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Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement
Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. This blog spotlights remarkable individuals who demonstrate that having a visual or print disability is no barrier to educational success.
The Right and Wrong Ways to Communicate with Professors as a Blind Student
On July 24, 2015 in
Blind or Visually Impaired
Lauren Holstein (LAE)
You have an important role in making sure your learning goes as smoothly as possible. When you request accommodations because of your visual impairment or general help because you’re a student, what you say and how you say it can affect the tone of your semester.
Most people agree that the best way to advocate for yourself is to be assertive. Speaking assertively almost always means speaking in “I” statements, which keeps you at the center of your requests and helps you to avoid accusing another person of not filling his or her end of the bargain. Know what you need and how your professors can help you. Then keep your end of the conversation confident but positive. But remember: you are having a conversation. When it’s your turn to listen, you will need to really listen. If a professor suggests a solution which you hadn’t thought of but which would work for your problem, you may choose to go with it. With most instructors, you will figure out a balance between staying true to your learning style and working within the parameters of the class.
But being aggressive means being confident, right? Wrong. Instead of using “I” statements, “I learn best when I can take my own notes or can read your handouts using screen magnification,” someone who communicates aggressively will resort to “you” statements, “As my instructor, your job is to send me the notes.” The problem with this method of communication is that it antagonizes the person to whom you’re talking and unnecessarily puts him or her on the defensive. Implying that your professor needs to defend his or her position can quickly override the original intent of the meeting, helping you to learn.
So I need to just go along with whatever my professor says? Wrong again. Being passive when requesting accommodations is equally harmful. While you want to remain respectful to your instructor, you also need to make sure you are actually learning effectively. Many professors have never worked with a student who is blind or visually impaired, and most of those who have may have only taught one or two students who learned differently than you do. For instance, a professor may recommend a human notetaker when you prefer to take your own notes. If you are sure that won’t work for you, don’t just accept her suggestion, because she taught a student before who used one. Instead, explain why taking your own notes benefits you. Be honest with your professor about how you learn best, and if the professor suggests a method which won’t work for you, be sure to explain your difficulty rather than just accepting what she says without discussion. Remember that you are not just using the learning media which works best for you, but you’re educating people along the way.
is the community coordinator for students who are blind or visually impaired at Learning Ally and is excited to be working on the College Success Program. Her past roles at Learning Ally have included member, advocate, intern, product support representative and product tester, among others. She loves to teach and to write and lives in New Jersey with her husband and their four-year-old son.
Start the next school year strong by getting advice from our amazing College Success Program mentors. Like Kristen, they are all individuals who are blind or visually impaired and have succeeded in college. To learn more or request a fall 2015 mentoring session, visit
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