A "Visible" Woman: How a Learning Community Formed around a Deaf-Blind University Student, and What We Learned

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This presentation recounts the development of a collaborative learning community with a Deaf-Blind student at its centre. In her efforts to learn to write for the purposes, and in the discourses, of a B.A. degree course in an Australian university, Michelle presented an unusual challenge to both lecturers and support staff such as sign language interpreters and notetakers, academic learning advisers, and assistive technology providers. The strategies of employing visual aids to support a Deaf student's learning, or audio materials to support a Blind student, were not feasible for a student with both disabilities. In this unfamiliar situation, all those involved had to learn how to work together - with Michelle and with each other - to help her to develop a written academic "voice".

The presentation will discuss the practical challenges and the collaborative strategies that evolved, in parallel with Michelle's own evolving thinking about the ways that people with disabilities are often misconstructed by the wider community. Her studies in History, English, and Diversity Studies led her to think about this issue in terms of constructed identities, insider/outsider status, and "invisibility" such as Ralph Ellison reflected upon in his (1952)novel about racism in America, The Invisible Man. Michelle, meanwhile, became increasingly visible to the support staff who came together each week to talk with her about her work, and helped us to learn how to mediate the challenges she faced.

Keywords: Deaf-Blind, Disability, Voice
Stream: Special Education, Learning Difficulties, Disability
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Caroline (Kate) Chanock

Director, Humanities Academic Skills Unit
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Dr. Kate Chanock worked in a secondary school in Tanzania, a jail in Texas, and the Home Tutors Scheme in Melbourne before joining La Trobe University as an Academic Language and Learning adviser in 1987. Her background is in Anthropology, African History, and TESOL. Her research interests include the cultures and discourses of academic disciplines, and studying at university with a learning disability.

Sally Freeman

Deaf and Disability Liaison Officer, Equality and Diversity, La Trobe University

Sally Freeman (B.Ed.; Grad. Dip.in Language Studies(Auslan); Diploma of
Interpreting (paraprofessional))has taught students with learning
difficulties, and worked as a community welfare officer with the
Victorian Deaf Society.

Michelle Stevens

Student, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University

Michelle Stevens has studied Music Technology and Auslan and is
currently an undergraduate at La Trobe University, focussing on
Australian history and sociology, literature, and gender and diversity

Ref: L09P0087