Dear Editor of The Paisano,
I was astonished to read last week’s lead story about the spontaneous resignation of Dr. Douglas Brode — a distinguished film scholar and filmmaker. I was astonished, principally that this professor, whom I do not know personally, would not at least attempt to accommodate this blind student in his silent film class.
I speak from experience. Several years ago, a blind graduate student in the Spanish M.A. program enrolled in my Spanish Civilization class. In the class, my students were responsible for knowing the content of 800 PowerPoint slides, dates, periods, styles and movements. Students had to identify 10 images on each of three exams. Initially, I was stymied: How could I accommodate this student given the multimedia format (with written textbook)?
I called Disability Services, and I got the same advice as Dr. Brode did.
I wracked my brain. Then, I invited the student to my office to ask her whatherexpectations were. That helped a lot.
Here was our solution: The student attended class and took notes on her keying apparatus. (Yes, blind students can do that!) A friend of hers, who had taken my class already, volunteered to work with her on the slides outside of class. As part of the class, I also played a significant number of musical pieces from across history. Therefore, I substituted the music for the images for her to identify on the exams. She kept the maps by identifying north, south, east, west, verbally. She took the other parts of the exams via Blackboard as the other students did because she had special software that could read Microsoft Word documents to her. It worked. I was very satisfied with her progress. It took extra effort on my part, but I didn’t feel I had to compromise my standards.
That wasn’t all. She enrolled in another Spanish culture class of mine on Contemporary Spain — another course with 800 PowerPoint slides. We used the same format, and it worked. Writing the course paper proved more difficult for her; however, that’s on her, not me.
In Spring 2012, the student then signed up for a class that involved filming a Chilean play. The students in the class made up the cast and crew. When they were not needed in the studio, the students worked in small crews to produce a one-minute film of a well-known poem of their choosing. I wondered how the blind student could possibly benefit from the class and how she could collaborate.
It turned out the student had acting experience and was able to play one of the secondary roles quite well. We just had to make sure there were no obstacles in her way, to keep her safe. She wore stylish Lady Gaga sunglasses. For her video project, the student carried equipment to locations, did voice-over narration, and helped edit the soundtrack with her crew. She used her strengths.
In all three cases, the blind student’s experience of the material was different but not inferior to her classmates’. And she pulled her own weight.
Accommodation was challenging but, as I hope to have shown, not impossible.
It’s a shame Dr. Brode didn’t stick around long enough to find that out. What he failed to grasp was that it wasn’t abouthim;it was abouther. Sheshould decide what are her limits are.