What is a Reader?

The biggest difference between the demands placed on a sighted student and a sight-impaired student is the managerial skills that visually-challenged students have to rapidly develop. The interface between me and scientific material is other people. Essentially, in addition to my role as a student and/or a researcher, I also function as an employer with a small staff of access assistants that I like to call “readers”.

Readers assist me in the sight-demanding aspects of my work. This includes reading and 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.

Dividing up Duties

Depending on your needs, it can help to have readers specialize in different areas. Some example categories are:


If you have a crazy schedule and a lot of readers to manage, it saves time and stress to have a sighted person assist you with scheduling and office organization.


Depending on the kind of research you are doing, you might 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 a difficult accent. They need to know how to correctly pronounce scientific terms and to read equations fluently.


You might want to have one person who is solely responsible for keeping your materials organized, digitally and in print, so that there’s consistency in how things are organized.

Managing Readers

In order to work effectively with readers, I’ve learned that I need to be approachable but firm. I have worked with readers who are close to my age, sometimes even my academic peers. It is ok to be friends, but at the end of the day it’s a question of whether you’re working effectively. It is also very important that I know what I aim to accomplish with my readers. Having a clear expectations and goals for the readers prevents our time from becoming  disorganized.

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 upon different readers strengths, and be patient when problems arise.

Describing Working Through Readers

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