Communicating with Professors: An Introduction

The first semester of college is a challenge for every student – managing time, staying organized, meeting deadlines. But for students who are visually impaired, the start of college involves another step—explaining their visual impairments and any accommodations they may need or devices they may use to others, like the staff of their disability services office (DSO), as well as all their instructors. Your professors want you to succeed, but they may not have any experience with a student who is visually impaired. It’s therefore very important for you to have conversations with all your professors before the start of the semester or right at the beginning, to introduce yourself and share your learning needs. Sometimes these conversations go easily and well; sometimes they don’t turn out just as you might wish-- but the key is that they need to happen.

If your professors haven’t worked with a student who is visually impaired before, it will be especially important to approach these conversations as a way to establish a working relationship. Try to imagine yourself as someone who doesn’t know you or much about visual impairment, and think about the information that person might need to understand you and where you’re coming from. Be sure to convey your desire to do well in the course and complete all required work in a timely way, and invite your instructors too ask any questions they have, and to make suggestions about how you might work effectively together. Although it may seem intimidating to approach your professors at first, consider the process as a knowledge transfer of sorts, and an opening dialogue as well: Keep in mind that you may need to touch base throughout the semester about different materials and assignments. Overall, try to remember that even if some of these discussions may seem difficult, they’re actually good practice for you in explaining how you work to future employers and colleagues. Finally, if you feel you need additional support, contact your DSO and Learning Ally’s mentors for some extra help.

It’s also important to know that at many universities, professors aren’t required to make accommodations unless a student has registered with the school’s DSO. Even if you’re registered, it’s still your responsibility to discuss your accommodations with professors. Every course is set up differently, and your needs may vary from course to course, professor to professor. These differences are why communicating with faculty is so important.

The materials in this section are meant to help facilitate these initial and ongoing conversations. We hope all your professors are understanding, but we know that some may be uncooperative or may just be uninformed. For that reason, “Meeting Resistance?” is a resource included in this section as a helpful guide. You’ll also find many suggestions on how to communicate effectively with faculty, and a downloadable accommodation letter template, along with tips on how to personalize your accommodation letter so it’s specific to the needs of your classes. Overall, these materials are intended to provide you with a good starting place for establishing solid relationships with people who can be central to your success.

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