Lack of accessibility can shatter opportunities anywhere, including Gallaudet University. As a deaf-blind graduate student, my dream of obtaining a degree in Deaf Education is in danger because of accessibility barriers.
People who shape this world are responsible to ensure that the world is accessible for all people, including people with disabilities. In a university environment, the responsibility of providing accessibility ultimately lies in the hands of those who develop the curriculum and those who facilitate and train prospective professionals before entering their fields of work.
One-third of all deaf individuals have an additional disability, such as learning disability or vision loss. Thus, Gallaudet University should ensure that education is tailored to meet the needs of these deaf individuals.
Has this been done? Not quite.
In my case, I am short one practicum (or in other words, an internship within driving distance from the campus with direct faculty supervision) and one course from completing my program in Deaf Education. I was preparing to graduate this semester only to find myself compounded with problems that I could not have dreamed of.
Truth be told, many practicum sites are not prepared to work with future professionals with multiple disabilities. I had a team of Deaf-Blind interpreters ready to work with me, and I asked for two simple accommodations: (1) a box of black Sharpies to use for writing as it helps me read the writing and (2) electronic scans of all handouts and lessons so I can read them on my iPad. The reaction, however, was flustered. The practicum site and my academic advisor agreed to postpone my starting date to “enable” them to be prepared and to provide their students and me a “positive experience.”
At a meeting where we discussed different questions and concerns about my practicum, the school teacher of the practicum site brought up two different options: another postponement for them to prepare to meet my accommodation needs or for me to opt out as the class was not an ideal choice for me because it involved daily, highly visual hands-on activities. In other words, the practicum questioned my ability to teach based on my deaf-blindness and delayed my starting date.
Because of the delay with the practicum, I lost my means of transportation. I was supposed to carpool with a group of students to the site, but they were fixed on the same original schedule that I had. My practicum opportunity then became tied with my transportation issues, contradicting with the Department of Education Field Experience Handbook that states, “Placement decisions are made based on each teacher candidate’s pre-professional development needs and not on transportation issues” [emphasis added] (Department of Education Field Experience Handbook, p. 12).
I spent over a month and half meeting with the department, the faculty supervisor, and the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSWD) to find a solution. I went through the due process to resolve the situation professionally—only to continue to get a “no” for every solution I proposed. The supervisor, my academic advisor, and my placement coordinator did not provide me with an action plan with alternatives other than the two transportation options suggested at our departmental meeting on October 2, 2012. One suggestion was to ask the students I was supposed to carpool with to change their practicum schedule to fit with my schedule. Another option was to contact Gallaudet University’s Department of Transportation to see what options they have for transportation.
My classmates could not change their practicum dates to fit mine, so I was left with only one option, which was to rent a van from the Department of Transportation for $45 daily. Unfortunately, only Gallaudet employees are allowed to drive the van and the department did not locate a driver for me.
Since the department and the practicum were still not prepared to address my needs, I decided to request for a waiver for the semester internship. I got a response stating that I was expected to complete the EDU 789: Practicum II & Seminar and that the transportation was my responsibility.
An alternate placement proposal was made with the department in hope to serve as a substitute for the original placement. I was given only a week to identify a suitable placement or be forced to withdraw from my course. I searched for a solution with assistance from OSWD and found one on Gallaudet campus. I went ahead with a proposal under the time constraint and lack of assistance from my department. As a result, the proposal was rejected without further collaboration because the proposal did not clearly define whether I would be teaching directly to students. In the end, I was told that my proposal was rejected and that my practicum assignment was cancelled. Because of this, I would not be able to pass and should withdraw from the course.
However, when students with financial support register for the same course again, they no longer qualify for the support. Therefore, my funding will not cover my tuition, room and board for my second attempt to find a practicum. This means I am financially incapable of continuing my education due to the department’s irresponsibility regarding my case.
I spent four years in graduate school, changing from counseling to deaf education in hope to obtain a master’s degree, but now my dream is about to disappear. The undue burden placed on my shoulder in seeking solutions to address my problem has left me scarred.
Why won’t people be more receptive to accessibility concerns at Gallaudet University? It is painful to try to make things work only to be shut down. One hundred and more credits in graduate school become another failure—and it is not by my own choice.
How can those who promote and advertise accessibility do this to whom seek accessibility? It is truly a barbaric act, and it shatters dreams.
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” – Malcolm X