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Assistant Professor in the Department of Education Dr. Sara Kersten-Parrish is changing the narrative of managing a disability in the classroom while preparing the early education teachers of tomorrow. Dr. Parrish is deaf, which was not an issue for her or her pupils until the Coronavirus Pandemic drastically changed the way she had to engage her students.  


Dr. Parrish contracted Spinal Meningitis when she was 11-months old; the disease caused her to lose the majority of her hearing. As a result, she strengthened her ability to bridge the communication gap through other methods. She honed her ability to read lips and identify facial cues, helping her navigate the hearing world. Through determination and discipline, Dr. Parrish was able to communicate with people beyond her disability. 


In March of last year, pandemic protocols severely reduced Dr. Parrish’s ability to connect with people in both public and private spheres. Mask mandates impaired her ability to read lips and identify social cues - radically changing the way she communicates with the hearing world. For the first time, she had to rely on her husband to interact with others in the community. “To depend on someone else to communicate was overwhelming and diminishing.” recalls Dr. Parrish.

Not being able to interact with others in the public sphere took a significant amount of my independence.
Dr. Parrish on zoom

Dr. Parrish leading a class on Zoom

Navigating the pandemic has not been easy for Dr. Parrish, but she’s been impressed with the response from the JCU community regarding accommodation. “My department has been phenomenal, and the students have been very gracious in their handling of the situation,” she says. While most classes have resumed in-person attendance, Dr. Parrish continues to teach online in an effort to keep communication consistent. Her Zoom classes use captioning, ensuring everyone is on the same page. 


The use of these accommodations is not lost on Dr. Parrish’s students —they are gaining valuable insight for their future classrooms. Dr. Parrish says she is taking full advantage of this unique opportunity. 

I want my students to become the teachers who actively find ways to accommodate their students so they can get the most out of their education.
JCU Early Childhood Environment

Early in her own education, Dr. Parrish dealt with a similar experience, as her teachers had to change some of their methods to reach her. “They would have to channel their inner Vanna White - trying to write on the chalkboard while still facing the class so I could read their lips” she remembers. The pandemic has reinforced the impact of accommodation for Dr. Parrish. While the technology has changed from chalkboards to Zoom classes, the importance of accommodating those in need to augment education has not.


Dr. Parrish has written a first-person narrative of her experience using accommodations to navigate the pandemic for Disabled Studies Quarterly. You can learn more about her perspective here.