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Opening All Options - past and present

Trevor Allan discusses the history of OAO and this current version

As one of the original authors of Opening All Options, first published in 1999 by the New South Wales Regional Disability Liaison Officers (RDLOs), I am delighted and proud to see this latest update of what has proven to be an extremely valuable and long-lived resource. As I commented when this latest update was released, if it were a person it would now be old enough to drive a car and to vote. It has been through several updates and revisions over those years, as is necessary to maintain its currency and value to all its potential users. Such longevity is a testament both to the quality of the resource and the ongoing need for such information, advice and understanding of a significant section of our population who have experienced multiple disadvantages in the past (and many continue to do so) as a consequence of learning and functioning differently to the standard expectations and systems in our society. Equally, by providing resources, information and strategies to people working with people with SpLD, such as Disability Practitioners and Academics, Opening All Options provides the opportunity of facilitating effective access to education and employment for many people who in the past had been denied these opportunities.

In 1997, as a result of our liaison across school, TAFE, university and community sectors, the New South Wales RDLOs identified a serious lack of information and resources around Learning Disabilities as well as distinct differences in the understanding, treatment and strategies across and within different education sectors. In those days, the school education sector not only did not recognise Learning Disabilities, but were vehemently opposed to anything that provided any validity, acknowledgement or credibility to Learning Disabilities. There were also many variations in services and strategies provided within both the TAFE and University sectors. We felt that what was needed was a comprehensive resource to provide information to practitioners, people with learning disabilities, their families and educators.

We developed a project outline, submitted a funding proposal to the NSW Universities Disabilities Cooperative Project and embarked on a two-year journey of research, writing, refining, negotiating, testing and designing the first Opening All Options. It was not an easy journey, because we were breaking new ground and the opposition to the Learning Disabilities model was particularly strong in the school education sector which subscribed to the learning difficulties model. There were several rather heated and at times vitriolic meetings with some senior people in the New South Wales Department of School Education, even including threats to block publication and have a funding cut. We persisted and succeeded in publishing the first Opening All Options in October, 1999 in both print and web versions.
In the interests of future proofing the resource, it was handed over to the newly formed Australian Learning Disabilities Association to host and provide maintenance and updates for the future. There have been several updates since and the resource has now moved into ADCET.

I have been privileged over the intervening years to see the fruits of our labour, and that of many others, having a profound impact on the lives of people with Learning Disabilities. When you see a 48 year old man with tears running down his cheeks proclaiming "I knew I could do it! I just knew it!" after a simple computer program opened up the world of print to him for the first time in his life. To see him and others go from a lifetime of failing academically and considering themselves failures, to success at university has been one of the most satisfying aspects of my career. The transformative effect of identifying the impacts of various Learning Disabilities, developing appropriate strategies to address those impacts enabling people to grow, shine and achieve academically, personally and in employment and life was remarkable to witness.

This latest update of Opening All Options is a worthy addition to the history of this resource. Julie Fry and Joanne Webber have done a great job in updating the resource to include developments in teaching and learning (with particular emphasis on universal design), technology changes, the latest research and updated information. These updates will ensure it remains a relevant and valuable resource for Disability Practitioners, Academics, people with Learning Disabilities and their families.

As one of the original "parents" of Opening All Options, I congratulate Julie and Jo for the great work they have done in helping our child to reach maturity. I am proud to see that has lasted so long and grown into such an impressive adult, that, while remaining true to its roots, has learnt and grown and matured so that it continues to provide the most current, important and valuable information and resources to the sector.

The knowledge, understanding and acceptance of Learning Disabilities has changed remarkably over the last 18 years. The possibilities for people with Learning Disabilities today are very different. Opening All Options has played an important role in fostering those changes and it gives me great pleasure to commend this latest “grown up” version of a resource that remains important, relevant and valuable to the education sector.

Trevor Allan BA Dip Ed
Honorary Life Member ATEND

(October 2016)