The series provides practical advice for teachers and parents of children with disabilities.
Lisa Dieker and Rebecca “Becky” Hines have been friends and colleagues for 16 years. Both are exceptional student education faculty members at UCF. Hines is an aunt to a person with a disability, and Dieker’s son has disabilities. The pair have written books and presented together. Now, they’re creating a podcast together.
Dieker called Hines while driving home one afternoon because she had an idea. She wanted to create a podcast to tackle the common questions they’re asked while working with teachers and parents around the country. Without hesitation, Hines was in, and the Practical Access Podcast was born.
“What we’re trying to do is give practical advice to teachers and families with children with disabilities. We talk in very short segments about educational practices and tips, but the whole point is to keep it short and keep it practical,” says Dieker, a Pegasus Professor and Lockheed Martin Eminent scholar chair.
The podcast launched in March of this year with the goal of providing fast, flexible thinking about real-life problems for educators, people with disabilities and their family members.
But another big thing was happening in March: The country was at the height of growing uncertainty about coronavirus. Teachers had to swiftly transition their face-to-face classrooms into a remote learning setting.
Dieker and Hines decided to design season one as a response to COVID-19. Episodes centered around teaching students with disabilities in a remote learning environment, adapting to relying on technology more, how to keep students engaged with one another during this time and provided tips for dealing with anxiety regarding the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“It was, in some ways, fortuitous that is happened at the same time because it gave Lisa and I something to address quickly and early on. Since we both are assertive when it comes to technology and understanding different tools, I think people were more receptive to hear some of those tools because they had an immediate need,” says Hines, an associate professor and program coordinator for the undergraduate exceptional education program.
Season two aired in late April and covered soft skills, such as how to teach children manners and social skills, explains Dieker. Other topics included conflict resolution, creativity, time management and quite a few episodes relating to jobs and employability. In an episode about laughter, Hines’ sister Cheryl Hines, an actress and comedian, appeared as a guest.
When it comes to the content of an episode, Hines and Dieker schedule a Zoom call and just start talking; they go with their strengths. Listeners are gifted with practical advice in less than 15 minutes and personal stories from Dieker and Hines’ careers, putting the material into an understandable context.
“It just kind of fits who we are and how we respond to the field a little bit differently,” says Dieker.
Sometimes the practices behind exceptional education aren’t as digestible and easy to implement as the stories and perspective of two faculty members with over 50 years of combined experience.
“We realize people are always looking for information, but sometimes reading about these topics isn’t as fruitful as just having someone explain or share simple ideas and suggestions in a more practical way,” says Hines.
The material is engaging because of the chemistry between Dieker and Hines. Their camaraderie and friendship are evident by the casual conversation and laughter. “I think the hardest thing for a lot of people is to take this huge body of knowledge and pare it down into something simple,” says Hines. “Lisa and I share that characteristic of being able to synthesize things quickly. We have a shared understanding of how one another thinks.”
We realize people are always looking for information, but sometimes reading about these topics isn’t as fruitful as just having someone explain or share simple ideas and suggestions in a more practical way.
The duo credits their ease of communicating with all the presentations they’ve delivered together over the years. They pick up on each other’s nonverbal cues, don’t interrupt or talk over one another, don’t use a script and they never have to rerecord an episode. Plus, they have fun.
“We completely debunked the research that said 30 minutes for a podcast is perfect,” says Dieker, explaining that no teacher or parent has more than 10-12 minutes to spare. “We intentionally made it short so that a busy mom with a kid who has three disabilities can say, ‘I need to figure out how to deal with their behavior. What did Lisa and Becky have to say?’"
Since it began, the podcast has amassed quite the loyal following. They have listeners across the globe: the entire United States (minus Alaska), Africa, Asia and Europe.
In the fall, students at UCF will be added to that roster as Dieker and Hines plan to implement the podcast into their classes and perhaps get a doctoral student to help out with engaging listeners and fielding questions.
Season three will air this fall, and Dieker says they plan to talk about a disability each week and have a person with that particular disability join the episode.
“I think one of the reasons that Lisa and I enjoy working together so much is that we have a shared understanding that this profession shouldn’t be about what people needed yesterday or always about what people did yesterday. What I really need to know is what to do next. I think that Lisa and I both know that in a podcast like this one, what people need is that immediacy,” says Hines.
Without that immediacy, that advance notice of what’s to come, the field can’t continue to advance. This podcast allows the pair to be responsive.
“Things are going to change far faster than people ever realized — just as they did with COVID-19. I like the idea of us being able to share our professional experience and being able to move forward,” says Hines. “What’s next for kids with disabilities? What’s next in the field of education? And how do we adapt to complex challenges such as the one we are currently experiencing?”