For most of my life, I have understood and accepted my own personal limitations. But a recent experience with a student now has me thinking that anything is possible.
It all started this spring as I was looking over my class roster. I am a broadcast journalism professor, and my courses mainly deal with video shooting and editing for news content. As I was looking at the student list for my basic television production class, which would begin in about five weeks, one name stood out. Now, this is the first production class that journalism students take once accepted to the major, so it is rare that I would recognize any names on the list, but I had worked with this particular student before. The prior year, I shot and edited a public service announcement on handicapped accessibility at voting booths. Steven was featured in the spot. He has limited mobility with his hands and arms, which requires him to use a motorized wheelchair.
As wrong at it may sound, my first reaction was there was no way Steven could complete my course. The physical requirements put on a broadcast news photojournalist can be demanding, and it just did not seem possible for him to do even the basic assignments. So I did some research. It turns out he was a print journalism student, not a broadcast journalism student. In our program, we are big on convergence; everyone should understand how the other areas of the media work. As a result, we require all journalism students to take the basic television production course. But, since he was a print journalism student, could we waive this requirement? Luckily for me, the class did not begin for another five weeks, so I had some time to consider options.
I set up a meeting with our office of disability support services and pleaded my case to them. It turns out, since the school decided this was a required course, we could not waive it. We would basically be saying that no print journalism students would have to take this class, and that would cause some uproar within the program. I was told that I could allow him to substitute a similar course to cover the requirement. The problem with that is, neither our school nor the university offered anything that would work as a substitution. I could create an independent study in which I would work directly with him and cover the same course objectives in a manner that better suited his needs. It was clear that this was the way to go. The next fact I was told led to some heated debate among our faculty. It turns out that, as a school, we could create technical standards for our students. We could list standards that the mass communications students needed for successful completion of the program and their chosen occupations. This seemed like a great idea to me: let students know before coming in that they would have to be able to operate and transport professional broadcast video field gear with reasonable accommodations. These standards would not be a requirement, more of a starting point for students who may need accommodations and as a heads-up for both students and faculty. This way, the first time we would be faced with a student needing special accommodations would probably not be the first day of class.
I want to pause for a minute to discuss the term "reasonable accommodations." What is considered reasonable? It turns out that a number of factors can affect that definition. Creating a special video camera system for this student to use would probably be considered unreasonable for a few reasons; one, the time and effort that would be needed to create such a device would outweigh the amount of instruction and credit hours the course required. Two, such a device would only exist in our department; therefore, this student could not reasonably expect to be hired at a TV station that had the same adaptive equipment. Third, and most applicable in a state school, the cost for such an extensive adaptation could not be absorbed by the department. …