Attitude Can Make It or Break It When It Comes to Accessibility

This past year, I had a rough time with accommodations in the classroom due to people’s attitudes. For example, one of my professors was disrespectful towards me regarding my hearing loss and often made rude remarks when I gave him my F.M system, reducing me to tears on some occasions.

It started about three weeks into the semester. My F.M. broke down at the beginning of the semester so it was my first time going up and giving him the F.M. Like I always do when giving a professor my F.M. for the first time, I went up 10 minutes before the lecture started and introduced myself, explaining that I made accomodations with Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) for all my professors and TAs to wear my F.M system so that I could hear them in lecture. I also give my professors a quick run down on how the F.M system works as I find it helps them understand why they have to wear it and how it benefits me in class.

My F.M. system

My F.M. system

His response: “You should have come to us earlier because it’s extremely stressful when a student comes in saying we have to accommodate them. Now we have to spend a few more minutes accommodating you at the beginning of each lecture. You should have advised us weeks in advance”.

When I politely replied that I had arranged accomodations with SSD in August and that SSD sent all my professors an email detailing my accomodations at the beginning of the semester, he angrily replied that the email never has enough information and that I should have told him about my accomodations earlier .

Over the next few weeks, his behaviour towards me was very unfriendly and rude, often glaring at me when I was approaching him to give him the F.M. At one point, he brought in a guest speaker and I went up to the guest speaker to give her my F.M, explaining what my F.M was so she would understand why I was asking her to wear it. I had barely begun introducing myself when the professor came over, cut me off mid-sentence and rudely said “Quit talking. She’ll wear it.”

I understand that having a student come up to you with a device that you’ve probably never heard of and asking you to wear it can be confusing and overwhelming. That’s why I try to explain how the F.M. works so that they feel more comfortable wearing it. But I essentially don’t even have to explain how it works if I don’t want to. Since my accomodations are explained in the email sent out to the professors by SSD, I am only required to go up a few minutes early and introduce myself so that they know who I am and give them the F.M system. I always make sure the F.M is turned on and synced to my CI before giving it to them so all they have to do is put it on. The reaction I got from my professor was uncalled for and I eventually reported him to SSD after I had enough of his rude remarks. I believe they said something to him because he shut up pretty quickly afterwards and his behaviour towards me flipped a 180.

Unfortunately, he isn’t the only professor I had problems with. Another professor I had often didn’t put my F.M. on before the lecture even though she clearly knew what it was for. At the beginning of each semester, I always go up and give the professor the F.M. directly for the first few weeks and then once they are used to wearing it, I gradually start to leave it on the counter next to the regular microphone for them to put on since the professors often don’t come in until right before the lecture starts. Normally this isn’t a problem but this professor would pick it up after putting the regular microphone on, look at it for a while and then put it back down, even though I’ve been giving it to her for the past few weeks! This professor also wore a poncho often–which isn’t a problem in by itself– but clipping the microphone onto the poncho weakened the connection between my F.M. and CI, making it difficult for me to hear her in lecture. When I brought this up to her attention and asked if she could clip the microphone to her shirt instead, she rudely replied “We are doing our best, you know!”

It wasn’t just professors I had problems with but also with some of my notetakers. One notetaker I had wrote notes that were too brief – they didn’t help me at all. When I talked to her about it, she became very defensive, saying that she took this class when she was in my year and that a lot of the stuff the professors said in class were not relevant to the exam so she felt it unnecessary to write it down. That may be so but I can’t hear what the professor is saying most of the time so I’m not able to go back and recall what the professor said about a particular slide. Often, these notes are all I have left to understand the material and it makes it stressful when all the notes I have on a difficult concept is one sentence containing information I already knew from previous years. It’s not like I can go fill in the blanks and listen to the lecture recordings afterwards because I cannot hear the recordings without closed captioning. I tried explaining that to her but she never improved her notes, often choosing to text on her phone during lecture instead of writing down notes.

I believe all three experiences above demonstrate an important obstacle in accessibility: attitude. You can have all the technologies and services put in place for an individual but these services are crap if the people involved in providing the service have the wrong attitude about providing them. Take my professor who made rude remarks. He made me feel like shit, made me cry a few times and I dreaded going to class because of his attitude towards me. It only takes five seconds to put the F.M. on. What if it was someone else who was shy and easily intimidated or a little kid? He would have blown their self-esteem and they would have avoided giving him the F.M at all costs even though they couldn’t hear properly without it.

My professor who knew what the F.M. was for and still put it down after picking it up? That shows ignorance and sends the message that she doesn’t care about my accomodations. To a little kid with hearing loss, that message could really hurt their self-esteem because they could internalize that belief and begin to resent themselves due to their hearing loss. They may hesitate to tell a teacher when the F.M. isn’t working for fear of them snapping at them. Because of my professor’s actions, I couldn’t her her at all during lectures and it was difficult for me to learn the material.

My notetaker showed complete ignorance and disrespect towards my learning and to a little kid, that could send the message “Why bother to learn if I can’t hear?  Nobody cares about my education so why should I?” Her inability to focus on the professor to write notes and choosing to text on her phone instead gave me useless notes and created unnecessary stress when I was studying for exams.

It is important to talk about these obstacles in providing accessibility. As a child, you are learning how to advocate for yourself. Children are very impressionable and if you show them a negative attitude over something that they have no control over, you risk hurting their self-esteem and their ability to advocate for themselves. Unfortunately, in today’s world, if children aren’t able to advocate for themselves when they are older, who will?

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