The University Record, September 30, 1998

SSD helps provide 'equal access in the classroom' through Notetakers program

By Theresa Maddix

What is striking about Rachel Arfa, a third-year student from Evanston, Ill., majoring in American culture, is how motivated and involved she is in the University community. Arfa supplements her class load with volunteer tutoring at a local middle school and serves as president of a student organization.

Arfa also has a profound hearing loss, and has relied on the Notetakers program and other aids from the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities to help with taking notes while she "listens" by lip-reading in lectures and discussions. "I can follow what the professor says by watching the lecture and reading lips, but I can't take notes at the same time," Arfa says.

Notetakers, directed by Joan E. Smith, has been serving the University's hearing-impaired community for 11 years. It began using volunteer note-takers sitting beside a few participating students, writing out notes by hand. Today, there are 30 students seeking paid note-takers that type notes on laptop computers. These notes can be read as the lecture or discussion progresses, and printed out for later reference.

"It is a terrific job and a valuable service for deaf students," Smith, coordinator of services for deaf and hard of hearing, says. The job is not, however, for just anyone, she notes. Note-takers must be able to type 80 words per minute (the average person speaks more than 260 words per minute) and must be responsible and punctual.

Martha Chen, a note-taker with a master's degree in biology who began working in the program three years ago, says, "In the beginning, it was more like a side job to earn money. But as I started to take notes, I learned a lot from the students. It has really influenced my life."

Chen says auditing classes in every part of the University is educational and fun. "I feel like I'm learning so much more now. Maybe that's because I don't feel the pressure of exams."

Unfortunately, the program doesn't have enough note-takers, forcing more experienced note-takers to audit multiple classes. This surprises Arfa and she attributes it to a lack of visibility for the program. She calls Notetakers "a real service, more respectable than taking notes for a professional note-taking organization," where participating students often do not attend classes.

Arfa is a strong advocate of the Notetakers program and cites Smith as "one of the hardest workers on campus." Involved staff, like Smith, were the reason Arfa chose Michigan over other universities. It was clear to her that at Michigan there are "top-notch support services that provide equal access in the classroom."


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