, pointing people from their accessibility website to our material," she added. "And let’s face it: technology is everywhere today and everybody wants to get a little bit better than where they are currently. We have a Microsoft Office series and we will have a series on Android soon, so we are starting to expand beyond Apple.”

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings, which may come as no surprise to those familiar with the Classic Hadley material, is the desire for learners to have a sense of connection. Jaeger explained it this way: “In our research we heard... a thirst for community. Knowing that there were other people out there who have this challenge. This makes a difference—it makes learners feel a little better about their day if they’re able to connect with somebody else who gets it.” This desire for connection goes beyond fellow learners to the Institute itself, Jaeger said. "Learners want to have a connection to Hadley personally. They want to know that the learning experts are there, they want to get their personal questions answered, to have that personal responsiveness from the Hadley staff."

Hadley 1.5: An Interim Phase

For those familiar with Classic Hadley or the Hadley website of the recent past, you’ve noticed many of these suggestions from the Advisory Panel are already showing up, in advance of what will be a more comprehensive rollout in 2020. This implementation of some of the features has been called, “Hadley 1.5,” by some. Jaeger explained. “I’m calling this our 1.5 website where we’re featuring some things that we know to be interesting to people. The discussion groups are very popular ways to connect with other people, as well as with Hadley. It’s kind of a two-fer where you get a little bit from a learning expert and then you get to ask your question, maybe have the learning expert weigh in on it and hear from other people who may be facing similar challenges and have similar interests.”

For example, a growing list of interactive discussion groups are on the current schedule: These include the weekly discussion groups “Embracing Braille” and “Spanish” and monthly groups, “Tech It Out,” “Resource Roundtable,” “Get Up and Go,” “Travel Talk,” “What’s Cooking,” “Hadley Growers,” “Crafting Circle,” and “Writers’ Circle.” Anyone is welcome to participate in the live, one-hour discussion groups, and can do so by telephone or Zoom. Within a week of the live discussion group, each is available as an archived audio file and transcript, with a list of the resources mentioned during the live discussion group. All discussion group audio is also available in your favorite podcatcher, and may be requested on the Amazon Echo from TuneIn.

Hadley 1.5 maintains many of the core features learners and professionals have used for years, readily accessible from Hadley’s homepage or with a call to student services. Braille instruction at all levels remains a vital part of Hadley's adult continuing education. For adults remaining in the workplace or seeking to return, the Forsythe Center for Employment and Entrepreneurship, Business Enterprise Program Licensee Training (BEPLT), and a growing list of technology instructional videos remain unparalleled resources.

Other workshops, offer specific topics of interest to learners in a more concise format. For example, many of the topics and instructional materials in the “Practical Help for Low Vision" workshop came from the “Low Vision Focus” series of Classic Hadley seminars. Like the Microsoft Office instructional videos, the workshops are shorter and more focused, and you can view the video or audio instruction in whatever sequence makes the most sense for your needs. Just like much of the Classic Hadley course material, any of the “Practical Help for Low Vision” workshop series may be requested by calling Hadley Student Services at 800-323-4238. There is no charge for the workshop and it is available on CD, digital Talking Book Cartridge, or thumb drive. Learners can continue to use a free NLS Talking Book player to listen to instructional material, request a transcript in braille, and contact a learning expert or instructor by phone—no internet required.

Hadley in 2020

Hadley is making changes as it marches toward its 100th anniversary. Hadley 2.0 will incorporate a platform change for content delivery and improved services to clients and learners. When asked about specifics, Jaeger explained, “We're doing a full court press to get as much out there in the first quarter of 2020. It will be even more than a new website …There are some things that are different, some things that are offered in a more understandable and coherent way. Some things that are deemphasized, that aren't available anymore. But more or less the core functionality is available on this new platform. It’s more than just a website, it’s a platform to provide even better service to our offsite folks. It will help when somebody calls in to be able to search for content that’s best for them, to better serve the person calling in for somebody else, to better serve the professional calling in to best meet the needs of their client.”

With an unprecedented number of older adults remaining in the workplace or returning, more content will be devoted to this audience. “Much of the learning content will be highly applicable in the work setting, such as a series on customizing Windows for low vision, a series on using Outlook with a screen reader, or even getting the most from your iPhone or Android device using vision accessibility features," Jaeger said. "There will also be an entire area dedicated to working with vision loss. The first series will be 'Working After Vision Loss,' and will address common concerns about finding accommodations, advocating in the workplace, understanding retraining options, etc. We will also continue to offer training as part of the BEPLT program.”

It’s clear that the Advisory Panel is playing a large role in directing Hadley to the topics of greatest interest to the older adult learner with vision loss. Additionally, changes to existing instructional material or content are driven by research into the needs and wants of the voluntary learner—the adult seeking instruction for daily living, work, and leisure. Workshop design focuses on delivering content in a concise, meaningful way, with fewer barriers.

Of Hadley’s current direction, Jaeger concluded, “Learning from our learners, deciding that the people who could best use the insights and learning Hadley has to offer are older adults experiencing vision loss, and making sure we have the content these learners are most likely going to want—short chunks, concise, targeted, meaningful—because the motivation for learning is going to be voluntary, not academic, and having that friendly, engaging, respectful tone. That's what Hadley 2.0 is all about."

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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Steven Kelley
Article Topic
Access Issues