Erin Breedlove asked me if I’d respond to her post about Five Things All Professors Should Know with a post about the five things students with disabilities should know from the other side of the desk.
As a professor, I teach mostly online. I spent thirteen years working in the field of disability access as technologies director for the National Center of Severe and Sensory Disabilities. I’m probably not going to give you the typical prof response, so take this with a whole twenty-pound salt lick. I don’t work for the university at the moment, and my teaching is as adjunct faculty, so I have no problem letting you “see behind the curtain” and letting you know that guy back there is no more a wizard than you are.
1. Most professors haven’t a clue about how to deal with you.
Your presence in the class means that they need to deal with special cases and extra work. This is particularly true for students with sensory disabilities like visual impairment or deafness. The university is supposed to make sure they provide materials that are accessible, but the unfortunate truth is, they don’t deal with it in a systemic way, but continue to rely on the case-by-case situation. Sad, but better you know the truth going in.
2. Talk to the prof.
There isn’t a teacher in the world who doesn’t want to help his or her students but they can’t if they don’t know what you need. Unless you’re taking a course from a teacher who specializes in your particular condition, they may well not understand what it is – exactly – that you’re dealing with or how they can help you. Set up a time early in the semester. Do it the first week, or — even better — meet with them before the class starts. Talk with them. Get to know them. Help them know you as a person. The prof will need to see *you* and not just your disability and only you can do that.
3. Don’t be a jerk.
This goes for all students, not just students with disabilities. Too many young adults hit college with whole trees on their shoulders and an attitude of entitlement. Remember that the only thing your tuition entitles you to is to get a grade at the end of the semester. Everything else, you have to do on your own. A full time teacher probably has at least a hundred students to deal with and walking into his or her office with an attitude will get you remembered for all the wrong reasons.
4. Document everything.
Yes, you’re a student with a special need and we all want to help get that addressed as expeditiously as possible. There is no excuse for delay or dissembling. If you can’t hear the sound track on his carefully prepared video, he’s supposed to offer you (at a minimum) the transcript. If you can’t see the graphics on his wonderful powerpoint slides, he needs to supply you with a description of them. Ask for them if he doesn’t offer. If he doesn’t provide them, or brushes you off, document it and take it to the university. Let the university deal with it.
And document that.
Verbum sapientia satis.
5. Play nice with others.
This is sort of a corollary to number three, but relates more to your peer students. I’ve seen a lot of students — some with disabilities and more without — who don’t take that extra step to reach out to the person in the next seat. Learning is a social activity and the more you can be social, the more you can reach out to those around you, the more you’ll learn and the more fun you’ll have doing it. Students without disabilities are generally more clueless than faculty, but like anybody else, they’ll respond to honest communication. Reach out. You might be surprised who’ll reach back.
That’s it. I hope you find it helpful, and I can tell you, from my side of the desk, if all students paid a little more attention and took a little more responsibility for their own learning (not just the education that the university is trying to sell them) I think the world would be a lot better off.
Good luck in your studies and best wishes for your futures.
Obligatory disclaimer: These are my personal views and observations from years of dealing with higher education. I’m not speaking for anybody but myself.