John Evans is the typical English major at Manhattan College. He reads Shakespeare, Homer and Dante and has written two collections of poetry and a series of short stories.
Evans, however, has one major difference from most other students at MC – he cannot see any of the works he has ever read or written. He can only see bits of light and darkness.
“There were two big trepidations when I first came to Manhattan College. The first was travel, I wanted to make sure I didn’t fall down a couple of stairwells and wind up breaking a leg or something,” Evans said. “The second was making sure that I could do the classes with materials that I could read, that I could understand and Anne [Vaccaro] made that all possible.”
Evans often gets help from his friends and people that see him on campus, but gets most of his support from the Specialized Resource Center.
“I would say the campus is incredibly, incredibly supportive through the resource department,” Evans said. “Other areas have been supportive too but the most actively supportive is the resource department.”
The center, which is run by Anne Vaccaro, aids students with a wide range of disabilities. They provide alternate testing rooms and extra time for students with the necessary documentation and, in the case of Evans, translate all of his school materials to a format that can be read to him by special software on his computer.
“I first met [Evans] at orientation. He came with his dad and I had no reason to believe that a student that was blind would be coming to campus,” Vaccaro said. “As anyone who knows [Evans], he was lovely.”
Evans’ case is a special one. He never cared for braille, which made the approach taken by Vaccaro and the resource center incredibly personalized to his comfort and needs.
“[Braille] was always very difficult for me,” Evans said. “While other kids went out to the playground to relax and have fun I sat in a dark room, smaller than a closet, sitting on an overturned garbage can trying to figure out the most difficult code on earth, which—I might add—the state of New York does not recognize as a language.”
“[Evans] came with his teacher for visually impaired students, who gave me a lot of good ideas for how to help John,” Vaccaro said. “John is extremely intelligent so he is extremely low maintenance.”
Of course, not all cases require as much attention as Evans’ does.
The majority of students that receive accommodations from the Specialized Resource Center suffer from learning disabilities such as dyslexia, A.D.H.D. and autism spectrum disorder.
According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education from 2008, approximately 10.9 percent of students in secondary education deal with some sort of learning disability.
Sophomore Marisa Robbins suffers from dyslexia, one of the most common learning disabilities among college students, in addition to being a student-athlete for the track and field team. She has several different accommodations provided to her as a result.
“One of them is the note taker, so I don’t have to worry about taking notes in class and messing them up,” Robbins said. “I always take my tests outside of the class. I get a reader and time and a half.”
The Specialized Resource Center, located on the third floor Miguel Hall, is equipped with testing rooms for students who receive extra time or help on exams. Robbins for example, has her test questions read aloud in addition to her extra time.
Vaccaro and the resource center have to rely on students to report their disabilities to the office before she can do anything to help. She says, however, that more and more students are self-identifying upon entry to college, which is a good sign.
“Usually I have to assume the worst whenever I go anywhere,” Evans said. “If I assumed that people were going to come and help I probably would’ve fallen down a well years ago, but I am always astonished by how many people take time out of their day just to extend a hand.”