Panel: Perspectives of Students with Disabilities

A panelist answers a question.

The student perspectives panel featured students with disabilities currently in undergraduate or graduate programs.

  • Lindsey, University of Washington, majoring in comparative history of ideas with a focus on disability representation in the media.
  • Hannah, University of Washington, majoring in computer science.
  • Shawn, Aeronautic University in Prescott, Arizona, majored in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in Propulsion. Now attending University of Washington, majoring in aeronautics with a focus on fluids
  • Courtney, Seattle Central, Associate Degree
  • Jessie, University of Washington, BS in Informatics
  • Jessie, University of Washington, BS in Informatics

What accommodations or technology do you use to be successful?

  • I have all my tests and materials created in large print and extra time on tests so I can have time to read it all.
  • I use my smart phone for a lot of functions—I use a magnifier, color inversion settings, and sometimes speech recognition programs.
  • I need extra time on tests and use a laptop to help me organize my notes and listen at the same time.
  • I use Computer Aided Real-Time Transcription (CART), which is live captioning that records everything going on in the room. I also use an FM system, which puts a microphone on the speaker and hooks right into my cochlear implant so I can hear an individual easier.
  • I use a scribe to record any notes presented on the whiteboard since I can’t see them. I often ask if a professor can also speak everything they write as well.
  • I have to have a lot of my math equations transcribed into braille, which can sometimes be difficult. I also use a braille computer to take notes during class.
  • I get extended time on tests and have all of my materials in electronic format. I also have permission to audio record lectures so I can go back and listen to them while viewing diagrams with a magnifier.
  • I use speech to text programs (like Dragon Naturally Speaking) to write essays quicker, since my typing is very slow. I also use OneNote to sync all of my notes online and have access to everything I need from my phone.

In what ways have teachers or others tried to over-accommodate you?

  • People often ignore my personal space and assume I need help because of my disability. They think they can just grab my arm and lead me somewhere instead of asking if I need help to begin with.
  • I’ve often had professors tell me they will just write really big—no matter how big you write, it isn’t going to help me—I need things to be close up to be readable, not big. It is much more helpful to me if my professors just say everything and share diagrams in an electronic format.
  • I often have people assume that because I use a wheelchair I must be lost or need help. Just give me a chance to do something myself; otherwise, I can ask for help.
  • People often assume I need a sign language interpreter. Just because I’m deaf does not mean I speak sign language or need it. Ask people what they prefer and don’t assume someone needs a specific accommodation until they request it.

What were your experiences in STEM-related classes, and how did that influence your decision to stay or leave a STEM-focused education?

  • I was pretty lucky to have professors that were willing to work out any complications, as well as available technology I needed to access information. The biggest struggle I had was with making sure different engineering software products worked with my screen reader.
  • Math can sometimes be hard because it is very visual, and sometimes I get lost in long equations until I have a chance to visualize them. Having a note taker in math classes and professors who post their notes really helps me connect what I’m learning in lecture with the actual graphs and formulas.
  • I have a note taker; it is especially helpful if the note taker is in your major and knows the class material—having someone with no engineering background take notes in advanced engineering doesn’t work very well since they may not know how to spell certain words or how two topics are related.
  • When I took my first computer science programming class, I couldn’t figure out why my code wouldn’t work. Everything read out correctly using my screen reader. Evidently I didn’t use semicolons—I didn’t even know how a semicolon was used in coding because no one had ever explained it—it was always just shown in class.

How many classes do you take a semester/quarter?

  • As an undergraduate, I took about five per semester, which was about 15 credits. In graduate school, I take about three, which is still full time.
  • I take two to three so I can work part time as well as go to class. I also have an accommodation that gives me the equivalence of being full time even if I’m not technically taking the full 12 credits.
  • Currently I take ten credits of evening classes.
  • I typically take three classes, which is full time at my school, but next quarter I’m doing an added internship and taking 20 credits.

How do you do lab or field-based research, and did this add more challenges?

  • I have taken quite a few lab classes. I usually have an assistant there to help me describe what I’m using or point to where I needed to connect a wire, etc.
  • All of my labs have been partner labs, which has been nice because then my partner can do all the tiny detail work where you need to visually see measurements or wires, and I can do all the data collection or synopsis writing. When I worked at the CNT they gave me an enlarged screen, and that was all I really needed to be able to do my computer research on my own.
  • I used to work in the makerspace, and I asked that certain equipment be in the exact same location so I could find it. Often things are on wheels and move in these types of labs, which make it much harder for me to find.

How is it different to work with a teaching assistant (TA) compared to a professor?

  • Often, the biggest issue is that the information about my accommodation doesn’t get translated well to a TA, so they may not understand that they need to send the testing information to Disability Resources for Students, or may not give me notes in the correct format, etc.
  • TAs often know the materials less well, so if I need an accommodation in a lab, they may not have the same answers or options a professor would.
  • Professors can sometimes be very rigid in their rules or will forget my accommodations because they’re working with so many students. TAs are closer in age and a lot more understanding, and they’re usually students as well and give me more accommodations or work out a problem together.