Take Note!: Exploring The Volunteer Note Taker Program at U of T

Imagine you’re in class. You can’t look at the board or PowerPoint screen, but you’re one of the few there who can’t. Then, while leading the lecture, your instructor says the following:

“If this is less than this, you get that.”

confused cartoon person with question marks above head
What I look like in this situation….
A very cute sleeping/tired cat.
My brain after this happens for the fifth time…

Most instructors are much more verbal than that, but if not, I am fortunate enough to have a volunteer note taker on hand to fill in the gaps. (This gracious peer will upload their notes to a secure server that only I, and others in the class receiving notes, can access).

Because of my registration with Accessibility Services (AS) and discussions with my AS Advisor, who can confirm I need this accommodation, my instructors are notified that a student in their class requires a note taker, and asked to announce it to the class.

Neither the instructor nor the class are to know who the recipient of the notes will be. In some schools, this is not the case: students who take notes for others are to report if the recipient of notes is missing from class and they could lose their ability to receive notes if they miss more than three lectures. However at U of T, students who receive notes from a volunteer are expected to be in class and take notes to the best of their ability, but this is operated on the honour system. After all, there may be several students in a class receiving notes.

“But, there are no blind people in my class,” you may say. “Who needs notes then?” Well, there are many groups of students with disabilities that aren’t obvious. Consider students with chronic pain, those with difficulty hearing the instructor, or those with learning disabilities who learn best outside the lecture hall. They all can benefit from a volunteer’s notes.

Line drawing of a class of people.
Many can use a note taker…

“But why should I?” you might also ask, “I mean, it’s nice to do for someone, but U of T’s competitive, and I don’t want someone else to have all the information I do without doing the work for it.” I’d thank you for your honesty, but then suggest that U of T needn’t be so cut-throat. In fact, I haven’t really seen this behaviour myself: anyone I’ve approached for help or to form a study group seemed willing to work together. We are all better when we work together rather than undercutting each other.

My preaching over, I’d also suggest that students receiving notes are doing their best, and sometimes circumstances beyond their control make their best insufficient in a lecture setting. This doesn’t make them less intelligent or capable to handle a university workload; they just have to go about it differently.

So the next time your instructor asks for volunteers, give it a shot. Many students find the quality of their notes improves. (Wouldn’t you take better notes if you knew someone else might read them?) If your instructor doesn’t make this request (some forget), consider signing up directly with Accessibility Services. Your peers will thank you, and the letter of appreciation at the end of the term for your efforts won’t hurt in a job interview setting either.

On behalf of all those benefitting from this program, thank you in advance.

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