Texas student with health problems uses robotic proxy to attend class

Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Staff Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Staff

In a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, socially awkward genius Sheldon Cooper decides never to leave his bedroom, instead opting to interact with the world via a cobbled-together robot that can send and receive video. At the same time audiences were laughing at Sheldon, a real version of his robot was changing Lyndon Baty’s life. Baty, a high-school first year from Knox City Independent School District in Texas, has a weak immune system, which makes it nearly impossible for him to attend school or engage in other social activities.

With the help of VGO, a mobile robot that also has audiovisual recording and playback capabilities, Baty has, for the first time, been able to attend class with other students. Assistive learning technologies like VGO can fundamentally change students’ lives, and educators everywhere should consider them an essential investment.

While we applaud the administrators at Knox City, where Baty remotely attends classes, we also recognize our own university for its dedication to educating students regardless of their physical location.

The office of Equal Opportunity Services at Carnegie Mellon does a good job of giving students access to lecture and class materials in spite of any disabilities they might have. While it is true that many of these actions are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the university gives students and faculty a wealth of options beyond those required. Many professors post their lecture notes online to begin with, and students who are unable to attend class due to illness or disability can view video recordings of lectures. The Open Learning Initiative reflects a dedication to education as it provides free instructional materials for students. The Helix in the Gates Center was designed in part to allow wheelchairs to go from the Cut all the way to the Collaborative Innovation Center without needing to use an elevator.

As students, we often take for granted the option to choose to attend lectures or read notes online. Whether it is through online recordings of lectures or robots with live communication, we hope that Carnegie Mellon and other universities continue to make education a top priority, regardless of the physical disabilities of their students.