One on One
Interview with Don Daughtry, PhD
By Anju Khubchandani, MA
Dr. Daughtry is an Associate professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology & Sociology at Texas A&M University – Kingsville. He serves as the current chair of the APA Committee on Disability Issues. I had the wonderful opportunity to interview him recently for this newsletter and want to thank him for his time, honesty, and candor in answering my questions. Our conversation follows.
Q. You attended the University of Houston in the mid-1980s where you completed a Master’s degree in psychology, and then went on to Texas Tech where you completed your PhD. Can you describe the academic environment during these periods and attitudes towards disability?
R. I would sum up the environment as kind of favorable but not that knowledgeable about disability issues. I will illustrate this with an example. I was in an intellectual assessment class and the psychologist who taught the class had us fill out some biographical information. I had my friend fill out mine for me. Well, the professor inquired as to what I was doing to which I explained that I could not fill out the information myself and needed my friend to assist. Suddenly realizing I had a vision impairment, the professor became quite agitated and said repeatedly that I couldn’t possibly be in her class and keep up with the work because I would need ongoing assistance. She even left the classroom to ask my advisor how she should proceed. My advisor assured her that with accommodations I would be fine in her class. She eventually calmed down, and I completed the class with an “A.” So, I would sum up the atmosphere as not unfriendly to persons with disabilities but in need of information and massive education. I did not get the sense that there were necessarily negative attitudes towards me strictly because of my disability, but rather that people had not given much consideration to the needs of people with disabilities. I was the only person with a visible disability in my master’s program and one of two in my doctoral program.
Q. What were the biggest challenges you encountered during your education and training?
R. I would say that the biggest challenges had to do with educating faculty and others on disability issues and constantly having to reassert my disability-related needs. Of course, there were general challenges that go along with being a graduate student … Can I meet these timelines? Can I do the work? But as a student with a disability, there were additional pressures and concerns to deal with… What happens if my adaptive equipment e.g., Braille embosser fails me during this class? Or, what happens if I can’t get my book in time for my class from recordings for the blind? These sorts of logistical concerns lent additional stress to meeting deadlines in a timely manner.
It is interesting that attitudinal barriers were not the biggest barriers that I faced as a student. In our post-ADA times, I think there is a backlash phenomenon where students with disabilities are encountering more attitudinal barriers because there are simply more of us, we are more visible on campus, and we are encouraged to attain higher education. I also think that people without disabilities are more skeptical of our skills.
Q. To what extent did your disability impact the direction of your career within psychology?
R. I am not sure that it has. I enjoyed teaching and this decision had little to do with my disability. It definitely impacted my focus or direction within the career path. For example, I was not originally focused on disability issues in my career, but have become more so over the years. I have taken on much more of an advocacy role on campus, educating faculty peers and assisting students with disabilities… from being a mentor to sharing disability and accommodation resources. My professional activities have increasingly focused on advocacy and education out of necessity. In many instances, I had to educate other faculty concerning my legitimate claim to resources, e.g., funds for buying adaptive equipment. In other cases, I was approached by students with disabilities seeking faculty sponsorship for student organizations, or accommodation-related information. In almost all cases, students sought me out because I was the only faculty easily identified as having a disability.
Q. What do you do in your current position?
R. Lots of mentoring. For the last few years, I have been a mentor in APA’s Office on Disability Issues Mentoring Program. My university is classified as a Hispanic serving institution. Hence, I also have many opportunities to work with ethnic minority students who feel disempowered. I incorporate disability into many of the courses I teach, especially applied graduate psychology counseling courses. But I think it is safe to say that disability is not incorporated into classes on a campus wide basis.
Q. What are the differences between negotiating classroom accommodations and accommodations at work?
R. Securing accommodations as a faculty member has been more difficult than as a student. The atmosphere is much more competitive and resources more scarce, or at least the struggle for those resources is much more intense. Attitudinal barriers are much more prevalent, and I have encountered blunt resistance to accommodating my needs. I am continually justifying and educating as to why I need certain accommodations to do my job, e.g., continual upgrades of adaptive software. And, with technology changing so quickly I often have to justify the expense associated with these adaptations. Such self advocacy is difficult for individuals with disabilities. We have a lifetime of being socialized to keep disability on the “back burner.” We are socialized to not become angry and to be sort of cheerful over-comers. All this cheerfulness and absence of anger robs us of much energy that should be directed towards assertiveness. What happens is that we lack the necessary assertiveness to engage in effective self advocacy and fairly represent ourselves in accommodation related struggles.
Q. What advice would you have for other visually impaired people who wish to follow your career path?
R. Despite what I noted above, teaching can afford a good life and a worthwhile career. There is a lot of autonomy and academia can be a workable environment regarding disability because you have a lot of control over your own affairs, e.g., how you schedule your day, how you plan your lessons, and how you teach your classes. With this autonomy, you also have the time to plan and secure needed accommodations for yourself. There may well be a struggle for resources, but there is time to plan funding strategy. My best advice is to balance a need for advocacy with not becoming too cynical or disillusioned. It is all too easy to wind up as an unassertive person cowed by circumstances or an overly bitter individual.
Q. What do you enjoy doing during your spare time?
R. I enjoy swimming, listening to music, spending time with my wife, going to see movies and eating out and exercising. I also love to read and my favorite books tend to be adult non-fiction especially historical or political ones. Books I have read recently include All the King’s Men and Robert Kennedy.