This is going to be a long form series, as I think about and interrogate my graduate school experience. To be brief, it took me almost five years to complete a two year degree, in large part due to issues revolving around academic accessibility for students with disabilities.
As my rage has cooled over the last month, as I have gotten used to the fact that I have my diploma and I never have to face the nerve wracking anxiety which the program I attended gave me, I begin to need to talk about the inherent issues in the system of the academy and not just the singular program which I attended.
Now, when I was in undergrad and in high school, there was a somewhat less ridiculous reason for why my professors did not do what I asked of them – with multiple classes with at least 20 students in each class I imagine that it can be difficult to balance the needs of all your students and get your work done. I’ve been there. I edit for a living, I know what hell that can be.
Granted, I’m not giving much leeway – because what I ask for is simple:
Let me email you my paper – you put the comments into my paper – IN WORD. Using comment bubbles.
For those who haven’t been playing along on this site since it began, I’m legally blind. I can barely read my own handwriting about a third of the time. And yet for most of my academic career I have had to beg, plead, cajole and guilt professors into remembering that I cannot for the life of me read their handwriting.
This is not a personal thing. This is not a “Oh, your handwriting is TERRIBLE Professor McHistoryNerd”, though there is one former professor of mine who reads this site – and your handwriting, sir, is still terrible.
But that professor also met with me individually to make sure that I knew what edits I needed to make. There was a compromise.
That being said – in a graduate program in which I was one of ten students? In a graduate program where we had individual conference meetings once a week? In which I could easily advocate and communicate my needs?
Yeeeaaaaah. There was no excuse. And yet. Every week it would be “Oh, I forgot” or “Oh, it’s just a minor assignment, there’s no editing to be done.”
Here’s the thing – my education will forever be somewhat damaged by the fact that I was unable to comprehend the changes which needed to be made to my work most of the time. I have had to rely on romantic partners, friends, and even bartenders to tell me what the hell the comments on a paper said.
This is not the way to educate anyone, certainly not students at institutions Where they are paying for the privilege to be educated. Discrimination on the basis of the disability isn’t legal, yet the very institution of academia seems to discriminate because of issues like textbook access for visually impaired students, and the standard of how papers are handed in and handed back. We’ve got to do better.
And just as a note – never hand back a paper to a blind student in GLITTER PEN. (But that’s a story for another time…)