By Amber Wallinstein
Editor's Introduction: Amber is a new member of the National Federation of the Blind. She has already been elected to an office in her state student division in Ohio. In this article Amber shares her feelings about the federation and her reflections on past events in her life that might have been different if she had been introduced to the NFB philosophy sooner. We welcome Amber and fervently believe in the phrase, "better late than never". Here is what Amber has to share.
Until recently, I didn't know much about the NFB philosophy and what I did know was incorrect, or only partially true. I had been misinformed about NFB philosophy for years, and wasn't really interested in the philosophy. I am a fairly independent person, and didn't really feel that an organization for the blind was for me. Now that I am a member of the NFB and its student division, I see how my life could have been made easier with the support of the federation. In this article, I would like to share an early college experience and tell you how I dealt with it. I would then like to show you how the Federation could have made this experience easier for me.
When I was a first-semester sophomore, I registered to take a computer science class and a biology class, both required by my former university to graduate. I contacted my Office of Disability Services in April of the previous semester to discuss my accommodations for both classes. For my computer science class, I requested that the university install a screen-reading program and provide a tutor for the class to help with the more visual aspects of the course. My biology accommodations were a bit more complicated. I asked for a lab assistant and requested that the overheads used in the class be read to me and the diagrams explained. The director of Student Disability Services agreed to all of my accommodations and told me they would have the assistants by the end of July. When I checked with the director in July however, nothing had been arranged, and they had not even procured the computer equipment for my class. I told the director that it was necessary to order this equipment as soon as possible because there tended to be a rush of schools buying equipment that time of year. The equipment also had to be installed and tested before classes started. By the time I returned from a brief vacation in August, the computer equipment had been delivered but had not been installed. A person from Student Services, (which is a tutoring service on campus), and I had to install this equipment university-wide on Labor Day in order for me to be ready for classes the next day. This same person also acquired a computer science assistant for me from within his own department because the director of Student Disability Services had not done that particular task.
The biology lab assistant was another issue completely. At the beginning of the year, I had no reader for the overhead notes or diagrams. The director of Disability Services also had not searched for a lab assistant. By the first day of the lab, a lab assistant had not been found, and because the labs were incredibly visual, I had to make it up at a later date. The director of Disability Services claimed she had found a student for the job, but I had to change my class to accommodate the lab assistant's schedule. I refused to do this, as it would have messed up my entire class schedule for the semester. After numerous meetings, things came to a standstill and I ended up getting my own lab assistant. I also got my own reader for this class. Throughout the remaining months of the semester, I was continually harassed by the Student disability Services Staff and decided to make my own arrangements to take tests.
During this difficult semester, I learned many things that I have been able to apply in my daily life. I have learned it is not safe to rely on offices for students with disabilities. Although they do their best to provide services, and many offices do a stellar job, it is still our responsibility as blind people to take control of our education. The only things I rely on my current disability services office to do are prepare and administer exams. I have taken control of all other aspects of my education.
I know now that the NFB could have helped me during this experience. I could
have had state NFB representatives contact my Disability office. I would have
also had the support of other blind students across the country that have had
similar experiences. I cannot tell you how much it lifts my heart to know I
now have a network of current and former university students to support me.
I can't wait to be an even more active participant in NABS and help change what
it means to be a blind student in this country.
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