When Portuguese elementary students begin learning with the methodology created by Celmira Macedo, they are told the story of an elf named EKUI and the Barrier Monster.
In this tale, the children, some who are blind or deaf or living with other disabilities, are the heroes.
With EKUI the elf at their side, they fight to remove the barriers that keep everyone from learning together. The story is spoken, shown in sign language, and has a Braille version.
It’s the beginning of a journey in which all the students remain in the same classroom. In addition to reading with their eyes and hearing, if they can, the students learn to sign the alphabet with their hands, and to feel it under their fingers with the bumps of the Braille system.
“When children, with and without disabilities, are exposed to these different approaches — visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and tactile — they are able to learn faster and also are able to adapt the way they learn to their abilities,” says Celmira, the teacher who created the EKUI methodology.
This system turns the standard approach in Portuguese schools on its head.
Normally, students who are blind, deaf, or dealing with autism spectrum disorders are removed from the classroom periodically to learn skills specific to them. With EKUI (equity, knowledge, universality, inclusion), teachers engage the entire classroom with a system of flash cards that use Braille, sign language, visual cues (showing how the mouth is shaped to make a sound), and the written letter.
Celmira says it has been rewarding to hear stories about children who explain to their parents what the Braille in an elevator says, or who spontaneously approach deaf people to say hello by signing.
It’s a sign of the kind of empathy her system is designed to foster.
EKUI has been adopted in more than 450 classrooms across more than 70 towns and cities in Portugal, and almost 9 000 teachers have been trained in the methodology, which has been recognised with numerous honours. EKUI was a finalist in the 2016 Social Innovation Tournament, sponsored by the EIB Institute to help companies find solutions to social and environmental problems. In 2021, Celmira was named an Ashoka fellow.