Here we are navigating our 5th week of remote / online classes here in NYC (and beyond of course) and adapting to our “new lives”. I can’t think of anything else to call it as of right now, so I’m going with this. I say this from the perspective of integration as I’m very much still in the: “I’m really perplexed about how we are even in the position that we are in” phase along with having adjusted to this new life and fulfilled so many new, mandated compliances to keep my courses going simultaneously. (That was a long sentence, too!) I originally started writing this post about 3 weeks ago. A lot has changed, which makes it seem harder to update, since I’ve made more progress than I thought I would. Or could.
Along with following all of the administrative protocols, attending endless Zoom meetings, making course updates, reformatting everything, and dealing with the staggering amount of e-mail and overall communication—and that’s just work stuff—not including connecting with family and friends. Whew!—I’m finally starting to reflect on things. Or… wait, is my ego reflecting on what it thinks it is reflecting on? Reflection invites in ALL of the emotions. And the feelings—both positive and negative. And there’s been quite a bit of the negative! Why am I reminded of past failures at a time like this? We humans like routines, they help us stay focused and structured. Uncertainty isn’t something we’re really good at, right? Wrong, we certainly adapt, and adapt quickly. I can see that as I edit this post!
Here is a visual interpretation of me after the first 2 days of my 3-in-a-row-straight zoom meetings..
I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the conversion to remote and online teaching in general. As I see it now, especially as a deaf/HoH professor who depends on “visual everything,” I have much more to organize than I thought. I teach simultaneously between 4 colleges here in NYC. I’m teaching 7 courses between all of these schools to 99.9% hearing people. As we know, the reality of “just switching to video chat classes” is NOT easy, even for a hearing person teaching hearing people. Especially if you’ve never done this before. Video chat platforms can actually work well for me if it’s a one-on-one situation, but add 5-15-24 people and access really changes.
Simply put, I need to see a face and mouth at all times to have access to a spoken conversation. Yes, I wear hearing aids but they are NOT magical devices that mean I can “hear” what normal hearing people hear. I don’t, not even close… Because I’m deaf. My hearing loss is degenerative and has been decaying over time since birth. So these days, I only catch about 30% with hearing aids. The other 70% of the conversation is absorbed from lip reading, speech patterns, emotional rapport, facial expressions, and body language. When it comes to only seeing someone’s face, head, and shoulders on a flat monitor or screen, that 70% contextual part is naturally limited, and understanding speech becomes harder.
When switching to “synchronous style” remote teaching formats using Zoom, Skype, Google Meet or Google Hangouts or another video-chat platform (I recently tested Microsoft Teams that DOES have a live, real-time captioning feature. I much prefer this over the others and will be switching to this. You do need to download the desktop application and have access to the business or education licensing, though), things can get really challenging, especially with a sea of small icon-like faces as the number of people increase in the chat session. Three of my classes have 20-plus students in them. As I mentioned, one-on-one video chat works well for me, but add several others to the chat, and, well, the faces get smaller, and visual access decreases. I need to adapt to this by using a text-chat feature to support the visuals. This can be done and I have been making several adaptations as time has passed. However, typing out the conversation slows down the process, and others in the virtual classroom may become a little impatient. “Please be compassionate, please be patient, please put yourself in the shoes of others and try to understand.” Hmm, this is tough, especially if I’m your first Deaf professor. Believe me, I know I am. We are learning together in this experience, in real-crazy-time. Things will be tweaked as we go along. We can’t be selfish and expect communication to function as it would in the normal classroom. It’s just not the same thing
Aside from what I said above, accessibility has a context that expands and extends far beyond myself; it is collective and contextual. I can share my own experiences here but my experiences obviously relate to my life experiences as a whole—and that includes all of my students. I care about them deeply and protect them fiercely. They come first, always have, and I am fully responsible for making the choice to teach and work where I do. What does accessibility look like on my students’ end? My students have their own issues, struggles and problems. Some have no access to the internet, no access to a computer, laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet. Which means no access to certain software applications. Some do not have a physical space to sit and be present in a video chat class as their living space is shared with parents, siblings, and other relatives who are also home, and in some cases working from home. Many have lost their jobs altogether. Some are living with multiple family members who are sick, whether with Covid-19 or other pre-existing conditions. This all happens simultaneously. But what we don’t really talk about, when we discuss how wonderful all of these new adaptations are, are the emotional and psychological aspects of this entire situation. Do we have enough contrast yet to fully understand the current and continuing impact of the last 5 weeks? No way.
I have adopted the mantra of Compassion, Patience, Understanding, Accessibility, Adaptability, Inclusion, Helpfulness, and Humility. We can do this together both inside and outside academia. Fellow students, faculty, and colleagues, both those with accessibility needs and those who need help working with folks with accessibility needs, let’s pull together and contribute our resources and knowledge to help each other. Blogs like this one and other social media have a huge reach and can be used to share useful perspectives and resources.
It is also crucial that we communicate honestly with our colleagues, students and administration. I AM Guilty of this in the past myself! I have and continue to reach out to my people. All of my students already know that that I am deaf/HoH. I was upfront with them from Day One of our semester. I explained my communication needs and stated that I always need to see a face, lips, and body language to follow verbal conversations. If not, then we need to type, write, text, or make written communication happen. The application of a speech-to-text application like Cardzilla (that I love! iOs — Android) or another form of text/type/visual communication also helps! Of course, content management system (CMS) platforms like WordPress websites are also super effective, and I have built a website for every class that I teach! No, not Blackboard or Canvas. I build my own websites for my courses so that I have full autonomy of the admin aspects of communication and access and so much more.
The combination of Zoom and the CMS platforms have allowed for a relatively smooth integration for me. As I mentioned above I will integrate MS Teams this week over Zoom. Zoom allows for simultaneous Video, Audio, and Text Chat, so for me and my students, this is crucial! I can see a face to speech read and then ask for additional text follow up via text in the chat box. Plus, if turn the audio on my computer speaker up, in my case to Very High, I can place my iPhone next to it and have the Cardzilla app transcribe the audio to text. It is a hack, but it works, and I am grateful for that. My students have been super patient and seriously awesome at this point! Accessibility is EVERYTHING! Especially in this very NEW situation we find ourselves in.
Aside from teaching and hacking accessibility and expanding my awareness of how amazing our collective human potentials are, how are you all coping with the isolation, and order to stay home? I’m focusing on self-care. Making healthy meals and setting a cozy and loving environment in my space. I’m also making a lot of new art, I mean A LOT!
Communication is EVERYTHING so please be mindful and specific about what you NEED.
Much Love to all!