Future Reflections May/June 1983, Vol. 2 No. 3

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by Mary Willows

Reprinted from the September-December, 1982 NFB Spokesman; the publication of the California affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind.

(Editor's Note: Mary Willows, Secretary of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind, Western Division, prepared and presented the following paper on October 21, 1982, at the meeting of the California Association of the Post- Secondary educators of the Disabled held in Los Angeles. Mary's presentation on behalf of the NFB Western Division was very well accepted by the educators present, in face she recieved numerous calls to further discuss our philiosophy on this subject.

In attempting to set forth the recommendations of the National Federation of the Blind for a model Reader Service Program, we feel it is necessay to take a look at some of the factors in the relationship between a blind student and his/her reader. A reader should be an employee of the student. In order for a student to achieve academic success, he/she must have the freedom to choose the place and time of reading and the qualifications of a good reader.

Under the Department of Rehabilitation, each blind student was responsible for the hiring, firing, and scheduling of his/her readers. A student used his/her own discretion in choosing a reader. It didn't matter who the reader was. The most important consideratons were the availability of the reader, his/her efficiency in being able to follow the instructions of the student and the reader's experience with the subject matter being studied. Sometimes the readers were other students, but it was not unusual to find an unemployed or retired professional, neighbor, or friend who was most suitable as a reader.

Under the present system, blind students are usually required to choose from a pool of preselected students. On the Community College campuses, this means not only having to work with inexperienced peers, but being forced to read on the campus where the student and reader can be monitored. One re-entry woman we know in Sacramento was forced to give up the idea of going back to school because she could not afford a baby-sitter for her two children so that she could take day-time classes and study on campus. Another student was severely reprimanded, like a child, because the Enabler discovered the student and his reader were working in his home.

The California State University and University of California Systems have their own methods, which are not consistent on all campuses, for screening readers for blind students. Qualifications for student-assistants and work study students are determining factors in selecting some readers. These may not be the best qualifications for a good reader. The inconsistencies among the Community College, California State University, and University of California Systems place undue hardships on blind students.

Blind students should choose an institution because of academic standing and expertise in the student's field, not because the institution provides the best reader services. It is through experience that blind students learn what kind of person they work with best. Blind students must control the choosing of their own readers. If this control over their own lives is taken away, blind students will never learn how to function independently. An Enabler must "enable", not do too much for the student. There are alternatives. The following recommendations are based on the experience of blind college students who have successfully and independently graduated:

1. The Enabler or Coordinator should encourage the blind student to develop skills to enable them to function independently. The purpose of a University or College is to prepare students for a lifetime of independent, efficient functioning. Enablers and coordinators do the student a disservice by helping and protecting him/her too much.

2. The blind student should be allowed to choose his/her readers and read when and where he/she deems necessary. This is the only way a blind student can compete with his/her sighted colleagues, who can study at any time in any place.

3. Job placement offices should be utilized by the blind student in finding readers. The blind student has a wider choice of reader prospects because the office can be used by both students and the general public. Blind students can post job announcements stating their specific needs.

4. Career Resource Centers should be utilized by the blind student in finding readers. These centers should have lists of upper division and graduate students seeking experience in their fields. The blind student benefits when the reader is familiar with the subject matter and vocabulary to be read.

5. Department bulletin boards should be utilized by the blind student in finding readers. This resource, again, provides readers familiar with the material to be read.

We believe that the recommendations set forth in this model program could result in a successful program. We are concerned first and foremost with the blind student. We believe that blind students should be the employer of the reader, thus maintaining control in the student/reader relationship. Involving a third party in the employment process (i.e., the Coordinator or Enabler), confuses loyalities between reader and student. Readers are going to the Coordinators with complaints and requests for instructions rather than working them out with and obtaining them from the blind student. Currently, blind students are becoming dependent upon a custodial and paternalistic system which will not be available after graduation; this is the exact opposite of what college life should be providing.

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