You have an important role in making sure your learning goes as smoothly as possible.  When you request accommodations because of your visual impairment or general help because you’re a student, what you say and how you say it can affect the kind of help you receive and your overall intellectual and emotional well-being throughout the semester.

Be Assertive

Most people agree that the best way to advocate for yourself is to be assertive. Speaking assertively almost always means speaking in “I” statements, which keeps you at the center of your requests and helps you to avoid accusing another person of not filling his or her end of the bargain. Know what you need and how your professors can help you. Then keep your end of the conversation confident but positive. But remember: you are having a conversation. When it’s your turn to listen, you will need to really listen. If a professor suggests a solution which you hadn’t thought of but which would work for your problem, you may choose to go with it. With most instructors, you will figure out a balance between staying true to your learning style and working within the parameters of the class.

Avoid Aggression

But being aggressive means being confident, right?

Wrong! Instead of using “I” statements, “I learn best when I can take my own notes or can read your handouts using screen magnification,” someone who communicates aggressively will resort to “you” statements, “As my instructor, your job is to send me the notes.” The problem with this method of communication is that it antagonizes the person to whom you’re talking and unnecessarily puts him or her on the defensive. Implying that your professor needs to defend his or her position can quickly override the original intent of the meeting, helping you to learn.

Avoid Passivity

So I need to just go along with whatever my professor says, even if I don’t feel great about the outcome?

Wrong again! Being passive when requesting accommodations is equally harmful. While you want to remain respectful to your instructor, you also need to make sure you are actually learning effectively. Many professors have never worked with a student who is blind or visually impaired, and most of those who have may have only taught one or two students who learned differently than you do. For instance, a professor may recommend a human notetaker when you prefer to take your own notes. If you are sure that won’t work for you, don’t just accept her suggestion, because she taught a student before who used one. Instead, explain why taking your own notes benefits you. Be honest with your professor about how you learn best, and if the professor suggests a method which won’t work for you, be sure to explain your difficulty rather than just accepting what she says without discussion.

Role Plays

Here are some examples of the wrong way to handle an interaction with the professor, followed by a more positive way to handle the same interaction. We hope you find these examples to be a useful springboard to thinking about how you interact with your professors during everyday situations.

Explaining Your Learning Style

The Wrong Way

Professor: I recommend that you use a human notetaker in my class. I had a blind student in my class ten years ago, and that’s how she learned the material.

Student: Well, okay, if you think that will help …

The Right Way

Professor: I recommend that you use a human notetaker in my class. I had a blind student in my class ten years ago, and that’s how she learned the material.

Student: I have found that I learn best when I take my own notes. I have a small computer with a braille display which allows me to take notes quickly and to access the handouts you give me. But I appreciate the suggestion. If the material becomes so visual that I need some help, I’ll consider a human notetaker.

Notifying a Professor about a Lab Assistant

The Wrong Way

Student: Dr. Jones, I will need to use an assistant in the lab portion of your class.

Professor: A lab assistant? I’m concerned that a lab assistant will take over your role as the student in this course.

Student: You try to analyze noxious chemical interactions without sight! Then you’ll see how necessary a lab assistant is to my learning!

The Right Way

Student: Dr. Jones, I will need to use an assistant in the lab portion of your class.

Professor: A lab assistant? I’m concerned that a lab assistant will take over your role as the student in this course.

Student: Let me explain the role of a lab assistant in a little more detail. Because I can’t see well, the lab assistant will act as my eyes when performing experiments. But as the student, I have the brain which is learning, so it’s still my responsibility to direct the assistant, to learn the concepts and to write the lab reports.

Then you can give some examples of how the lab assistant can help.

Understanding Material

The Wrong Way

Student, (in the middle of class): Professor Kennedy, you forgot to email me the handouts for this week’s class.

Professor: Oh, I’m so sorry! I’ll be happy to email you the handouts as soon as the class is over.

Student: Well, if you had sent them in the first place, I would actually be able to understand what you’re talking about while class is going on.

The Right Way

Student, (during office hours after a class): Professor Kennedy, I had some trouble understanding what you were talking about in class today, because I didn’t have the handouts you were referring to. I did take notes during class, so I could review them later, but could you explain it in a little more detail?

Professor: Oh, I’m so sorry I forgot! I’ll be happy to discuss it with you and to email you the handouts so you can catch up.

Student: Thank you! If this happens again, what’s the best way for me to get the handouts before class starts? I was thinking that I could send you a quick reminder by email, but do you check your email right before class?

Professor: I’ll do my best to make sure this doesn’t happen for the rest of the semester. But if I forget, please send me a reminder email. I do check it the morning of the class and can email you the materials first thing in the morning, if I haven’t already.

Student: Thank you so much!

Taking the First Pop Quiz of the Semester

The Wrong Way

Professor: All right, everyone, close your books and notes. It’s time for your first history pop quiz. Samantha, come up here so I can give you this quiz orally.

Student: I’m supposed to use my computer for all of my quizzes. Didn’t you pay attention to my accommodation letter? How would you like to compose your answers verbally without being able to correct them quickly?

Professor: That’s fair, but how will I know if you’re looking up information?

Student: Why would I cheat?

The Right Way

Professor: All right, everyone, close your books and notes. It’s time for your first history pop quiz. Samantha, come up here so I can give you this quiz orally.

Student: I really prefer to write on my computer so that I can check my answers and make changes.

Professor: That’s fair, but how will I know if you’re looking up information?

Student: Could I move my desk so that you can see my screen but so other students can’t see it? That way, you can be sure I’m just typing in the quiz file.

Professor: Let’s try it for this quiz and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work out, let’s talk about it later during office hours.

Organizing Accommodations for Tests

The Wrong Way

Professor: There’s a disabilities office, right? Can’t you take your test in there?

Student: I hate the disabilities office. Sometimes they don’t process my test requests and I am limited to the times they have available. The other students know well in advance when they will get to take the test and it isn’t fair that I have to do all of this extra planning which only adds to the stress I have learning the material.

The Right Way

Professor: There’s a disabilities office, right? Can’t you take your test in there?

Student: Yes, there is a DSO. They assist me in making sure I have access to materials and that I receive the accommodations necessary for me to be successful. Sometimes, like during a math test, I need to take tests in the DSO because I may need extra time as I explore tactile diagrams or to listen to a reader describe graphs. However, I read the syllabus, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of visual material covered in this class. I would love to talk to you about what types of material will be on the test, but if it is text based, I would like to take it in the classroom. This way, I am taking my test in the same environment as other students and in the same environment in which I learned the material.

A Professor Who is Worried about Having You in her Class

The Wrong Way

Student (after class): Hello, Dr. Jones. I am really excited about this class. I just wanted to introduce myself and ask if there is a time when we could get together to talk a little bit about accommodations in the course.

Professor: I think it is really great that you are interested in economics. But this class is very visual. I am wondering if you have considered taking something a bit more text-based to fill your social science requirement.

Student: What? You think that I can’t do this just because I am blind?

Professor: Not necessarily. I’m just concerned…

Student: You know what? You have to take me in this class whether you like it or not. And if you don’t believe me, you can ask my mom. She’s a lawyer. Have you heard of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act?

The Right Way

Student (after class): Hello, Dr. Smith. I am really excited about this class. I just wanted to introduce myself and ask if there is a time when we could get together to talk a little bit about accommodations in the course.

Professor: I think it is really great that you are interested in economics. But this class is very visual. I am wondering if you have considered taking something a bit more text-based to fill your social science requirement.

Student: No, I haven’t. I am really interested in economics and definitely think I’m in the right place. I understand that you might be a bit concerned since most students absorb the material using graphs. But many blind students have taken economics courses, and some have even become economists.

Professor: Hmmm. Blind economists? I hadn’t ever heard of that.

Student: Oh, yeah. There are several. I can get some of the graphs in tactile formats. And once I am familiar with the concepts and graphs, it is really pretty easy to imagine what they look like and work from there. I might need you or a reader or study buddy to explain how things look once in a while, but I am confident I can handle the material.

Professor: Ok. Well, I don’t know exactly how you are going to do it. But I guess you have more experience with this sort of thing than I do. If you are willing to give it a try, I am willing to help when I can. Let’s get together sometime next Tuesday afternoon to talk about anything I can do to be helpful.

Student: Thanks! I look forward to it. I’ll come to your office hours on Tuesday.

By Kristen Witucki, Cindy Bennett, Sean Whalen and Hoby Wedler on Tuesday, September 29, 2015 10:57:55 AM