Professor uses disability to find purpose, thrives during COVID-19

Chang-kyu Kwon used his disability to find purpose as an assistant professor at Oakland University in the Human Resource Department. He teaches introduction to HRD, fundamentals of human interaction, cultural diversity in the workplace and the internship course in HRD.

Kwon earned his doctorate at the University of Georgia, joining the OU faculty in 2019. 

“The reason I chose OU was because of its emphasis on diversity,” Kwon said. “During the interview process they asked me questions about diversity and how I’m going to incorporate that into my teaching.”

Kwon lost his eyesight when he was 16 years old. While playing soccer he was hit in the back of the head with a ball, the impact caused retinal detachment. He went through many surgeries, still his vision eventually faded away.

Ultimately, he found his calling as an educator during his studies. While working as a teaching assistant for his advisor during his third and fourth year at Georgia, Kwon became acutely aware of his passion for teaching.

“I am really grateful for the fact that I was able to find my purpose and passion in my life because of my disability,” Kwon said. “My life before disability, that’s kind of grey, because I really didn’t have a purpose. I really didn’t have a sense of why I’m living. It’s kind of ironic because I lost my sight, but [now I’m able to describe] my life as more vivid.”

When the pandemic hit last March, Kwon had to transition to teaching classes using Zoom. The transition was quick and unexpected. Kwon was familiar with Zoom and decided to look at the change from in-person to remote instruction as an opportunity to expand his teaching. 

Overall he felt the shift went smoothly. Still, Kwon has noticed virtual class has affected some aspects of teaching. 

“I am missing the opportunity to sense what’s going on in students’ minds,” Kwon said. “In person, that’s easier than in an online environment … you can not sense the spirit like energy in an online environment. That’s been hard.” 

Kwon has found his way as a professor by just being open with his students about his disability. This allows for him and his students to work together to achieve what is needed through the semester. Kwon simply asks for the communication that he needs, urging his students to be verbal with him throughout the semester.

Kwon does his work in Moodle and by sending emails, he uses a screen reader to examine texts and relies on audio readings to navigate through his computer.

“If I lost my sight 20-30 years ago, I don’t think I would have even studied like this at a graduate level,” Kwon said. “Because at that time there was no screen reader that translates visual information on the computer or screen or phone into speech.”

The programs that Kwon relies on for work are functional, but still not perfect. With the recent surge in remote technology, Kwon has noticed that awareness of necessary improvements has been increasing. He is hopeful technology will continue expanding so visually impaired people like him can find their passions and contribute as important members of their communities.