|27 Sep 2023|
|2023 Finalists Global Teacher Prize|
One of Bryan Rivera’s most cherished memories while a student was of working on a volunteer program helping adults with special needs with their job transition and life skills development. His experience there helped him understand and appreciate the concept of accessibility and inclusion to guarantee access for people with disabilities, not for a period but as a life goal. As a result, his commitment to achieving excellence in education increased at the end of a master’s degree in special education and a postgraduate degree in assistive technology for people who are blind or have low vision.
His work as a Special Education Teacher has been transformative as he daily promotes the goal of eradicating social barriers as determinants of disability, promoting education as an enhancer of participatory inclusion, thanks to assistive technology and a great push to create a modern social model of “disability”. With a lack of material resources, work tools and adapted guides in Puerto Rico, Bryan began to create the future that his students deserved by building links with like-minded Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations.
This enabled him to access technology, transportation, furniture, and a budget for more than 20 educational projects based on inclusion, employment, and community access. His daily drive to change the social model of disability is based on 5 backbones: Vocational Skills, Social Skills, Health and Nutrition, Life Skills, and Transportation Alternatives through a special project called “SocialPath” that exposes students with functional diversity to extraordinary learning experiences in the community. Each lesson is carried out in a community setting, encouraging the extension of learning outside the classroom and highlighting the viability of an Independent Living Project based on citizen participation. For instance, promoting understanding of the causes, effects, and solutions to climate change, in 2021, he developed the initiative "The Keep Growing Project", creating sensory gardens for visually impaired students. He also developed home gardens to extend the commitment of families to reducing their carbon footprint. "I'm always knocking on doors. I want to reach the places no one else is reaching," says Bryan.
He also created "bCalm" an educational community project based on the right to emotional education, which seeks to educate caregivers to guide children, youth, and adults with cognitive, sensory, behavioural and/or emotional impairments to understand and manage their reality. A project extended to patients with Alzheimer's as a sensory treatment.
The results of these educational inclusion approaches have been truly transformative, also generating a social and educational impact in Thailand, Singapore, Mexico, Canada and France, among others. He has received widespread praise for the use of innovations such as setting up assistive technology to automate cooking lessons for non-verbal learners, facial recognition AI to help integrate the emotions in students with autism, proximity technology to guide young adults access employment, design of a smart city and school with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and working with NFC bracelets for experiential marketing and smart home-based learning educational models.
Bryan has faced great challenges to childhood and education in Puerto Rico, such as Hurricane Maria, the 2020 earthquakes and the COVID-19 emergency, going directly to homes to provide assistance and resources, creating educational spaces and providing food during these events. Knowing that he successfully collaborated with parents whose children had stopped talking and began to harm and mutilate themselves in the wake of these natural disasters and traumas gives him considerable professional satisfaction, and unsurprisingly, he has won many awards, including the Puerto Rico Department of Education’s National Teacher of the Year 2022.