Remembering Professor Cochin

I saw this bit of craziness today, small potatoes for a day full of crazy but there it was:

Next thing I know I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of stupid… apparently this really is a thing, especially on TikTok — “if she was blind and deaf, how could she possibly learn to read and write?” It’s weird and a bit scary that people could be like this, but it’s also pretty laughable, especially since I had a blind and deaf professor in college.

I just Googled him, Professor Ira Cochin, and saw that he’d died only recently — his obituary says he passed away at 91 in 2016, but he already seemed a million years old back in the ’80s when I had him. (I was young.) According to the internet, he was a leading authority on optics and gyroscopes,and eventually became a professor. Years later he went blind, then a few years after that he lost his hearing. (If I remember right, he lost one eye in an accident, then eventually lost sight in the other from diabetes. I forget what caused the deafness.) Each time, he stepped back and reconfigured — this included a stint at the Helen Keller School for the Blind and Deaf — then kept on going.

He was not my favorite professor — he was irascible, and paranoid, and had a taste for annoyingly bad multilingual puns, but he also managed, better then most professors, to keep his classes engaged. He constantly solicited yes-or-no feedback by having us rap on our desks (which he felt in his shoes), he had invented a lot of devices to help the disabled handle various tasks, and he had assistants who communicated with him with a form of tactile sign language modified for blind people. Granted, he wasn’t disabled from birth like Helen Keller, but he was still pretty amazing. I still have his textbook on dynamics somewhere in the house.

So here’s to “Dr. Ira,” because nothing stopped him in this world.