American Association for the Advancement of Science
Roadmaps & Rampways


Metro chimes

One day, I was in the Cleveland Park Metro station, in Washington, DC, with our son, Mark. It was the middle of the morning, an off-hour at an uptown station, and the Metro car was practically empty. We sat down, the doors closed, and the train took off, when Mark asked me, "When the Metro door closes, does it play the first two notes of 'Swing low, sweet chariot'?"

I thought for an instant and answered, "I suppose so. I never thought about it before. How in the world did you know that?"And then we both started laughing, right out loud, and we laughed all the way to the next station at Woodley Park, because Mark is profoundly deaf. There is no way, even with hearing aids, that he could hear the chimes of the Metro.

"How did you figure that out?" I asked in amazement.

"Well," he answered, "for a long time after the Metro opened, I noticed that people jumped into the train in a certain way just before the doors closed. So once when I was going to the Air and Space Museum on the Mall with a friend from school, I asked her if there was a door signal, and what it sounded like. She said it sounded just like the first two notes of 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.' Then, on another ride, I was with quite a few friends who sang in the Chamber Chorus at school, so I asked some of them if they agreed. And after I had asked three or four different people, and they all agreed, I decided it must be true, and that's how I learned it."

So some day, if a reader of Roadmaps happens to be in the Washington Metro at a non-rush time, and you hear the closing door chime, you might imagine what it sounds like to you and recall how you learned things like that. And you might wonder how a student who is blind can understand the solar system or solve equations that have more than three sets of parentheses, or how a person who cannot walk or stand excels in physics when the lab bench is higher than the wheelchair. You might speculate on how a student who is deaf asks directions when she goes on a foreign exchange program, or why someone whose teachers regarded as stupid and lazy had the resilience and determination to earn advanced degrees in computer science.

Think about the Roadmaps students. They each learned in different ways - but they all got there.

Virginia Stern

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Additional Materials: The Roadmaps Game | Afterward | Students' Backgrounds | Assistive Technology | Notes on Disabilities | 1990s Profile of Students with Students in Higher Education | Acknowledgments | References


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