People who are blind have been working as academic scholars since ancient times, sometimes with the aid of scribes and readers and sometimes using modern technology. A student recently asked my opinion regarding the viability of a career in biblical studies for a person who is blind.
“A career in biblical studies” is a broad phrase. What, exactly, does that mean to the person who wants it? Does he/she want to teach about biblical hermeneutics? Teach biblical languages? Teach biblical backgrounds (e.g. socio/historical study of the Ancient Near East or Greco-Roman world? Dig around and become a biblical archeologist? Work with ancient manuscripts to sort out disparate interpretations of unclear texts?
Notice that one or two of those things may be problematic.
But not every biblical studies scholar is doing all of those things.
A career in biblical studies is quite viable for a person who is blind … Asuming that the person who is blind narrows the scope to a manageable meaning and has a more precise definition of what that looks like. A person who is blind can teach about the language and culture of the biblical world and the history of biblical interpretation. It would be very difficult for a person who is blind to work with biblical manuscripts, although some web sites that include digital images of manuscripts also include good descriptions and transcripts of the manuscripts.
With the idea that a career in biblical studies is viable, how does one get to it? There are some very practical things that can be done to make that career easier.
On the scholar’s end, it is helpful to obtain technology that supports access to biblical languages. On the university’s end, design courses that are fully accessible, and use textbooks that are available in a format that is accessible electronically or in braille. If your student takes languages from another university in order to study in an accessible format, honor the course credit.
Most importantly, honor your student’s accomplishments as you would the accomplishments of your other scholars. The careers of biblical scholars who are blind are hindered when undue emphasis is placed on the fact that a person has overcome a disability in order to study biblical languages. This places a barrier between the scholar who is blind and the rest of the community, destroying what the person has worked so hard to achieve.