University’s services for blind among nation’s best

By Nick Fawell

The University has long been regarded as one of the top schools for students with disabilities.

Bryan McMurray, supervisor for sensory and testing accommodations at Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES), said he feels that the University’s facilities for blind and visually impaired (BVI) students are excellent but could be improved.

One of the main problems McMurray identified for blind and visually impaired students was the progressively quickening pace in the classroom. McMurray said this is because of technological advancements.

“Technology changes so fast and adaptations to that technology can’t keep up,” McMurray said. “It allows a lot of professors to do and edit their work at the last minute and that presents a problem for a blind or visually impaired person.”

Access to BVI-friendly computers is also a major problem. Kalari Girtley, a blind student and junior in communications, said she would like to see BVI software like Jaws, a screen reading program, offered in more computer labs on campus. John Herzog, a sophomore in LAS, is also blind and agrees with Girtley.

“Having one Jaws computer in every computer lab would make things a lot easier,” Herzog said.

DRES also recognizes the need for increased BVI access in University residence halls and provides the software to make computers usable for BVI students living in the residence halls. DRES will also provide computers for BVI students in need.

McMurray said that professors’ “last-minute” mentality also creates problems for BVI students. When professors pull that day’s exam off the copier and administer it to the class on the same day, DRES is then expected to translate the exam into audio files or brail for BVI students in a short period of time.

Often, BVI students also need to have assignments or notes translated by DRES. If professors post notes or assignments online at the last minute, it makes it harder for BVI students to bring it to DRES for translation. McMurray said it then becomes easier for BVI students to fall behind.

According to McMurray, sometimes professors and students work together to come up with solutions.

“When students and professors work out their differences on their own, it’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “I love it.”

McMurray even joked that he wished that students and professors would work well enough together to put him out of a job.

He added that the problem could be solved if professors submitted their curriculums to DRES ahead of time. However, McMurray said many professors do not know their curriculum in advance.

Another of Herzog’s suggestions was to have talking ATMs on campus. He said he regularly has no choice but to ask complete strangers to help him withdraw his own money.

Safety around construction sites also poses problems, McMurray said. He added that the University could do more to make sure that construction sites around campus are completely fenced off for safety.

“A couple times they didn’t put up fences and there was a big ditch,” he said. “It’s an ongoing challenge that we have to keep up with.”

McMurray recounted an incident a few years ago when a blind student and his seeing-eye dog wandered into a construction site as a result of the area not being fenced off completely. The student and the dog found themselves sinking in wet cement.

Although McMurray has criticisms for the University, he maintains that when it comes to the most important services in integrating BVI students, the University does a tremendous job.

“I believe we (the University) are certainly in the top ten in the country,” McMurray said. “And I can say that, across the board, if I list the most important services for a blind student, we are one of the top two or three. We are really good.”

BVI students like Herzog agree.

“I haven’t found, within reason, that there’s anything they (the University) won’t do,” Herzog said. “I’ve had nothing but good things to say about them.”