Most language course work focuses on visual input as the main tool for teaching language. Students practice vocabulary by identifying pictures in the target language. Cultural curriculum focuses on the visual arts or landscapes. Exams ask students to match categories in corresponding lists.
Blind or visually impaired people benefit from language study in the same way as sighted students, but there are some key differences in the way that they learn. A multisensory approach to language teaching can help shift to a more inclusive environment.
“Do international students get extra time? Is being a non-native English speaker a disability?” This question comes up frequently from international students and disability service offices. At first thought, many offices would easily say “no” and “no." Should it be that easy?
Many academic departments and student service offices may initially assume that issues arise solely from being a non-native English speaker, but it may also mean that a disability is not recognized, and a second look should be given to these students.
Most mornings of her Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program in India, Esha Mehta would wake early and catch a rickshaw with her roommate to her Hindi classes. The morning she remembers most, however, happened at sunrise while on an excursion to Pushkar in Rajasthan, India. Mehta, who is blind and an avid hiker, joined others from the American group to hike to an old temple. Dressed in traditional Indian clothes, Esha trusted her feet, as she usually does, to guide her along the rocky way and up many stairs.
“When we got to the top, it was really beautiful. My friend Nicole was tracing my hand along the horizon as the sun was rising and telling me what it looked like. Then I asked everyone to stop talking and to experience nature with their eyes closed, just listening to the birds and other sounds.” For Esha this type of interpersonal exchange creates an opportunity to educate and learn; something that occurred frequently on her U.S. Department of State-sponsored CLS program.
During the summer, I had the opportunity to study English at the American English Institute (AEI) at the University of Oregon through a joint scholarship from Mobility International USA (MIUSA) and AEI. My experience was wonderful; the staff and teachers were extremely kind and I met classmates from Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
In the beginning, I had to overcome many challenges, the first one being the language, because my English knowledge was scarce.
On a typical evening, I pour a cup of coffee and follow the contours of the counter until I reach a cash register. I pay by meal card, and walk back to the dorm lobby where one of my students is waiting. We have a study session tonight, and my job is to explain how to use comparative forms of Russian adjectives. If this sounds like an everyday routine for a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA), it is. Unless, of course, the teaching assistant is blind, and traveled to the United States from Russia for the first time on the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright program.
For Alison, Italy was all about taking the time to savor simple experiences, whether people-watching on a leisurely evening in the piazza to lingering in Italian conversation with friends over a glass of wine. As a person who is hard of hearing, Alison worked with the coordinators of her program to arrange for accommodations that would help ensure that she had the same opportunity to engage in the classroom lessons and discussions, furthering her skills and confidence in the Italian language.