Interpreting Accessibility at Rochester Institute of Technology

How would you describe your teaching style? Entirely too relaxed [laughs] In any given semester—I have roughly 65 different majors in a class of 400 students. The original accessibility issue is: they’re learning biology which is a different language than they’re used to. And then we build in, at RIT, the aspect that many of our students are deaf and hard of hearing. So in any given semester I have roughly 10% of my students that are deaf. We started looking into having an American Sign Language interpreter in all of the videos and so we build all of that in now and have a landscape that allows any number of students—not just deaf and hard of hearing—but any of my English as a second language students to be able to see, spatially, what things would look like. I tell my students, I’m not there to make them biologists, I’m there to make them informed citizens about the world they live in. The big thing is always Day 1. I had 300 students organize themselves by birthday. I gave them no instruction, just that I needed a total count of how many people were born in January, February, March, etc. And so it was chaos, for 15 minutes I stood back and watched them to see how they behaved and at first it was a lot of screaming but then they realized there are deaf students in the class and screaming doesn’t work, so how do you organize everyone? So a lot of people started holding up signs and we would have multiple signs of June, so they would get together and bring everyone together and by the end of it they had figured out how to organize themselves, how to count, in a fairly small space to do that with 300 people. and I asked them, “what did you want from me? To do that better, faster, more efficiently, to make you more comfortable?” And so it was their first opportunity to say what they needed from me and that opens the door to—alright, if I’m having trouble, and I don’t know what to do next, I know I can ask. And so for me that’s a big thing

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