Student Panel Presentation Summary

A row of students with disabilities answer questions as a panel.

The student perspectives panel featured students with disabilities currently in undergraduate or graduate programs. Disabilities represented included mobility impairments, low vision, blindness, learning disability, and deafness. The panel featured five students with disabilities, including three who have worked in CNT research labs. The session was facilitated by CNT Deputy Director Chet Moritz and Diversity Manager Scott Bellman. Below are some of the responses to panel questions, and in some cases, edited for clarity.

What technology do you use?

  • Screen reader, iPhone, text to speech, and sometimes braille
  • Screen magnifiers and magnifying glasses
  • Cochlear implant, CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), and an FM system, which is a microphone the teacher speaks into that directly attaches to my cochlear implant
  • A Surface (bigger than a tablet, but smaller than a regular laptop), and a smaller mouse

What kind of strategies do you use for taking notes and studying, and how do you account for any extra time needed to use any special technology?

  • My graduate program has a lot of flexibility and often I work with my professors and classmates to share notes or read things out loud for me. I usually appreciate group work where we can all share our strengths and do work together.
  • I often have to remind my professors to post notes electronically or read what they are writing in class. If I wasn’t always running around reminding them to give me accessible materials, it would take a lot less time to get my work done.
  • I used to not have a note taker—this led to a lot of mistakes or missing important information. Now I use a note taker so I can pay attention, and often I work with classmates after class to discuss the lesson and fill in any gaps.

Have you ever had a situation where a professor wouldn’t be accommodating?

  • I have had professors tell me I don’t need my accommodation. One professor told me I didn’t need a scribe because there was enough time. I finally had to go to disability services office to have them get the exam for me.
  • I’ve had professors tell me they’ve never had a student with a disability before, and sometimes professors don’t understand that our discussion is in private and will tell the rest of the class about my disability or accommodations.
  • Some professors hate if I take an exam through the disability services office and want to work with me to find a solution in class for my accommodation. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it doesn’t.
  • I’ve had professors ask my opinion–as if I speak for all people with disabilities.
  • I had a professor who was obviously trying, but instead of asking me, she emailed my advisor. My advisor doesn’t have anything to do with my accommodations and this created a weird situation. I prefer if a professor has a question, to just ask me first.
  • I have had some professors try to follow extreme rules (like no electronics) or not understand accommodations, since they’ve never seen them used before.

What makes an environment more welcoming or accessible, and what would discourage you from participating?

  • I was always daunted by science courses as a freshman, but what really helped was when a professor offered to have weekly meetings with me. This was welcoming to my different learning style.
  • In my current lab, a big part of the data analysis is visual, so my professor is helping to turn that analysis into a digital form, so I can use the computer to analyze it for me.
  • My lab creates accessible PDFs for me, which is helpful whether I want something read out loud or just magnified.
  • One thing that really makes me feel welcome is when I tell people something isn’t accessible and they believe me. I’ve had people in the past try to argue with me about how something could be accessible if I used it differently; trust me, if I’ve come to you to talk about accessibility, I’ve already looked at the problem in about ten different ways.
  • I often feel like I have to prove myself or that I’m a burden, so I like an environment where we can all contribute in a different way. It’s important to include everyone in the work and be appreciative of different strengths and weaknesses.

What are often people’s biggest surprise when working with a student with a disability?

  • That there isn’t actually any extra burden. It’s usually very easy to incorporate students with disabilities.
  • As long as the professor just asks the student, usually everything goes very smoothly.

Does your disability lead to a unique perspective in your field of study?

  • Even though linear algebra is a very visual math, I was forced to learn it in a different way. This allowed me to reach out to other students and show them a different way to understand the equations.
  • Any subject can be improved with a diverse perspective.
  • Having to learn the information in a different way often leads me to knowing different concepts, or I learn how to access the information in a different way.

What would you want to tell ERC representatives about students with disabilities?

  • Remember that I’m only speaking for myself, not every person with a disability. All people have different perspectives and may use different accommodations, even if they have the same disability. Including more people with disabilities in your labs can give you different perspectives and expand your program in a different way.
  • Advocating is important. I didn’t have accommodations as a child because I didn’t think I could get them; however, as I was older, I realized how helpful they could be and how much I needed them. By offering easy opportunities for students to request accommodations, you make your lab a more welcoming place.
  • Show people with disabilities that their ideas are welcome and that they can be included. Often people with disabilities are already solving problems in their every day life; harness those skills.
  • Ask multiple people with disabilities their perspectives on different tools and programs, especially if that tool or program is supposed to be a solution for people with disabilities. A lot of people assume they know what I need without even asking my perspective.