Student Accessibility Services
Outstanding Faculty Nomination
Student's Name: Angela Orlando
Faculty Name: Dr. Katherine Orr
Introduction to Creative Writing Fall, 2010
Poetry Writing I Spring, 2011
Poetry Writing II Spring 2012
In the past, I took ASL classes at Kent State. However, my heart had always been in writing. Finally, I worked up the courage to take Introduction to Creative Writing. I wrote to the department chair and told him about my situation and needed accommodations. My professor would have to be flexible, easy-going, creative and determined. He told me to sign up for a class with Dr. Katherine Orr. That's how my amazing experience began.
I sent an email to Dr. Orr to introduce myself and explain about my disabilities. I got the feeling she was truly excited to have a deaf-blind student in her class. Her mind went right to work on what would be needed. She even contacted Student Accessibility Services (SAS) and made an appointment with Sue Smith before the semester began. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss what could be done to help me succeed. No other professor ever thought to do that.
I always felt so alive in my writing classes with Dr. Orr. She made me part of the class. She arranged the seats so I wasn't sitting in a corner in the back of the room. I was physically and emotionally included. Dr. Orr called on me often. She had me read my work in class, just like everyone else. Sometimes I wrote poems or stories about my disabilities. Dr. Orr used that as an opening to discuss the challenges I face and ways I triumph. But she wasn't talking so much about my disabilities. She was referring to my life and showing the other students that I'm not so different. To Dr. Orr, I'm not a deaf-blind student or a student with disabilities. I'm just a student with the desire to learn.
We ran into a problem right away. I discovered that I can't understand poetry in American Sign Language (ASL). Dr. Orr was on top of it. She would not let this be a setback. She had all students send their work ahead of time to Sue Smith, so it could be converted into braille. Sue Smith would make a braille book and send electronic copies via email so I had every students' writing in a format that I could appreciate. When the students recited their work in class, I read along with my braille book.
Through this class, I also discovered I liked to attend poetry readings. Again, we needed a system so I could read the poetry instead of using an interpreter. We figured out how to use my assistive technology to solve the problem. Someone would type on a keyboard connected to my Deaf-Blind Communicator (DBC), and I could read it in braille. During the very first reading, it was Dr. Orr who did the typing. I couldn't believe that a professor would take the time to type for me. To Dr. Orr, it was no big deal. She just wanted me to be able to enjoy the reading. And I did.
During these readings, she always came over to talk to me. Sometimes she just said hello. Other times she asked me what I thought of the reading. She always made sure I got the opportunity to meet the poets. This is how I met one of my most supportive writing mentors.
Unfortunately, things were not going well with my health. I was experiencing horrible pain in my arms, shoulders and neck. I could no longer handle the signing, reading and typing. It was with a heavy heart that I told Dr. Orr I would have to withdraw from the class. Her response was, "No way." If I couldn't come to class, that was fine. She was determined to keep me writing. I finished the rest of the semester via email and earned an “A” in the class. I felt such pride in myself that I was able to complete the class. It was all because of Dr. Orr.
My health was not improving. I had no intention of taking another class. But Dr. Orr wrote and encouraged me to keep on going. I took Poetry Writing I during the next semester. It was all through email. I never actually stepped foot in the classroom. But she made sure I was still a part of the class. She read my work to the students and had them send me comments and suggestions through email. I managed to write the eight required poems. That was a huge accomplishment considering the pain I was in.
I did not sign up for a class in Fall 2011. Ironically, that's when I started to feel better. Dr. Orr gave me information about what her classes were studying and the textbooks they used. I did my own reading and never stopped writing new poetry. She also sent me the Wick Poetry Center schedule for readings. I attended a few that semester. Even though I wasn't a student, Dr. Orr still took the time to chat with me.
I am a new writer with little confidence in my skills. Dr. Orr seems to see budding talent in my work. She's so encouraging. She makes me feel like I'm doing something special. Maybe I am a good writer. Perhaps I can make a career out of this. If she really believes in me, it must be true.
I was shocked when she asked me to do a reading with two other "Outstanding Poetry Students" at the Wick Poetry Center. This was my first poetry reading. There was an official flier with my name and picture. There were people there who came just to hear me read my work. They introduced me like I was a "real" writer. I was terrified and exited at the same time. It was one of the most thrilling moments in my life. Once again, I owe it all to Dr. Orr.
For this Spring semester, I signed up for Poetry Writing II. It's obvious how much I love Dr. Orr, considering this is my third class in a row with her. In this class, she upped the level of inclusion. If students don't send their work to Sue Smith for my braille book, they lose points. She encouraged them to talk to me through my interpreters. Again, my work often led to discussions about ASL, braille, mobility and other aspects related to my life. Since she expressed so much interest in the topic, I gave all students a card with the braille alphabet and a paper showing the sign language alphabet. Dr. Orr had each student learn to sign their name and introduce themselves by spelling directly into my hand. Some students went further and tried signing phrases so we could have a conversation. I was totally astonished by this.
One day I was sitting on a bench before class when someone touched my arm and gently took my hands. Slowly, she signed, "Katherine." That's Dr. Orr. She prefers to be called Katherine. Then she sat with me for five or ten minutes just chatting. She worked so hard to remember how to form each letter. Her willingness to do that touched my heart.
I love having Dr. Orr as my teacher. It saddens me that this is the last class I can take with her. But I have a strong feeling that she is not done with me. No matter what, she will always be a writing mentor - a friend. For all these reasons combined, I nominated Dr. Katherine Orr as an outstanding faculty member.
Note: Dr. Orr was chosen as the nominee who best exemplified the following criteria; taking an interest in students' unique learning style, exhibiting creativity in their teaching methods relative to student need and normalizing the classroom experience for students with disabilities.
Dr. Orr was honored last and received a special trophy. The trophy is made of natural wood stained in different shades of brown with the following inscription: Making the Difference.
Awarded to Katherine Orr for your commitment to students with disabilities. April 2012. Professor Orr also received a framed certificate.