"I was born hearing and had a hearing upbringing. I became deaf over a period of about five years through a head trauma. I’ve now got a severe hearing loss. I’m lucky enough to have learnt sign language as I started to realise I had some hearing loss."
The road to university
"Two years ago, I decided that I wanted to go to university. Growing up, it never interested me. I had a job and a steady income from the moment I finished my GCSEs. I never thought I would need a degree. Going deaf changed that.
I was applying for job after job and not even getting any interviews. One of the companies told me it was because I was not educated to degree level. It meant that I wasn’t even getting through the screening process. Despite my knowledge and experience, it was that one thing holding me back. The pessimist within me thinks that my deafness was a contributing factor."
Deciding to enrol
"I attended the first open day at university and looked around. They had booked me an interpreter, so I knew that I’d get all the information I needed. I also met lecturers from the course I was interested in. It sparked interest within me. I decided I was going to apply to enrol on one of their courses. I was excited. They told me that I would be supported throughout my university journey. They sold it to me and I applied."
Prior to beginning, I had a meeting with lecturers to go through the options of the course modules and applied for Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA). It was a very straightforward process, during which I was approved for BSL interpreter support as well as note takers. Everything was going great. I couldn’t wait to start."
Questioning my decision
"As the start date approached, I kept checking for my 'welcome week' timetable so that the BSL interpretation team could ensure that there was an interpreter available. I kept them updated with any changes that I noticed, not realising that as a foundation year student my 'welcome week' timetable would be different to the others.
At 4pm on the Friday before the start day, I got an email with a completely different timetable. I emailed back and asked if they had organised the interpreters. I didn’t get a response so I called them via Next Generation Text Service (NGTS). The person I needed to speak to wasn’t available so I asked them to check if interpreters had been booked… and they hadn’t. I hung up and straight away emailed the interpreting team with my new timetable. Luckily, one of them was still there and was able to arrange cover for the Monday morning. It was at this point that I was beginning to worry that I’d made the wrong decision."
University life and its challenges
"Fast forward two weeks.. The Student Union had arranged a conference which would be held a week later and advertised it on Facebook. As I’d only just joined, I obviously hadn’t seen any publicity so I asked them to arrange an interpreter. They said they would look into it and I crossed my fingers. A couple of days later, I asked the interpretation team if they had found cover and they had no idea what I was going on about. Needless to say, the Student Union passed the request off to someone and never actually followed through with it. It was only when I started asking what was going on did they try to arrange cover. The request went out a couple of days before the event, which was obviously too short notice to arrange. I never got to the conference.
During the course, we were expected to watch various videos within the lectures and also during self-study. Time and time again, they were either not subtitled or had poor quality automatic captions from YouTube. There were literally TWO lecturers out of six that took my accessibility needs into consideration. The first one had produced transcripts from audio pieces and had subtitles on the videos used. The second lecturer swapped course content with alternatives that had subtitles. I was beginning to feel like I’d been sold a car that was missing a wheel.
Things reached their worst point for me when I went into a two hour lecture and the lecturer started an 80 minute film. It had NO subtitles at all. They’d made the assumption that it had subtitles, instead of actually checking. I tried to watch it, but couldn’t make head nor tail of the film. I watched about 30 minutes and left the room, I felt pretty upset to be honest. I say upset, I mean depressed.. totally depressed. I was missing out on joining in with all my peers because of my ears – I’d been let down through something I had no control over… my disability. I wanted to throw myself over the balcony… it had become too much."
"People don’t seem to understand that our disability is something that controls us… and that it can be really really depressing having to keep fighting just to be able to join in. It’s so tiring having to keep on banging the disability drum. Despite being told this was one of the best universities when it came to access, I began wondering what the worst could have been. I’d had enough. It was at this point I started writing down how I was feeling and how I was being treated differently to those that weren’t disabled. I was being discriminated against.
It lead to me write a post titled, 'How universities are failing their d/Deaf students'. A couple of weeks later, I published a video and blog post called, 'The importance of subtitles in education'. After both of these stories went public, alongside my deaf awareness images, the university finally started making things right. I’ve had meetings, emails etc, and have assurances that all the content next year on my course will be subtitled."
"Despite all the barriers put in my way, I did really well in my foundation year. I created a short video piece which has been selected for inclusion in the TSWY International Film Festival being held in Los Angeles in September. I was awarded the 'School Prize for the Most Outstanding Student for Foundation Media Courses Awarded for the Best Overall Performance', which I am really proud of (and yes, that is how it’s worded on the certificate). I also achieved very high marks for my foundation year – with all of my subject average marks being over 70%.
Just because our ears don’t work, doesn’t mean we should accept second best. Nor should we make do with not having things like accurate subtitles. We are paying the same as everyone else; so should be able to participate the same."
Louder than Words™ accreditation for universities
Is your university compliant with the Equality Act 2010 which champions accessibility, inclusion and equality for disabled people, including those who are deaf or have hearing loss?
As Dean's story has shown, students with hearing loss can experience communication barriers at university, leading to isolation and exclusion. With the Louder than Words™ charter mark, you can help to prevent this from happening.
Louder than Words™ is a nationally recognised accreditation for organisations striving to offer excellent levels of service and accessibility for people who are deaf or have a hearing loss. Our Louder than Words™ Accredited Partners are listed here.
Gaining the Louder than Words™ charter mark will help your university to deliver inclusive and accessible education for all.
Find out more
For more information or to request a benchmark or audit, please contact our Access Solutions team.
Telephone: 0333 240 5658 (calls welcome using Next Generation Text)