Javier and Medical School: A Case Study on Accommodations for Visual Impairments

DO-IT Factsheet #208
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Stem/articles?208

Background

My name is Javier and I'm a first-year medical school student. I am legally blind but have some functional vision. My condition is called Stargardt's Disease. It is a rare degenerative condition that results in the loss of central vision but not all peripheral vision.

Access Issues

I am able to read some print material, but for longer readings I often use a closed-circuit TV (CCTV) monitor I have at home. This equipment uses a camera to enlarge regular print material. I can take exams with the rest of the class. I need to make copies of another student's notes when I can't keep up with the instructor's presentation. I can use most standard microscopes (or microscopes with a stronger lens) with no problem; in fact, that is one of the easiest things for me to do, because I am able to move my eyes from side to side when looking into a scope, and with electronic scopes and monitors I can easily see everything. For my undergraduate study in biology, I did not need any accommodations from the disabilities services office. In medical school, however, I encountered my first real problem with access that I could not solve on my own. In the first two years of medical school, the courses involve primarily long, intensive lectures. Many professors use overhead slides and other audiovisuals. In my anatomy course I could not see the diagrams and pictures of body systems and parts. I fell behind quickly because of the volume of material covered in class that was not in the textbook.

Solution

I talked with the disability services director about my problem and my idea of how it might be solved. Since I can use CCTVs, monitors, and microscopes very effectively, I figured that what might work for me would be a video camera at the rear of the lecture hall connected to a monitor. I could sit at the rear of the lecture hall, in front of the monitor (with my eyes about 12 inches from the monitor), and be able to see the blackboard, overheads, and other visuals used by the professor. The disability services office approved of my idea, rented a video camera with tripod and monitor, purchased a very powerful camera lens, and arranged for a large table reserved for me at the rear of the lecture hall. I was able to operate the camera myself when I needed it for some lectures. This system enabled me to see all the information as it was presented and participate in discussions. The equipment was stored by the audiovisual department in a nearby office, and they would set up the equipment each morning for me.

Conclusion

This case study demonstrates the following:

  1. Students are often the best source for information about accommodation strategies.
  2. Accommodation needs can vary from one setting to another and may not be constant over time.
  3. Students with disabilities can be very independent if they have the proper equipment and resources.
  4. Academic departments and support offices (e.g., disability services offices) need to be very flexible and have access to resources to quickly respond to accommodation needs.
  5. Timeliness of the accommodation may be particularly important for fast-paced, advanced, technical, or professional programs, including health and allied health programs where there is a required sequencing of courses.