A while back, I was sitting down to write an email to the professors I’ll have when I start my Master’s program in September with regards to my accommodations as a blind student in their class. Instead, I found myself thinking about what I wish I could really say to them. So here it is:
I’m going to be one of the many students in your Master’s classes next year and I absolutely have to write you this email. You see, I was born stamped with this tattoo called “advocate.” It’s an invisible tattoo, so you won’t be able to see it, but it plays a huge role in my life. Many other people are also born with this tattoo, and while I’m not complaining, it’s the main reason I’m writing to you. Maybe I should have written this at the beginning, told you straight out, but I’m blind.
I don’t want to have to write to you. I’m not ready for you to know, for you to make your assumptions and pre-judgments, but you need to know. A few people convinced me to write to you because they care about me and my academic success, and I care about my academic success too. So here I am putting myself out there — not because I want to, but because I need to.
I had always said during my undergraduate studies that I was going to switch to a different university, but when I got accepted to that different university — the school of my dreams — there were reasons why I couldn’t take that plunge and make the change. So it’s not a fresh start and instead, even though I’ve never had any of you as a professor yet, it’s likely you already know me, or at least have heard of me. You might have seen me in the hallways with my guide dog, or heard about me through my advocacy work on campus. Maybe you’ve even come across a blog post of mine… either way, there’s a strong possibility that you know of me, but I don’t know of you. That means you might have formed an opinion of me already (maybe you were one of the many people I’ve told off for petting my guide dog while she was on harness and working), but here’s the thing, I’ve already started to judge you too. Not in the way that is negative, but in the way that is full of anticipation and hope. I’ve read each of your areas of research online and have a few of you who I am particularly looking forward to meeting. You might be my first choice for my Masters Thesis supervisor, or committee member, or someone who I’m just interested in talking to further.
You’d never guess that I’m shy — especially if you’ve seen me around. You won’t believe it when I talk nonstop about the reading, or get into a heated academic debate about a topic I’m totally passionate about. But, I am and sending this e-mail to you is totally awkward, for me and probably for you.
So with all that aside, what accommodations do I actually need?
It really isn’t that complicated, unless you make it out to be, but I’m hoping you’re not one of those professors. Like the professor I had in third year who kept handing me printed paper I couldn’t read, for example.
Firstly, please make sure course material will be available electronically. This is so that my computer can read me the material, or I can enlarge it using my computer’s “zoom” function. Please allow the length of assignments to be measured by word count instead of page count (there’s a story behind that one, for another day).
Secondly, please make sure videos are transcribed if they aren’t in English and there are subtitles. This is because I can’t see the screen to read the subtitles on videos. Finally, if there are charts or diagrams you’re showing to the class, you’ll have to describe them for me. This is because charts and diagrams can be very visually hard to comprehend, even if I were to have them on my own computer.
Phew, I think that’s it. I hope I don’t come across as too demanding, but if I do, I’m not sorry. You need to understand that this is the way it is. These are just little things, but they mean I’ll be able to engage with the course material and learn with my peers.
I hope we’ll be able to work together and have good dialogue if there are any accommodations, or issues with accommodations that need to be addressed. Please don’t be “that professor.”
Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions, or concerns — I promise I don’t bite.
I am truly looking forward to meeting you in September, along with the rest of my peers.
A future Master’s student who doesn’t really want to be known just yet
This article originally appeared on Behind the Eyes of a Writer.
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Thinkstock photo by Seb Ra.