Thursday was first day of classes, Day #2.  School actually started on Wednesday, but of course we only met the students and teachers in our classes that meet on Wednesdays.

So I walked into my morning class…Computer Literacy at 10 am…and watched as my students slowly arrived, making myself useful by passing our syllabi.

I was not expecting anything out of the ordinary…such as, for example, all the students to show up on that first day of class.  I was hoping for something bigger than 50%.  In fact, ever single student registered for the class was in class and seated by 10:05.

The students helped me up from where I had fainted from surprise (no, not really).  Then one of them called me over to her computer station and informed me of a problem.  “I am visually impaired,”  she said.  “So am I,” I said.  “What can I do to help?”

Originally posted in Teacher’s Lounge at Daily Kos

I reset her resolution and set the default to extra large fonts, but that didn’t help.  When I asked her to log on, which requires she type in her student ID, I noted that her ID had been typed for her in a font size of at least 48…maybe 60.  Problems compounded from there.  She seems not to be a touch typist, though that could have been a matter of nerves.  If she is not a touch typist, we are probably in serious trouble.

She could not read the computer screen in front of her.  She tried to use a magnifying glass she carries everywhere to do so, but it didn’t work.  Fortunately, she really didn’t need to use the computer on the first day…though there were times when it would have been a major good thing if she could have seen what was showing on the screen at the front of the class.

I returned to my office at noon and spent the next few hours trying to rectify the situation.  So much for lunch.  First thing I did was contact the IT help desk to get a station set up with whatever adaptive technology we had available.  Personally I use a wireless mouse from Microsoft which has a magnifier button on the side.

Almost immediately after sitting down…and plugging in my space heater, since my office is the one with almost no insulation…the new director of disability support services called.  That’s a good thing, since all I knew about her was her last name and she’s not even in the campus phone book yet.  The previous director ended her employment with us on Friday in order to take a job somewhere in the South.

After apologizing for not letting me know ahead of time about the challenge I was going to be facing to teach this student, he discussed adaptive technology.  I am not an expert, but my partner has some knowledge in the area and I have learned.  We discussed the possibility of a laptop vs. a desktop, magnifier screens, the mouse I mentioned above, etc.  Then she mentioned they have a copy of the program ZoomText.

Since my visual impairment has arisen more recently in my life, I am not familiar with ZoomText, but it is apparently good.  That’s according to the IT guy who called me almost immediately after I got off the phone with the director lady.  He promised that there would be a station set up with as much assistive  technology as we can muster by Tuesday and that he will be there on Tuesday to show her how to use it.  Only drawback is that ordering stuff like a large print keyboard will take a minimum of two weeks.

Well…it’s not the only drawback.  The one thing that is going to be hardest is the fact that the student cannot see what is projected on the screen in front.  I will have to adjust to the insufficiency of,

First watch what I do and then you do it.

While I have always used words to go along with that style of knowledge transfer, I will have to be completely aware of my actions in doing so.

This semester is indeed already presenting a new challenge.  It would have been nice if I had been given more time to consider it.

A question of import has been raised by my partner:  How did this person get to this place in her life without this problem being addressed in the past?  If it has been, she has not been helpful/forthcoming about what has been done to assist her.  The fact is that most of our students have been neglected at one time or another…or continually…in the past.  I fear that someone, somewhere made the decision for her that she would never need a computer, when the truth is that the ability to use a computer could be the great leveler in her life.


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    • Robyn on January 19, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    …to a visually-impaired student whose impairment was this severe before.  The only other visually-impaired student in this course I can recall teaching graduated last year and has moved on to grad school.

    In the past, I have taught mathematics to students with an assortments of disabilities, including deafness, cerebral palsy, and brain damage from accidents.

    I hope I am up to this challenge this time around.


    • Alma on January 19, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    First all the students show up, and then the girl is lucky enough to have you for her teacher.  I kind of think it was meant to be, and that you’ll do great with her.  Yeah, there will be big challenges, but just think if she would have ended up with a teacher that didn’t understand or wasn’t willing to go the extra mile.

    Good luck Robyn.  🙂

  1. good luck and I hope this can work.  

    Short of giving her a 24 inch monitor set to an absurd dot pitch with all the mag stuff turned on, not sure how to do this…

    • Edger on January 19, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    FREE Computers for Visually Impaired Persons

    TCPI provides computers, free of charge (with a $100 donation) to visually impaired persons. (Note: This service is available to residents of the United States and Canada.) We ship an average of 350 refurbished PCs per year, bringing the total to 2,300 in five years.

    We are grateful for the generosity of GW Micro, who contribute the Window-Eyes screen reader demos that are installed on the computers we distribute, and to Dean Martineau of Top Dot Enterprises, who furnishes the computer training tutorial that accompanies each computer. We are an official Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher (MAR).

    Our work includes in-depth discussions and research on synthesized voices, screen enlargement and scanning programs so that the equipment can be used.

    — Texas Center for the Physically Impaired

    • RiaD on January 20, 2008 at 3:45 am

    but what a sense of accomplishment when you finally get it all together for her, the hardware & software… and her world opens up.

    I’d love to see that moment…

  2. so many challenges.  She is totally blind and has been a medical transcriptionist for many years.  She uses speech recognition technology.  

    Over the years she’s had to learn many different ways of adjusting to new technology, and has often had to help her employer help her with adaptive techniques and technology.

  3. Many years ago when I taught high school I had a deaf student in a class of over 30 students.  That was before the days when handicapped students had more accomodations (45 yrs ago) like signing or technology.  He was very unpleasant if I made eye contact with other students or talked as I was writing on the board because he was depending on lip reading.  However, controlling and teaching a large class without every making eye contact with more than one student was close to impossible.  The other students started out sympathetic and soon became frustrated and resentful.  Unfortunately, as I tried to work through it and get assistance from the school, it was clear that the deaf student had no empathy or caring for his classmates and was used to being the complete center of attention.

    I cannot recall how I got through that year or how we resolved the problems.  There had to have been some sort of positive resolution because we weren’t going to make it through 2 semesters the way it started out.

    Good luck to you.  And to your student.

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