Everyday Life,  Student Life,  Technology

Personal Advocacy in School: How and What I Tell Professors

This post will fit right in with my previous post on being legally blind while in graduate school. If you haven’t read it, you can check it out here.

Letting a professor/teacher know what you need is probably one of the most important things you can do while in school, and it can be one of the hardest as well. While I was in high school my teachers were very accommodating, but I did not allow them to help me very much. I didn’t grow up with many accommodations, but I did not ask for many either. I was embarrassed, and I was hard-headed when it came to admitting that I needed more than any other kid my age. Admitting you’re different is not always easy. I didn’t even know what Albinism or being legally blind was until I was in high school where I discovered the NOAH website and forum (NOAH is the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation and you can find it here). This site explained to me all of the things about myself that I never even knew to ask, and I met some wonderful people my age that I could share my issues with and share and receive advice. I frequented that forum for sure!

Children with Albinism today have a lot more information. When I was a teenager, there was no Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, so I had that forum. Thanks to that forum, I even began talking to my friends in high school about Albinism and my eyesight. I have to say that my friends were always very helpful and understanding, even when it took time from what they were doing.

Now we have Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram handles, and YouTube channels made by people with Albinism. These are all excellent resources, but I think your best resource is your own knowledge. Know what works best for you and how to ask for those things.

What I Need for School as a Blind Student

How did I learn what I needed? Through trial and error. I have tried the giant print textbooks that take up way too much space (before e-books). I have tried many different magnifiers (standard and electric). I have tried several different monoculars. I have tried different pens and pencils and paper and notebooks. I have sat in different parts of a classroom. I have tried private testing with extended time, and I have done without all of these special accommodations. Some are worth the extra effort to me, and some are not.

Which Accommodations are Worth the Effort?

Take private testing accommodations and extended time for instance. I personally do not find that I need any more time than most students when taking a normal test in a classroom. I don’t struggle with minute distractions as someone with Attention Deficit DIsorder might, and I do not like to take my own extra time to take these tests in another setting when that is an accommodation that I do not deem necessary. Try things out, experiment, and figure out what works for you though. This is a process that may take some time, and you may begin this process long before I did. Accommodations are different for every person.

Personally, I don’t ask for many accommodations, but now, it isn’t due to stubbornness. I know that I can take tests in a normal time frame (faster than many people with regular vision in my case); I can use my monocular to read the board; and I can handle my textbook situation well on my own.

What I say to Professors as a Blind Student

When I tell a professor that I am legally blind and which accommodations I may need, I like to catch them after the very first class. By then I know what to expect during their classes: how they present notes, what their tests will be like, how the assignments will be handled, and a bit about their personality as a professor. I like to speak to them in person, because I generally do not feel the need to have this type of communication in writing. I feel that I can utilize this informal method of communication, because I do not require many accommodations. In most cases I can approach them throughout the semester if any of my requests change. This approach should also make the professor feel comfortable enough to ask any questions that he/she may have. You may have a different situation and may want to present them with a formal letter or e-mail, especially if you have a long or very specific set of accommodations.

What I tell a professor is fairly simple, but what you tell a teacher/professor may be more complex depending on what you need and want. I tell them that I’m legally blind; that I do not use scantrons (bubble fill-in answer sheets); and that if they use small fonts (12 point or less) on notes or tests, I would like them a bit bigger (about 14 point font is plenty for me personally). I have had only pleasant experiences working with professors. I know, I’m very lucky. I don’t need much, but that is based on my own personal needs and abilities.

Always Ask for What You Need

You should never be afraid to ask for what you need though, even if it seems like you have a list a mile long. I’ve seen students who ask for ten different accommodations. You are entitled to those accommodations if you need them, so don’t feel hesitant to ask. I have been lucky in the past to have kind professors, but that is not always the case. Some teachers/professors may be reluctant or even critical, and that is when you need to go through your school’s Special Populations office or whatever your school chooses to call that office.

I spent two years in community college and had the pleasure of working with and for my Special Populations office there. I loved working in that office. It taught me many things, and one is that teachers/professors are not always accommodating or even friendly. Utilizing the Special Populations office as a resource can be very helpful, and I hope you find the help you need there.

We’re All Humans Here

Do remember that each of these people you encounter is human and nothing more. We each have our own experiences, opinions, and expectations, and these may not always line up with your own experiences, opinions, and expectations. Be your own advocate but do remember to be as respectful as you can about that advocacy. There is a fine line between advocacy and berating.

DISCLAIMER: What I share in this post is based on my personal experience attending university in the United States. I am not very familiar with other countries’ policies and laws regarding students with disabilities or special accommodations. Your university should have a student handbook that outlines their personal policies and the laws they must abide by. I’d suggest checking that, asking other students from your country, and speaking to the staff on your campus.

If you need any help with any of this, feel free to send me an email, comment, or contact me on social media. I’ll do whatever I can to point you in the right direction. Find my contact information here.

Thanks for reading. Stay Curious.

I have Albinism and am legally blind. I have a Master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I'm currently pursuing my passion of writing through this blog and for the Albinism InSight magazine.

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