Braille Monitor                          December 2019

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Reindeer Cheer

by Regina A. Root

From the Editor: Regina Root is a professor of Modern Languages and Literatures at William & Mary. She is the subject of a medical documentary on the intersections between faith and science titled Regina’s Gift, available in its entirety on YouTube.

Four years ago I had emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor. Although the procedure gave me my life, it also left me with impaired vision that has required me to use a foldable white guide cane. I’m a university professor and, as I transitioned back into my job, I found that my vision and mobility impairment made it difficult to get from one building to the next on a vast campus. I worried that in the event of rain, it might not be possible to carry the cane, my things, and an umbrella at the same time. 

As I searched for a solution to my dilemma, I was hopeful, knowing that universities (compared to several other employers) are more welcoming of difference and that my employer in particular already had a golf cart program for students needing assistance. I called accessibility services, the office that at the time oversaw the golf cart program. The voice on the other line was empathetic. She explained that golf carts were only for students with disabilities, not faculty, staff, or community members. The university could, however, issue me a golf cart to drive on my own. I paused.

“But I have a white guide cane,” I reminded her. What if I got lost or flipped the cart by mistake? Would people understand that I can’t see? 

Now the voice on the other line paused. “That’s right,” she said, then, silence. “Have you considered a guide dog?”

Frankly, I was amused. “I’m pretty tall,” I explained, “so it would probably have to be a Great Dane. A Great Dane is not going to fit in my office.” More silence, an indication that my request was well beyond what was usual, even though it was reasonable.

“I would vote for the Great Dane.”

Hanging up, I knew that wasn’t a good option. With the semester quickly approaching, I didn’t have the several months needed to train my guide dog.

While at a conference on disabilities and higher education, I shared my frustration with those present. A representative for the Office for Civil Rights mused, “You should have asked for a herd of Great Danes to pull the cart.” Yes, I thought humorously, those dogs are probably smart enough to pull or even drive a golf cart.

Armed with this renewed sense of humor, I continued working with my employer and am happy to report that my university has begun a limited mobility transportation service for all people with disabilities. I recognize that not all faculty and staff with disabilities (not to mention employees in other fields) are this fortunate. In retrospect, as Christmas nears, I understand the importance of good humor when seeking disability accommodations, a process that author Jay Timothy Dolmage reminds us in his book Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education can be exhausting and complicated. It might just as well be called a tireless form of “strategic thinking.” 

With this in mind, the next time my university’s transport system fails, perhaps I’ll ask for a reindeer and sleigh. And some hot cocoa.

Editor’s Note: Continuing in this Christmas spirit, here is one more from Regina:

I am new to the experience of blindness and vision impairment. One ray of sunshine in this otherwise challenging adjustment has been reading the Braille Monitor. I love the variety of articles and live for each issue, to learn through the experiences of others and chart new paths in my academic and home life. 

What sometimes gets me through a tough day is good humor and fun. On that note, thinking of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and all we do during a work week, please join me in singing:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my employer gave to me

12 lawyers judging
11 ramps to access
10 colleagues fussing
9 parking passes
8 schedule changes
7 workshop topics
6 librarians searching
5 golf cart rides
4 office colors
3 travel vouchers
2 class assistants 
and 
assistive technology.

Happy holidays everyone! You all make a big difference, and I’m so glad to be in touch with all of you.

Bibliography

Jay Timothy Dolmage. Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017. This book is available in an accessible format at bookshare.org

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