It is a typical day of class: you roll out of bed just in time to make that 9:10, find a desk in the crowded classroom and take notes as you listen to your professor lecture on microeconomics. But if you are in Professor Curtis Taylor's economics class, one thing is not so typical-he cannot see you.
Taylor, who joined the Department of Economics this fall, was born with a progressive degenerative eye disease that left him with only half of his sight by age two and blind by age 20. But this has not stopped Taylor from earning a doctorate in economics from Yale, serving as an associate editor of the American Economic Review and pursuing multiple research projects in the field of economics, all while sharing his time and knowledge with students in the classroom.
Taylor explained that as a child, he attended a "normal" school with a special resource room. He was then "mainstreamed" into the same classes as other kids his age.
As for his time at Yale, Taylor said the school did not have to make too many special adjustments for him. He noted, however, that he was provided fellow students who were paid to read texts out loud to him.
For students in Taylor's microeconomics class, things are not much different than any other class they have. He types up his notes for the students in advance and then uses an overhead projector while lecturing each class.
Chatting with Taylor in his office amid Braille text and Braille typing machines, things do not seem any different than they do while speaking with a sighted professor. Aside from the fact that others may be interrupted by his talking computer, by which he reads and sends e-mail, office hours with Taylor proceed just as they typically would.
Students agree that this class runs, for the most part, like any other economics class they have taken. "The only difference is you can't simply raise your hand in class, but if you shout out your question, he'll answer it just the same," junior Todd Malosh said.
Taylor seems a bit frustrated by his inability to use some regular classroom tools such as a chalkboard, though. "I'd love to be able to write on the board," Taylor said. "I wish I could do a little more interactive teaching, but I try to make up for this by fielding many questions in class."
Taking questions from students also helps Taylor learn who each student is. Usually by the end of the semester, Taylor can match his students with their voices.
Matching names to voices is a lengthier process than matching names to faces, and Taylor admits this can be an advantage for his students. "One appealing thing for my students is that for about the first half of the semester, they can ask stupid questions... with a bit of a sense of anonymity," Taylor joked.
And there are other benefits to being in a classroom setting with a professor who is not quite like every other. "I think it's valuable for people in general to see disabled folks functioning socially [just like everyone else]," Taylor said.
However, colleagues agree that Taylor is not simply unique because of his disability, but because he is distinguished as a person and as a senior economics theorist.
"He's an extremely nice person... who is engaged and interested [in the economics department]... and amazingly polished in presenting his work," Professor of Economics Daniel Graham said. "[Students benefit from his teaching] in the same way they would benefit from any professor who has a gift for teaching."
Taylor hopes his unique situation brings something extra to the classroom by giving his students not simply lessons in economics, but also lessons in life.
And speaking with his students, it seems Taylor shows them a little something extra.
"It's only been three weeks, but as far as I know... because of his situation, in order to present himself the same way as other professors, he has to put a lot of time and effort into class, and I think he definitely does this," sophomore Jane Huang said. "He's a very devoted teacher."
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