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Boley Blog: Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month with Librarian Mari Cheney

by Mari Cheney on 2020-10-23T09:05:00-07:00 | Comments

Mari Cheney is the Assistant Director of Research and Instruction at Boley Law Library. She lives and works with a number of invisible disabilities, including hearing impairment that is aided by both a hearing aid and a bone-anchored hearing aid. To celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, learn more about how living with disabilities has impacted Mari's work.

Q: How does your hearing impairment impact your day-to-day work? 

A: It's most noticeable at the reference desk. Pre-COVID, I would be sitting at the desk and if a student walked up to the desk from the front entrance of the library, there's a strong chance I wouldn't be able to hear them approach. Or if someone called on the phone, I'd have to make sure the volume was turned all the way up after I answered. It's much easier to hear on a call that's been forwarded to my cell phone because my hearing aid is Bluetooth-enabled. 

Q: How does your hearing impairment impact you in the classroom?

A: Pre-COVID, I would always ask to teach in any classroom except 5 or 6 because the acoustics in those two rooms are terrible. I warn students at the beginning of class that I need them to speak up and that I wish microphones worked better in classrooms. If there's a silver lining to COVID, it's that we'll all be more accustomed to speaking into the mics during class. I've been working from home since the end of February and while I miss teaching in the physical classroom, teaching on Zoom has been okay for me since I can use Otter.ai for transcription. It really helps me. 

Q. What advice would you give someone who is hearing impaired and considering law school? 

A. Ask lots of questions about the accommodations process and also whether there are others like you on campus. What have they personally experienced and how have they navigated the process? Who are the disability allies on campus? Are there affinity student groups to join? I am honored to be the faculty advisor to DALSA and any student who joined the Lewis & Clark Law School student body would find tremendous support in DALSA.

Q. How do you share your disability advocacy outside of Lewis & Clark Law School?

A: I've started publishing on the topic of hearing impairment and how law librarians can support library patrons as well as how employers can support librarians with hearing impairment. I've presented multiple times on the topic of instructional design and disability and plan to continue to research and write on this important topic.

Q. Is there anything else you'd like to share?

A. I hope any student feels comfortable coming to talk to me about navigating law school with a disability. I am here to support them and help them navigate that process, particularly in helping them find the right person to talk to, whether it's on our campus or on upper campus. You're not alone. Law school is hard enough, but going through law school with a disability makes everything that much harder. I speak from experience when I say that working with an invisible disability can be incredibly alienating and lonely. I decided to talk about my disability and share my story so others don't feel alone. I'm still learning how to find available resources on this campus and how to help myself, but while forging my path has been difficult at times, if there's anything I can do to make it easier for our students, it's been worth it. 


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