October 2021 Advocate: Reflections on vision impairment, teaching & accessibility

Disability Awareness

Personal reflections on vision impairment, teaching & accessibility in SMCCCD

I don’t think I felt, really, shame about my disability. What I felt more was exclusion.”
– Judith Heumann from “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution”  (more on “Crip Camp” video below)


by Lori Slicton, AFT 1493 ADA subcommittee member & AFT 1493 Skyline College Health, Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee (HSEPC) Rep.

October is National Employment Disability Awareness Month. The following is a reflection on some of my challenges with vision impairment, teaching and accessibility at Skyline College.

Tears streamed down my face—but I wasn’t crying. With my right eye squeezed tight, I dragged my thumb across each letter on my computer screen. Unflinchingly, CurricuNet stared me down. The glare from the Enrollment Data Sheets floated on the computer screen in dark clouds. I blinked and blinked as though blinded by a camera flash. Why can’t I read these words? Am I so tired? Am I sick?

It was 2015 and I was working on Comprehensive Program Review (CPR.) Anthropology is a single person department and I, as always, was doing it on my own. It took everything I had and then some, to prepare CPR data on time and for the traditional presentation at Skyline College.

On the day of the presentation, Anthropology was up first. I was asked to set up for my presentation. I remember the President, Vice President, Deans and others look at me with surprise and disappointment when I said, “I don’t have Powerpoint slides to show you.  I’m going to need to do this ‘old school’.” The President and VP both looked at me and shook their heads. My heart sunk. I was nauseous and wanted to bolt out the door. I pulled it together, but not enough to do the presentation in a way the Anthropology program deserved. This experience was humiliating and remains with me today.

The following day on campus I was approached by faculty who I barely knew and who expressed regret that I had been “treated that way” by the President and VP. One person said they needed to “give me a hug after what happened.” Still other faculty had heard about it from others in attendance and offered their support. (Thank you colleagues!)

A challenging diagnosis

Fast forward: I was diagnosed with a rare, untreatable vision impairment. My doctor referred me to the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) where I was assigned a counselor in Blind Field Services. The DOR promptly had workplace assessments scheduled and adaptive technology ordered. I needed training –and need more! Normally, the DOR makes recommendations for accommodations and the employer is to provide what’s necessary under the ADA. Our HR took nearly a full academic year to order some of the equipment necessary for my office. It took another four years (2015-2019) for HR to adapt my office ergonomically to make it accessible.

Eye disease affects millions of people. But describing vision loss is difficult. The photos above compare normal vision with one type of vision impairment (age-related macular degeneration) that is different from my condition. Click here to view examples of how different types of vision impairments impact vision.

Adaptive technology has made ordinary tasks possible and enjoyable—student papers can be read to me. I can listen to journal articles and review new texts. However, forms and programs remain a source of deep frustration.  I, like many people with vision impairment, memorize forms. Grades of Incomplete, Grade Change, Book Orders. Forms need to be updated but many changes are not an improvement—just different. CurricuNet, SPOL, Annual Program Plan (APP), Enrollment Data all take inaccessibility to a new level. We all work hard on these forms as they are required for our programs. Now that my vision is impaired, they take a phenomenal amount of time or are completely impossible. The APP program is inaccessible. So, with a dean’s approval and a colleague’s support, we created an alternative that would contain comparable information. There is no record of the Anthropology APP’s on the college website.

Next year, the Anthropology department is scheduled for CPR. My vision is worse and Curricunet remains the same. The Enrollment Data Sheets are brighter and there are many more of them. Despite feedback that these forms/programs are inaccessible, there have been no improvements for visually impaired employees.

A possible solution: More accessible forms

VPAT, Voluntary Product Accessibility Template may be a solution to some of these problems.

At its core, a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a template used by the US Federal and state governments and other entities as an assessment tool to evaluate how well digital content conforms to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Section 508 requirements.

Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits the Federal government office or vendor of the Federal government from discriminating on the basis of a disability. Digital product buyers inside and outside of government rely on these statements to “buy accessible.” A growing number of buyers consider accessibility an important factor in choosing a vendor. (Excerpeted from TGPi, a Vispero Company working for Accessibility for the Vision Impaired)

I’m optimistic. My experiences with Canvas Training, the CTTL and my peer mentor have been consistently been positive and constructive. When something is identified in Canvas as inaccessible, Canvas and the CTTL colleagues have been responsive. My peer mentor assists me with changes in the technology and identifying work-arounds when possible. Teaching online during Covid-19 has been a positive and supportive experience. It’s more comfortable and accommodating around my vision and ADA needs.

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

The excellent documentary film, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, is freely available to view here. This 2020 documentary has historic roots in the Bay Area and includes local activists, the longest sit-in, Black Panthers, the founding of the Center for Independent Living, and more. It also includes information on landmark legislation such as section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, which are critical to employee accommodations in the workplace.

Quotes from Crip Camp

“The ADA was a wonderful achievement. But it was only the tip of the iceberg. You can pass a law but until you can change society’s attitudes, that law won’t mean much.” – Denise Sherer Jacobson

If I have to feel thankful about an accessible bathroom, when am I ever gonna be equal in the community?” – Judith Huemann



AFT 1493: Building a foundation of advocacy and action around the ADA!

In recognition of National Employment Disability Awareness month, AFT 1493 would like to highlight a few of its accomplishments in 2020/2021.

  • Disability/ADA subcommittee to AFT 1493 to better identify and address faculty needs around accessibility and the ADA
  • Disability Issues and Accommodations faculty resource page on the AFT 1493 website. The page includes links for employee rights, information on requesting reasonable accommodations and the interactive process, among others
  • Direct faculty support in acquiring accommodations under the ADA.
  • Focused support and advocacy around Covid-19 and faculty needs for accommodations

We are here for you! If you need assistance with an issue related to accessibility and or disability, please contact Marianne Kaletzky, AFT 1493 Executive Secretary, at: kaletzky@aft1493.org or Lori Slicton, AFT 1493 ADA Subcommittee member and AFT 1493 Skyline College Health, Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee (HSEPC) Representative, at: slicton@smccd.edu

– Lori Slicton