Education Online, Everywhere
My 2 high school kids are gearing up to start school in a week or so – in-person, full days. My collegiate teenager started this week, all classes online. 2 days a week she has early morning Zoom meeting classes. I think her class start time is 7 AM. She gets up with plenty of time to do her hair and makeup before sessions begin.
My own graduate school semester began yesterday. I am in the end stages of earning my master’s degree in a program at Georgetown University that has a path administered completely online. It is logical for such programs to exist. Generally speaking, a master’s degree is an advanced, specialized education that you can seek to achieve after you have earned a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is typically a 4-year college education. Not everybody who earns a bachelor’s degree will go on to earn a master’s degree. Even if you know it is something you want to do, the additional years and tuition cost can be very burdensome. Many people who go on to get a master’s degree take time in between to get a job, work, earn and save money. With modern technology, offering online options for graduate level education has benefited universities and students. If you attend online, you don’t have to move potentially across the country to go to school, possibly juggling a spouse, children and work attendance at the same time.
With the complications of the coronavirus pandemic, many universities have shifted to an online or distance learning format for the Fall 2020 semester – Georgetown among them. This semester, all classes at the school are being given online, with a few exceptions I believe for laboratory classes. It is an unexpected situation that made additional course options available to me because I could select from more than what was intended to be given in an online format.
One of the classes typically offered only on campus beckoned me. It was seemingly well aligned with my goals and intentions for my blog website. I registered for the class. Later, when the syllabus became available, I went through it with great interest. It laid out the required books, all available for purchase on Amazon and downloadable to Kindle. It detailed 15 weeks of interesting assignments and projects and plans. There was just one big obstacle for me. Zoom cameras were to be on at all times.
I am no stranger to Zoom meetings. But I never have the camera on. I’m not a diva, worried about not having picture perfect hair and makeup, with carefully curated accessories and an awesome backdrop filter.
I work on a Microsoft Surface tablet, utilizing the touch screen instead of the keyboard. I keep it in an upright position, tilted back on its kickstand. When the camera is on, the view you will get is mostly of my ceiling, or perhaps the top edge of a hospital bed. It’s a cool top of the line hospital bed, but still, that’s what it is. Just a fact. It is also a fact that people who have a visible disability are typically perceived as being ‘less.’ Less able, less intelligent, less capable, less interesting, less fun, less insightful, less knowledgeable.
Yes, the law has evolved to try and equalize things for the disabled, and that is wonderful. But facts are facts, and the truth is that any visible disability usually has a negative effect on other people’s perception of the skills and abilities of the disabled individual. Of course, there are exceptions to that … but here I am addressing the issue at large.
I should make sure you understand that I am not addressing the way in which people tend to view the disabled, from some theoretical standpoint. I speak from my own experience. When I would be out with my husband, people would routinely ask me questions through him.. Now mind you, I would be utilizing a motorized scooter under my own power. Sometimes there were other things at play, such as the assumption that he was paying the bill so he was to make the decisions. All too often, though, it was clear that the presence of the motorized device was the reason for not addressing me. I always found it irritating, and my husband was frequently infuriated by it. The same thing happened with my father whenever I was out with him.
When I would see somebody in public, there’s no way to hide the fact that I need a mobility device. In conversation on the telephone or computer, when appropriate, I acknowledge that I’m disabled. It’s not my fault, it’s not something I should be ashamed of. It’s just a fact. I don’t bring it up if not necessary, but I don’t necessarily hide it. After all, there are articles out there that mention it. And if someone looks at my blog or social media, I freely mention it where appropriate. Yet, as a whole, I like to not mention it because it leads people to believe that I am not as mentally capable as they might otherwise believe.
Having school peers see the top of my hospital bed in class and just the very top of my head because of the necessary angle? I thought it through from every vantage point, and it’s just a ‘hard no’ for me.
I emailed the professor a week or so before the class began. I did my best to succinctly explain the situation and my dilemma. She was extremely understanding, and gave me contact information for a department at the University that handles issues of accommodation for students. The representative to whom I spoke to in that Department sent me a lot of information and was very helpful. I had to provide them with a bunch of information and complete paperwork. They were exceedingly helpful, completing the process with me in a matter of a couple of days instead of the multi-week processing time they warn of on their web page. I was provided with the letter I needed to forward to the professor, and she exempted me from utilizing my camera.
First Class of the Semester
(Not a screenshot of my class)
Wednesday night with the first class. 19 graduate school students plus the professor, for a total of 20 Zoom squares. The professor put up on the screen an introduction starter, asking that we each speak briefly to introduce ourselves and share some basic information. She called upon people in random order. I could have just ignored the fact that instead of my image, only my name appeared. That would have been wrong of me, and I think it would have been disrespectful to the group. In a couple of brief sentences, I explained why my camera was not on, and that it was omitted with the approval of the University. Some of the students will undoubtedly pay no attention to it at all. Some may think it’s unfair, some may be curious. They all now know I have a disability, obviously. It is one thing to know something in an abstract fashion, and it is another thing to have visual confirmation in a way that will significantly impact perception.
I adamantly do not want to hide behind my disability. I am blessed that it doesn’t affect me in my thought processes or cognition. I’ve had to teach myself to write, type and text with only my left hand, after losing the use of the right one, which had always been dominant for me. I manage but sometimes it almost ridiculously difficult. Executing written things takes me easily 3 times as long as somebody else would need to do the task. When I am tired and the MS is acting up, it can honestly take me 10 times as long. It gets incredibly frustrating.
I find the patience to push through because I won’t be silenced, and I won’t be limited in any way that I can instead have freedom. Everybody has different obstacles to overcome. Please feel free to tell me about yours!
(Image from my Instagram account)