When Mary Gospel found out she was going to be teaching a student who is blind, she wondered how that was going to work in a major—Communication Sciences and Disorders—that requires so much visual learning.
Then Haley Sumner came to class, and she had her answer.
“I’ve had Haley in class four times,” says Gospel, Butler University Senior Clinical Faculty in Communications. “The only time I really even was thinking about her being vision-impaired was the first class. After that, you just forget because she handles everything so well. Outside of having a dog in the classroom, which is unusual, you just forget. She is such an amazing, strong student, and knows how to advocate for the things she needs to make the material in the classroom work for her.”
That’s precisely how Sumner wanted it. She has spent her life finding alternative ways to succeed, and she continued that at Butler.
She finished school in four years with a double major in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) and Spanish. Along the way, she was involved in Student Government Association for three years, and the Butler University Student Foundation.
“I’ve been able to develop work connections with graduates, and gotten an idea of what life will look like after college,” she says. “If it wasn’t for those organizations, it would have been harder for me to make connections, and feel comfortable with the next chapter of my life.”
In summer 2018, Sumner did an internship in the Human Resources department at Eskenazi Health. That spurred her interest in working for a large organization, like Eli Lilly and Co. or Salesforce when she graduates. She’s now in the interviewing process.
Haley Sumner came to Butler from Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. Sumner was born three months prematurely, weighing less than two pounds. She’s been blind since birth.
She started in Exploratory Studies, and chose CSD as a major because she had gone through speech therapy when she was young.
“I can’t think of a day or even a moment in my life where I thought, ‘I wish I could see this right now,'” she says. “I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had. I feel like we’re all designed in a unique way.”
She has navigated campus with help from her service dog, Ezzie. A text-to-speech machine turned her textbooks to audio. When she had classes that were heavily visual, she relied on tactile formats to feel what she couldn’t see.
She says that in one class that dealt with topics such as anatomy and soundwaves, Butler’s Student Disability Services office hired older students to draw diagrams she needed for exams and lectures. She has special paper that, when drawn on, makes raised lines, so she can feel what the picture is showing.
Sumner explains that for a drawing of a brain, for example, she can feel where each lobe is located, and make a square or a circle in her mind, and then try to put each part together to develop an understanding.
“Once I’m able to gauge where everything is mapped out on the page, then I’m able to make a mental image of it,” she says.
Gospel says having Sumner in class made her a better teacher. She had to think more purposefully about how, and what, she taught. It forced her to prepare more thoroughly.
In one course, where students were expected to learn phonetic symbols instead of using alphabet letters, Gospel was flummoxed. She was unsure how to possibly make this accessible for Sumner.
Gospel teamed up with Kathleen Camire, Assistant Director of Student Disability Services, and Sumner. Not only were they able to come up with the necessary technology, but the three of them co-wrote a paper that Gospel presented at the American Speech and Hearing Association, about the technology and strategy needed to teach phonetics to a student with vision impairment.
Gospel says Sumner also made an enormous impact on the Butler Aphasia Community, a group of people who have had strokes who come to campus to work on their language skills with Butler students.
“They adored her,” Gospel says. “She related to them so well, and they related to her. They saw how she was able to overcome obstacles with a positive attitude and sense of humor. They were inspired by her spirit.
Sumner says she comes at whatever she does with great empathy for others.
“Whenever I hear people complain or I hear them having a bad day, I try to get closer to them and help them find ways to make their situation positive or help them find a positive point in their day,” she says.