First blind doctoral student graduates from Adventist seminaryMcAllister learned Hebrew by feeling letter shapes23 Aug 2010, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States
Keri Suarez/ANN staff
A decade after he embarked on doctoral studies, a blind student has graduated with a Ph.D in religion, marking the first time such a student has earned the degree from a Seventh-day Adventist theological seminary.
Ray McAllister is awarded a Ph.D in Religion from the Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on August 1. McAllister is the first blind student to graduate with the degree from a church-run seminary.
Ray McAllister, 35, who graduated this month from the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, was born with a degenerative eye condition. At age five, one eye was removed; at age 12, he lost sight in the other, resulting in complete blindness.
Before enrolling in doctoral studies, McAllister earned a bachelor's degree in Theology and a master's degree in Divinity.
McAllister's doctorate emphasis, Old Testament Exegesis and Theology, meant he faced intensive use of Hebrew, Greek, Cuneiform and other Biblical languages. The Society of Biblical Literature and the National Federation for the Blind speculate that McAllister may be the first blind doctoral student ever to tackle a degree so heavily dependent upon such languages.
While studying Cuneiform, McAllister's friend, Sally Ann Trottier, whom he later married, created the impressions of Cuneiform letters on note cards so he could feel and memorize them, much like Braille. Toy magnetic Hebrew letters helped him learn their shapes, and a Braille Hebrew bible let him read letters directly with his fingers. He scanned documents so his computer, equipped with a computer-generated voice, could "read" their contents to him.
When the Michigan Commission for the Blind learned of McAllister's efforts, the agency upgraded his laptop with a new voice as well as a Braille display.
Teaching classes -- mandatory for doctoral students -- posed additional challenges. In 2002, when he taught a summer intensive on the Old Testament, McAllister couldn't see his students raise their hands for questions. Using skills he'd learned as an amateur radio operator, he asked students to call out their names if they had a question or comment.
McAllister stored lecture notes in a talking laptop, to ensure he covered the right material. Once, he felt impressed to memorize the following day's lecture. When the next day his laptop keyboard quit working, McAllister lectured from memory.
Now that he has graduated, McAllister looks forward to finding a job. "I would like the opportunity to teach or in some way serve the blind community," he said. "If all else fails, I'll go to massage therapy school."Source: Adventist News Network