Sight Privilege and You

Anthony Butler on the New School campus.

Anthony Butler on the New School campus.

It is the spring semester of 2014, and I am currently the only undergraduate student at the New School who is blind.  At times it has proven to be very difficult: making friends has been immensely challenging, as well as finding my way around campus, or even locating an accessible computer to print my assignments. Since coming to this university, I have suffered from a number of anxiety attacks, some instances of racism, and a multitude of broken guide canes, but overall it has been one great experience. As I walk the hallways of The New School, competing to find my way on to packed elevators, dueling with other students to make that right turn on the 5th floor, I think to myself, “How can these people be so damn rude?” But then I remember, it’s not their fault.

How can they possibly know how to deal with a situation that most of them aren’t faced with on a daily basis, if ever? Every day I fight to prove that I am equal, and that I deserve a fair chance like every other student who studies at The New School, and I hope this piece helps some of you display proper etiquette when encountering a person with a visual impairment.

 – To my fellow students, please be courteous. A blind persons’ life is based on routine. We walk the same route to the train station, get on the same train car, etc.  If you see a student who is blind, or has a visual impairment, sitting in a chair on the first day of class allow them to have that seat for the remainder of the semester. This allows the individual to feel comfortable and to know exactly where they’re going. They’ll most likely sit by the door because:

1. Sitting right by the door allows for easy access in and out of the class room in case of emergency. It also minimizes the chances of that person disrupting the class. If that person comes in late and that seat is taken he or she would then have to roam around the room searching for a seat and that can be a major distraction to the class and overwhelming for the visually impaired student.

2. It makes it easier for the instructor to locate the student. In class it can be a little competitive because everyone may want to participate and share their opinion when discussing a topic that is particularly intriguing. If the instructor has yet to hear from the student in discussion they will know exactly where to look when they want to hear from them.

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5 Comments

  1. Eva Romulus

     /  April 23, 2014

    Two thumbs up for the author of this blog post! Very useful information. Most students do not realize that details like these can make a big difference not only to people with visual disabilities, but also to people with other types of disabilities. Although I want to believe we all try to be supportive and considerate, when the time comes many people don’t know how to help. We need to remember that not all of us have the same abilities, and it’s about time we start respecting and supporting our classmates to overcome some of these barriers.

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  2. Mylanie

     /  April 24, 2014

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I found a lot of this information really interesting and it made me think a lot about the unique difficulties that universities place on students with disabilities. For instance, where I studied for my undergrad almost all the professors had a clause written into their syllabus that said if a student had a disability they had to notify the prof about it within the first two weeks of class in order to be accommodated. Got diagnosed with something mid semester? Too bad.

    Turns out, that this was actually out of line with the policies created by the university’s disability services. But due to several factors, it wasn’t being reported, and because it wasn’t being reported, nothing was being done about it.

    This example plus the experiences you outlined above, expose just some of the ways in which the university setting is an unfriendly space for students with disabilities.

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  3. Nora Armenta

     /  April 26, 2014

    I believe that this article brings light to things that people with regular eyesight do not have to face. I couldn’t imagine getting around and especially going to new school where everything is a new experience for everyone. Its helpful to identify the difference between empathy and sympathy regarding this issue. It’s practical to help students with their specific needs but also not to micromanage their work. I’ve see it in my experience where a person who meant well was overly sympathetic and it did not turn out well. I think that they miss a blind spot where if you do work for them or let them get an easier grade just based on their disability, you’re really just hurting them in the long run and limiting the students potential.

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  4. juan843

     /  May 1, 2014

    I really appreciated this post and the author, for sharing his experiences and challenges, as a student with a visual impairment, at the New School. Anthony’s experiences at the New School, highlights some of the progress or improvements, the school is yet to make for students with disabilities. I hope the school takes note of the challenges Anthony’s faced, and hires more staff members for the office for Students with Disabilities, who will carry exclusive responsibilities, to assist the students. The school’s resources should be equally distributed for the needs and assistance of students with or without disabilities.

    I would also like to further comment, that I appreciate the author’s advice given to other students, on how to interact with students with disabilities. Often times, I find myself not knowing how to act when attempting to assist a student a see with an impairment or disability. This brings me to the point of being able to distinguish between sympathizing and empathizing with a student with a disability. I’ve encountered people with disabilities who don’t like being helped, for they feel as if they’re being treated as if they are helpless and therefore are apprehensive when one offers to assist them. And that is totally understandable. As Anthony points out in his post, treat that individual with respect, empathize, but not sympathize, to the extent that you treat that individual, as someone who cant fend for herself/himself, and are therefore, at the mercy of others. Treat the person as someone who is fully capable, and challenge him, and he/she will respond. At the same time, I do feel the need to assist them, if I find them to be having trouble performing any type of activity they’re attempting to carry out. Hence, I’ve found myself in situations in which I’ve needed assistance, yet however, the people surrounding me, act indifferent to my needs and carry on with their activities. I can only imagine the frustration one might feel when you truly need help and yet no one bothers to stop and assist you.

    Moreover, for the author, Anthony, you do not need to prove to anyone your equal; you are more than equal. You wake up every morning knowing the daily challenges you’ll face, but you decide to take those challenges head on and overcome them. Many other people in life, with or without disabilities, choose to let their circumstances in life define them. They don’t instead; choose to define the extent to which that circumstance will define their life.

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