Making the Grade

by Edward Bell, 1st Vice President, National Association of Blind Students

Last semester, I was taking a course in Nutritional Biology. It was a required class so I was determined to do well, or at least survive.† Rumors had it that the professor was incredibly difficult. On the first day of class, the professor outlined the course and gave a 20-minute lecture about the depth of work and the study time required. By the next week, half of the students had dropped the class.† Those of us who remained studied vigorously and took notes as though our lives depended on it.

Over the weeks, I joined a study group for the class and seemed to be doing fine. I visited the professor regularly, primarily because many of the diagrams were very visual and required explanation. As the midterm grew near, we began to study intensely.† Several more students disappeared from class. I thought that I handled the exam reasonably well. When grades were passed out, half of the remaining group failed with no one scoring above 75 percent. The professor had to curve the grades, so I ended up just squeezing an A out of the midterm. By the next class our numbers had dwindled to only about 10 or 12 individuals. I was proud of how I had done.† However, I did not share my success with the others since several students complained bitterly to me about the unfairness of the test.

Having passed the first half of class with an A, I put my anxieties aside and headed off to the California state convention of the National Federation of the Blind.† When I returned home on Sunday afternoon, I was puzzled by a message on my answering machine.† It was from one of my classmates who said she needed to talk with me in a hurry.

I called her immediately, and she told me that she had gone to the Disabled Students Services Office (DSS) and made a complaint on my behalf. She had failed the biology midterm and since I did not speak of my grade, she assumed that I must have done poorly as well. She went on to say that she was getting quite upset at the manner in which the professor treated me in class. Whenever an illustration was being drawn, the professor would occasionally turn toward me and say, "Edward, this is a complicated diagram, so come by my office and I will explain it to you."† This did not seem like a big deal to me, but apparently my classmate thought that the professor's singling me out and drawing attention to my blindness was insensitive and rude.

I had signed up with the DSS office when I began attending the university even though I rarely used its services. However, the director was a levelheaded individual with good attitudes about blindness. Often, when I had time to kill between classes, I would go to the DSS office and have a relaxed conversation with the director. We had many great philosophical debates and discussions about blindness, and he quickly learned that I was an avid Federationist. We discussed the perceived value of DSS offices. I maintained that they could be a good resource, but only when they stayed out of studentís affairs. The director agreed with me.† So when my classmate came to him with the complaint, he told her that she needed to speak with me. The director did not call my professor, but instead contacted me and informed me of the incident.

I went to my professor and spoke to him about the complaint.† I assured him that I would come to him when diagrams appeared in class, and that he need not worry about reminding me. He knew that some students were mad at him, and was not entirely surprised about the complaint. I then informed my classmate that she ought to talk with me first when she felt that I was being treated poorly. She apologized, and I thought the issue was settled. As we talked further, she found out that I had actually done well on the midterm.† She felt especially badly about interfering in my business. I merely reiterated that she should deal with blind people directly when she feels that they are being treated unfairly, rather than taking matters into her own hands. I then encouraged her to join our study group in preparation for the final.

Class continued and no further problems arose. The professor still occasionally reminded me that he was available for consultation outside of class whenever diagrams arose.† I just nodded my head and said, "I'll be there." Just before the final, our study group doubled in size, and a classmate made a point of asking my opinion on certain sections of study materials. In the end, we all made it out of the class with passing grades and the semester ended happily.

It seems that we still find instances of the sighted public feeling that it is their duty to protect the blind and intervene on our behalf. It, therefore, becomes necessary for us to take charge and demonstrate to society that we are capable and responsible for our own well-being. This I have learned from the National Federation of the Blind. Because of this training, I had the opportunity to put our philosophy into practice and do some public education while learning about Nutritional Biology at the same time.

Back to top