Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Trying to accommodate

I have a blind student in my medieval survey. I just found this out on the first day of class.

He doesn't read Braille but he has a computer that will read electronic documents aloud to him. I wonder, though, how it handles glosses and footnotes?

We're using the Broadview Anthology of British Literature and I think they have the entire text available on PDF, in individual units, so I've contacted various people I know there (an editor, the sales rep) to find out about getting electronic copies, because our office of accessibility is notoriously slow.

In the meantime, for the next class we're reading a bunch of short poetry from both the Old and Middle English periods, and every poem but one that I assigned was out there on the intertubes, in the original language and the translation, so I put together a little Word document for him and e-mailed it to him. Apparently he can do e-mail, but I'm wondering how it works in terms of opening attachments. He said he could, but I'm interested in how it works. Is there a program that reads the e-mail for him and then asks, "Would you like to open the attachment?" I'm really curious about this -- I think I'll ask him. He seemed excited on Tuesday to tell me about his cool computer programs.

And next, we're doing Beowulf, so I told him to get the Seamus Heaney translation in audio format. It's abridged and it's not the translation we're using, but it will do for now, until we get the textbook for him.

But what's got me most worried is how I teach and what he'll be missing in terms of that. I use a LOT of visual aids, and I emphasize looking at the manuscripts when they're available in facsimile. Yes, I've been obsessed with sound a lot lately, and I read aloud in class a lot, so that will help. And, of course, medieval "readers" themselves received texts in multiple ways, including being read to, which I think now I'll emphasize even more this semester. But still, I don't think everything will translate for him.

Does anyone have any advice or suggestions? And yes, I'll be calling the office of accessibility today.


Steven said...

Your student should have access to a reader for at least a few hours a week--someone who will go over everything your student can't access electronically or through talking books. (A goodly chunk of the course readings ought to be available through the Library of Congress talking books program.) If your student isn't getting services *both* through the accessibility office and through the local agency for the visually impaired then he's not getting all the help he could. One idea would be to get in touch with the local affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, which is the largest consumer organization of blind people in the country. They can hook him up with everything that's available in your area.

Greg Carrier said...

A few suggestions, if I may.

1. Ask the student what works for him, and if he has any suggestions as to how things can be adapted to meet his needs. Being deaf myself, I always appreciate it when professors take the time to ask me how things work - after all, I'm the real expert in how to adapt things to my benefit.

2. Regarding visual aids, perhaps you could turn it into some sort of teaching exercise. For instance, you could teach the students (if they don't already know, that is) how to 'read' a manuscript. Then you could include a 'reading' of the manuscript itself into the discussion of the poem. I'm sure you could take this off into some wonderful tangents and expansions of ideas and themes regarding society at the time of Beowulf, etc., and also in how different generations/areas preserved and transmitted (popular) culture.

3. You could have the other students in the class - along with yourself - try to experience what the blind student experiences. You could have the students listen to (or read) selections of the abridged Beowulf text and then compare it to the full text.

Really, my advice is simple: talk to the student himself directly, ask him what works for him and what doesn't, and then see if you can't turn the fact that you have a blind student in the class into an advantage in terms of opening up new teaching experiences.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at greg (dot) carrier (at) gmail (dot) com.

Dr. Crazy said...

I was about to suggest just what Steven did about having access to a reader for at least a few hours a week. This was invaluable for a blind student that I taught a few semesters ago.

Lisa Spangenberg said...

As others have said, ask the student.

Most visually disabled Web / digital docs users use a piece of software called Jaws; it can be configured for pretty much any kind of email account, or Web browser, or word processor.

RE: Attachments, there are various ways for various kinds of software to read the meta data (it's standardized) in an email to locate an attachment and read the name of the file. They user can then tell teh computer Open File filename.

If you want some custom Web pages made, holler; I'm unemployed for a bit and have some time.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I have no great advice - I've had deaf students but no experience with the visually impaired. But your post reminded me of once being really struck by the situation of a friend of mine, who had a blind student in her world history class, in which she was giving weekly map quizzes. And she had a moment of, Okay, how do I give map quizzes to a blind student? The solution (probably obvious to the quicker-thinking that I) was to do word problems instead of visuals - that is, "what countries border on France?" "In what country is the Po River located?" "Which is further north, the Alps or the Pyrenees?" that kind of thing. What she found - and I thought was really interesting - was that this turned out to be a really good way to test *all* her students - in fact, a better way, in that students had to be able to come up with the information more actively than labeling something on a blank map. So I have nothing to add to what everyone's said about options for your student, but I suspect thinking about ways to present the material in a way that's accessible to this student will end up benefiting ALL your students.

Terminal Degree said...

I had a student who was blind a couple of years ago in my music classes. It was an amazing learning experience for me. As others have said, the blind student will be the best expert on what works/doesn't work for him. (It seems a lot of students don't read Braille any longer, BTW.)

My student did tell me that pdf files were really hard for JAWS (her computer reading program) to decipher, although that was almost 3 years ago. You'd probably better ask your student how pdf files work for him.

One of the best things you can do is read about how to relate to a blind person. Here's a good example:
I posted it, with my student's permission, for the entire class to read. They all found it helpful.

The biggest challenge I found was one of social interactions. So many conversations happen when students make eye contact. The blind student doesn't have this luxury, so other students may have to take the initiative, or you may have to actually put them in groups.

Oh, and my standard phrase for "goodbye" is "see ya later." Yes, I used it with my blind student, and she used to reply with it: "See ya!" No big deal.

Dr. Virago said...

THANKS!!! You've all given me a lot of helpful information and ideas.

I should have said that I did sit down with him after class on Tuesday and talk to him about what he needed and how I could help, and he's the one who told me to e-mail him attachments of the syllabus, etc., and that he could use books on tape if I gave him the list of readings. (And he seemed to be aware that perhaps only the major works would be readily available.) But I didn't clarify what programs were OK -- including PDFs, so I will put that on my list of things to ask tomorrow.

Right now I'm worried about him getting to class, because the classroom has changed -- not just buildings but *campuses*. Yikes.

Oh, and TD, my student also said, "See ya later!" -- rather pointedly, actually.

I don't want to make a particular student into a narrative of this blog, but I did need advice and help, so thanks everyone. And if any body else has anything else to add, feel free!

meli said...

I was recently at a disability studies conference and one of the participants was blind. All the presenters had been informed that if they were using images in their talks they would need to verbally explain them.

Quite a lot of the talks used images, as a major topic was representations of disability, and most of them remembered to describe the images briefly, which worked fine. (One of them kept forgetting and had to be prompted.) Describing the images didn't take up too much time, and helped other audience members to focus too - I guess it helps you to be really clear about why you have chosen certain images...

Anonymous said...

A blind student? Or is he a student who is blind? Changing the language we use to describe people with disabilities helps us change our perception of them. The deaf seem to challenge this idea. They seem to make it a part of their persona.

You are obviously very concerned about this student. Has he offered any suggestions? Have you asked him?