The biggest difference between the demands placed on sighted students and visually-impaired students is in the number of managerial skills that visually-impaired students have to rapidly develop. Others are the intermediate between and scientific material and me. Essentially, in addition to my role as a student and/or a researcher, I function as an employer to a small staff of access assistants that I like to call “readers”.
Readers assist me in the sight-demanding parts of my work. These include reading, recording textbooks and journal articles, describing plots, figures, and equations, taking dictations from me, taking notes during lectures and presentations, organizing my recorded and printed materials, and whatever else comes up through the course of my day that requires sight.
Depending on your needs, it can help to have readers specialize in different areas. Some example categories are:
If you have a hectic schedule and a lot of readers to manage, it saves time and stress to have a sighted person help you with scheduling and office organization.
Depending on the kind of research you are doing, you may want to have a reader who is skilled with computers and coding so that the two of you can be on the same page as you work.
It can be nice to have one person who makes all your recordings. You’ll be listening to this person’s voice a lot, so make sure they speak clearly, evenly, and without an accent that you find hard to understand. They need to know how to correctly pronounce scientific terms and to read equations fluently.
For consistency, you might want to have one person who is solely responsible for keeping your materials organized, digitally and in print.
In order to work well with readers, I’ve learned that I need to be approachable but firm. I have worked with readers who are close to my age and sometimes even my academic peers. It is okay to be friends, but at the end of the day, it’s a question of whether you are working effectively. It is also very important that I know what I aim to accomplish with my readers. Having clear expectations and goals for the readers protects our time from disorganization.
Another challenge is learning to work people with different personalities, communication styles, educational backgrounds, and interests. One thing I have learned is how to adapt my critiquing style based on a person’s personality. Giving the same criticism to person A and person B could have very different effects. Something that could make person B cry might not phase person A at all. It all comes down to communication styles and learning how to adapt to or circumvent differences.
Patience is probably the most important thing you can learn. It can be very frustrating to work through someone else, especially when you can become limited by what they don’t understand. The fact of the matter is, you need to learn to adapt, to capitalize on different readers strengths, and be patient when problems arise.
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