October 16, 2005.
Times Herald-Record, NY.
Newburgh - College student Corey Knapp is falling behind. He's halfway through the fall semester at Mount Saint Mary College, but his textbooks just arrived.
"My whole college career has been frustrating," says the 23-year-old from Port Jervis. "I'm always playing catch up."
Knapp chose the Mount for the small class sizes, the clean grounds and the promise of an authentic college experience - the chance to enroll as a full-time student and live on campus. It's something he's never had.
Corey Knapp is legally blind.
He was born three months early, before his eyes were fully developed, so he sees only shades of light and dark and walks with a cane.
He has an associate's degree from SUNY Delhi, but he doesn't think that's enough for a successful career in computer science.
When he visited the Mount last summer, he was impressed by the staff's enthusiasm. The campus Counseling Center offered him peer note-takers and readers and electronic versions of the textbooks.
Now, eight weeks into the fall semester, some of Knapp's professors are recommending time extensions. Because it took longer than expected for the college to get his reading materials, his instructors are trying to be flexible.
Knapp says he could have kept pace if he'd had the books sooner, and he doesn't understand the delay. College officials say they are trying to help him cope.
"I think we really do put out a very good effort," says Jacqueline Santiago, the Mount's coordinator of services for persons with disabilities. "It can be a challenge. I won't deny that."
"It's frustrating when you're not ready for the class and you want to participate but you just sit there," Knapp says.
Last week, two modified textbooks finally arrived. Knapp's disabilities counselor told him he was surprised by how easy it was to order them. He told Knapp the books arrived shortly after he e-mailed the publishers.
Knapp is still stressed, but at least he stands a chance of finishing the semester on time.
KNAPP WAS STOKED when he moved into Guzman Hall, the men's dormitory, in August. He hooked up his stereo, turned up the Grateful Dead and set up his single room on the first floor.
There are framed pictures of his mom, sister and dog on the windowsill and concert posters tacked to every wall. There's iced tea in the mini-fridge, a faux bearskin rug draped over a chair and an M&M dispenser on the desk, right next to his brand new, high-powered "talking" computer.
Knapp's PC has JAWS for Windows software, a program that translates text on Web sites, word documents and e-mails. If he types a term paper, a synthesized male voice can read it back to him. If a professor e-mails an assignment, Knapp can listen to the message. He can hear his way through Google searches, Web banking or entire books online.
But if the college can't secure electronic versions of the textbooks, the computer can't read it. Until last week, Knapp was relying on students and professors to record the books on cassette tapes.
The Mount's Counseling Center says it's doing the best it can. It's an office of two: Santiago and another counselor. They have several students with disabilities and special needs, including others who are blind and visually impaired.
"The bigger challenge is not locating the material, but the waiting period," says Santiago. Because it took so long to order Knapp's materials, his counselors are working with professors to make necessary adjustments.
KNAPP THINKS THEY'RE missing the point. "There are people who associate blindness with retardation," he says. He wants to keep pace, and he's worked hard to fit into other facets of campus life.
Knapp meets regularly with Jayne Malkin, a certified orientation and mobility specialist with the Association for the Visually Impaired in Spring Valley. The pair devised seven routes around campus, each designed to get Knapp from point A to point B without help.
Before a practice run from the dorms to the classrooms, Malkin asks Knapp to recite the course. "It's tedious," she says, "but very helpful."
"Navigate the benches," he tells her. "Travel with the grass to my right."
"Good, I want to hear the cane clack on the metal rail," she coaches. "Keep checking for stones. We both get a little sloppy at this point because we're almost there."
Details are critical. If Knapp gets off track, a trip to class feels like getting lost at sea. Recognizable trees, garbage cans or speed bumps function like islands on his mental map.
KNAPP OFTEN WALKS around with his friend and fellow student, Regina Squires. She takes notes and reads to him. If they're in a hurry to get to the dining hall for lunch, she lets him put a hand on her shoulder so he can fold up his cane and walk next to her.
They met at SUNY Delhi when they were both working toward their associate's degrees. Now she's the one who reads the lunch menu and carries his tray, but Knapp doesn't want to rely on her too much.
"She has her own workload, too," he says. "You don't want to ask for too much. That's how you lose people."
Getting around is a challenge Knapp has faced all his life, but the academic roadblocks are harder to accept. With today's technological capabilities, why was it so tough to secure electronic versions of his textbooks?
Regardless, he's relieved and excited to get busy. "Don't get me wrong," he says. "The campus itself isn't bad. It would be nice if it just went smoothly for once."
Source URL: http://www.recordonline.com/archive/2005/10/16/ajblindw.htm.
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