Let me first say that while these next few posts will focus on the negative consequences of a military veteran’s experience, I am fully aware and appreciative of the positive ones, too. And, I do plan to spend some time talking about those.
As I mention in my previous post, Kenny’s deployments have left him to work through the physical side effects of war. These physical repercussions of deployments, whether from battle or the everyday tasks of military work, leave our students with challenges that affect their ability to succeed in the classroom and at home.
What are the physical effects?
The chart below highlights the most prevalent service-connected disabilities (those documented as results of serving) receiving benefits for 2011. You’ll notice that tinnitus, hearing loss, knee, and lower back and spine are among the top five issues.
Figure 1. Prevalent Service-Connected Disabilities (VA, 2011 AR)
Being aware that these disabilities affect a military veteran’s everyday life are important as we continue to explore those repercussions in the classroom.
How does this affect their writing?
Let’s think for a minute about the physicality of a face-to-face writing class and what sense areas a class involves. Students come and sit in their chairs for 50 to 75 minutes, even up to 3 hours in some cases (back/spine). Students are asked to listen to their instructor and their peers as they discuss important ideas and concepts (hearing). Then, instructors either ask students to type their work (if in a computer lab) or hand write short responses or freewriting exercises (hand and joints). The most prevalent physical disabilities returning veterans possess affect all of the areas a writing course taps in to. This can drastically affect a student’s ability to perform in class.
But, as research has shown us, many returning veterans are seeking online writing courses. So, let’s think through that scenario. Students sit at home or in a library or in a coffee shop where they can access the Internet, preparing to spend a significant amount of time typing (back, hand and joints). They listen to lectures and watch videos (hearing) and read their texts (sight). Then, they type their responses (hand and joints) to post to discussion boards or assignment submissions. Again, every physical aspect involved in an online writing course is affected by this list of documented disabilities.
Of course, not all veterans suffer from all of these, but many of them do struggle through several on the list. 75% of those who received disability benefits in 2011 ranged between 10% and 60% disabled, and over 20% of them were under age 35.
What does this mean for me as a writing teacher?
So, as instructors, what do we do? Some students like Kenny self-identify. Some don’t. Some will seek out assistance (learning assistance technology, typists to assist them in their note-taking, interpreters). Others won’t. What happens then?
Because veterans in our classroom must now approach their classes differently, we need to evaluate our courses and our preparedness to handle these potential issues.
Here are some questions to ask yourself about your course:
- Do I create an atmosphere where students feel comfortable coming forward about disabilities?
- Do I have a disability statement in my syllabus?
- What are the physical requirements of my course?
- Are my course and its content universally designed (accessible to those with visual, hearing and other disabilities)?
- Do I tape lectures? Verbalize content on the board? Offer electronic versions of assignments?
- Do I know what services my campus disabilities office offers?
Taking time to think through these important questions, and seeking out the answers if you don’t know them, can help prepare you to address some of the issues these physical disabilities will present.
What’s important to keep in mind, though, is that often these physical disabilities came at a traumatic cost. PTSD, the third-most prevalent disability among returning veterans receiving benefits in 2011, can cause additional, intense stresses. And, in the next post, we’ll explore this complex, long-term effect of war.