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Invisible Disabilities: Professors, Take Note

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Invisible Disabilities: Professors, Take Note

Writer Adriane Kong is deaf in one ear.

Writer Adriane Kong is deaf in one ear.

ZOEY LIU/THE OBSERVER

Writer Adriane Kong is deaf in one ear.

ZOEY LIU/THE OBSERVER

ZOEY LIU/THE OBSERVER

Writer Adriane Kong is deaf in one ear.

By ADRIANE KONG, Contributing Writer

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Dear Professors of Fordham University,

 

My name is Adriane Kong, I am a freshman and I have a hearing disability.

And I would love to take your class, but I physically cannot due to the fact that you refuse to provide my accomodations.

I am deaf in my left ear. Due to this, Fordham implements accommodations: a quiet location to take tests, preferential seating, subtitles during videos and a copy of class notes. They’re simple, but most can only be provided by the willingness of professors.

It was only two weeks into the school year when I met my first professor who refused to compromise.

It was a sunny Thursday, my class was at 12:30 p.m., but I arrived 15 minutes early. The professor rushed into the classroom at 12:29, carrying a large stack of binders filled to the brim with notes.

She told the class to sit in a circle and immediately started in on a tangent about cultural appropriation, which somehow transitioned into paternalism and polytheism.

I scrambled to write everything down and struggled to comprehend what was even being said. By the end of the class I was frustrated. I had understood nothing and learned nothing. But I was still determined to take the class. I hoped the professor could provide a copy of notes so I could focus on understanding the material in class. The alternative was trying to listen, take notes, comprehend and participate, all with only one functioning ear.

As I approached the professor after class, I felt my gut clench. Already, I was preparing for rejection and indifference to my request.

“Hi Professor! My name is Adriane Kong, I’m deaf in my left ear, and have accommodations set up with the Office of Disabilities Services due to this.”

She listened intently.

“One of my accomodations is that I get a copy of notes.”

I paused to let her interject. She said nothing.

“And I was wondering if it was possible for you to provide that?”

Silence.

“Something like that would be perfect.” I gestured to the printed copy of her notes in her hands that she referenced throughout the class.

She glanced briefly down at her notes, looked back at me and said “No I can’t give you these. They’re my notes.” As she said this, she held her notes to her chest like I would forcibly snatch them out of her hand and run away.  

There was an awkward beat of silence. Neither one of us knew what else was left to say.

In the end all I could say was, “Oh. Okay. I see. Thank you.”

Now, New York State law has many weak points in accommodating for disabilities, particularly in providing for disabled people in the workforce. It was in public grade school that N.Y. State had the greatest capacity to provide. Public school teachers had to comply with accomodations, or they’d be breaking the law.

I knew to expect differently in college. I had to be self-reliant. Professors don’t have the sole responsibility of teaching you, and so they feel less compelled to support you.

Even though I knew all of this, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. My next course of action was to go to the Office of Disability Services to see if there was anything more that could be done.

I explained the situation and got a few nods of understanding. They continued to explain that the reason professors have the right to refuse is because professors are different than teachers, in that they conduct their own research which could be incorporated into their notes. Therefore anything they teach, any of their notes, could be considered intellectual property.

I had hit a roadblock. I could either continue being stubborn, take the class, struggle my entire first semester at Fordham and work with a professor who seems disinterested in aiding me.

Or, drop the class.

The decision was obvious, and I hated making it. But staying in that class would not further my education. I would just be struggling to stay above the surface from start to finish, never fully comprehending the material, never having the full capacity to participate.

Professors, please understand that it is completely within your right to reject certain accommodations of students with disabilities. But in doing so you may be losing a promising student and their contributions. Students with disabilities want to be in your class, and they want to learn. But due to circumstances beyond their control it’s just more difficult to do so. And when professors refuse accommodations that even the playing field for disabled students, it harms everyone involved.

Just something for you to consider.

 

Sincerely,

Adriane Kong

5 Comments

5 Responses to “Invisible Disabilities: Professors, Take Note”

  1. Leah Abaya Keane, Fordham GSAS 1997 on November 18th, 2018 11:22 pm

    Dear Adriane,
    I’m sorry the responses to your request for assistance for “an even playing field” were at best, ignorant and inadequate, and at worst, unsympathetic, unprofessional, and just LAME. It’s unconscionable that you were left feeling your only alternative was to drop this class, even after your attempts to advocate for yourself. Please persist in trying to find support from your future professors and the Office of Disability Services, and beyond, if necessary. You were welcomed to the University by many members of the Administration. They, your advisors, and their staff encouraged you to participate fully in this community, and owe you their support to do so. And based on your letter and comportment so far, I must agree that your dropping the class was probably the professor’s, and the university’s loss. How unfortunate. How unnecessary.

    From Fordham University’s Mission Statement:
    “As a Jesuit University . . .Fordham recognizes the dignity and uniqueness of each person. A Fordham education at all levels is student-centered, and attentive to the development of the whole person. Such an education is based on close collaboration among students, faculty and staff.”

    So here we have a student who approached faculty, then staff, in pursuit of the education Fordham has promised. WHAT HAPPENED?

    Why were no further inquiries made? If the professor’s personal lecture notes could not be distributed, would it be possible to create an outline or a different, leaner set of notes to facilitate Adriane’s following the discussion and comprehending the material? How about obtaining her consent to disclose her disability to the class, and request a partner who could assist with sharing notes? Or even opening it up to the class and brainstorming together for a solution? Over and over again, I have found that young people are often more eager than adults to help their classmates when informed of a need. Could a staffer from the Office of Disability Services have mediated a conversation with the professor, or sent an official University communication explaining the accommodations the student was entitled to?

    Adriane acknowledges that advocating for herself is her responsibility because she is aware that college is a different educational environment. And she did. Hopefully, her doing so inspires other students with disabilities to emulate her. And hopefully, this is the last time Adriane drops a class not only because she can’t hear…but because she was not heard.

    Sincerely,
    V. Leah Abaya Keane, Fordham GSAS, Ph.D 1997

  2. Joan S Meade on November 23rd, 2018 1:01 pm

    Adriane,
    I am so sorry you had to experience the lack of support from an educational institution. The opportunity to learn with appropriate supports should be a right for any student at any institution.

  3. Alexandra on November 24th, 2018 9:01 am

    As a special education teacher, I recommend the following:
    1) Ask if it is possible to record the lecture.
    2) Find a couple of classmates and ask if it is possible to make copies of their notes.
    3) Professor, at the end of the semester ask a few students to donate their notebooks. Give copies of the notes from the previous student’s notebook.
    4)If you are sitting in a circle, sit next to the professor.
    5)Ask the professors to repeat themselves when needed or to spell out terminology.

    College is the transition into the workforce. I give you accolades for advocating for yourself, but now you must learn how to accommodate for yourself when needed. You can do it!

    There is always a solution to be successful in teachers/professors’ classes who are not willing to accommodate. What other solutions can we offer students or employees to help them accommodate for themselves?

  4. Jennifer Kiernan on November 25th, 2018 3:18 pm

    Adriane, Thank you for sharing your experience at Fordham. I am very saddened to hear that the professor would not provide your accommodations. It’s awful that the institution does not insist the professors be more reasonable about providing accommodations. I hope your letter inspires changes from top leadership there. It may be time to shame them into it. I know many students look at the website Rate My Professor. You may want to share your experiences there. Good luck and keep advocating for yourself.

  5. Charles E. Madden, III on November 26th, 2018 12:37 pm

    As a professor myself, students are the reason I’m there. I find it disturbing that a student would have to go through this type of behavior from a professor.

    Back in the seventies, a student in my class when I was a student, a deaf student in my class requested to record the class. At first the professor refused put reconsidered when the class told the professor they had no problem being recorded.

    I myself have good hearing but processing the information at the same time I’m trying to take notes effects the quality of both in a negative way

    I also asked the professor to give his notes on the lesson, he refused leaving me to deal with the issue with out his support.

    If possible another student in the class could share their notes as the student with the hearing issue tries to actively listen.

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