Networking is a key skill if you want to work in academia. It is so important, that The Academic’s Support Kit, an invaluable series of books for anyone wanting to work in the industry, has a whole book devoted to it – Building Networks – and I doubt very much that Boden, Epstein and Kenway are alone in thinking this way. Its a skill that needs to begin early – and as a deaf person, its a skill that I know I am lacking. [at least, in person. Online – I totally rock!]

With this in mind, I recently went to a postgraduate meeting. This, promoted as a series of seminars aimed at postgrads in my field at my university, with cake, tea, and an inevitable trip to the pub after, isn’t unusual in the academic world. It allows students, who often focus intently on their own little sphere, to keep tabs on work that is being done in the wider field; to discuss their work with their peers; to get help and feedback where necessary; and most of all, to make the contacts that in terms of their careers, will be invaluable. These are the people that I may be working with in future. Developing a good relationship with your peers is an absolute must for anyone who is serious about a career in academia.

I had, I will be honest, been avoiding this. I’d gone to the first, set up as part of the induction week and the university paid for an interpreter to come with me. I had a great chat with one chap about the focus of his MRes, and listened to the talks provided by the people who ran the group. So far, so good. Then came the bad news. SFE wouldn’t fund attendance at the seminars as part of my DSA, as its not a compulsory part of my studies. I can’t use any other source of funding for it, like Access to Work, as its not employment. The University can’t fund access to everything, and more to the point, this was strictly a voluntary thing. And there were bigger battles to fight: there was also the risk that DSA would not cover the various field trips that I needed to make throughout the year as part of my studies (in the end, the university agreed to fund those, thank god). So I let it lapse.

Then I got talking to one of my interpreters. She’d been a PhD student herself, in an unrelated field, and knows well the demands of academia, and is a trainee interpreter. When I mentioned this group to her, she offered to volunteer to interpret the sessions, as it would give her greater experience of working in a university setting. I lept at the chance, we agreed the time and date, and off we went.

We walked into the room where the session was being held to find just 5 people in there. We said hello, and then the people returned to their conversation. Fair enough, I thought, they were mid conversation when we walked in, and I talked to my interpreter instead. In sign language, which I think, in retrospect, was a mistake. Other people came in who were greeted and spoke to the group… and they all more or less continued to ignore me. They huddled in a little group at the other end of the room, and the only time anyone spoke to me was to offer me cake, or to respond to a direct question (I asked the speaker where he would be speaking from, and introduced myself and the interpreter – which is only good manners). The talk itself was interesting enough but I left feeling upset and disheartened by the attitude of the other attendees towards me, and wondering if I should persevere with this or just give up on it and find some other way to network.

I discussed it with my other half (who, I should add, isn’t deaf, wasn’t there, and isn’t an academic, but he is ferociously intelligent and occasionally comes out with smart stuff!). He listened sympathetically, let me rant about it for a bit [the words ‘clique’ and ‘bad mannered’ featured a lot, along with ‘disablist’ and ‘gonna write about this for BADD!’] and then simply pointed out: ‘did you say anything to them?’

‘um. well. no. but.. but… hearing! they’re supposed to be welcoming and stuff to new people!!’

Even I saw through the fallacy and stupidity of THAT one as soon as it left my mouth.

Yes, they are supposed to be welcoming but, ahhhh… give them a break. Yes, they made a mistake and they may well be kicking themselves for allowing me to walk out of there without saying anything to me. But seeing it from their perspective, I began to realise. Someone walks in, who they don’t really know, and they don’t know my needs, who I am, anything about me. I could be one of those incredibly touchy people who threatens to sue the entire world if anyone says anything that is even a tiny bit wrong (and yes, we all know they exist) so.. well.. can they really be blamed for taking the safer course? Am I not just as much to blame for continuing that status quo, not introducing myself (I am able to talk for myself, the interpreter is there to help out with communication coming in, not going out), not making my needs clear? Could I have done things better to try to ease their fears and help them to communicate with me?

In a world full of prejudice, regardless of whether you’re the one with an ‘ism’ or not, sometimes its all too easy to take the safe route and not say anything. I do that myself. Sometimes, when I don’t have communication support, its too easy, in group settings with new people, to take the easy route and not introduce myself, or to stand awkwardly and pray that sometime I do know talks to me. Sometimes I’m just tired and I don’t think I can be blamed for that. But if I can’t be blamed … then neither can they.

So. I’m going back to that group in a few weeks, with my interpreter. I’m going to email them ahead of time so they know I’m coming and who I am. Give them enough information so that they’ve got stuff they can ask me about. Bone up on the people who are in the group (the group’s on facebook as well) so that I have stuff I can ask them about. And then [this is one of those times where there’s a fantastic sign for it and the equivalent in English is a bit pathetic in comparison] … I gird my loins and step into the lion’s den.


Blogging Against Disabilism Day

bad01I’m going to kick off this blog with the announcement that I’m going to be blogging on 1st May 2015 as part of the tenth Blogging Against Disablism Day (the link won’t work just yet as it won’t appear till 1st May). If you’d like to take part, or just to see what it’s all about, then just comment on this post.

But I am also very aware that this is the first proper post, so… what’s this all about, why am I writing here, what’s the purpose of this blog?

As I said in the About Me page, I’m currently a postgraduate Masters degree student. My location and identity will remain anonymous – that’s a deliberate decision on my part. In a digital world that is so linkable and searchable, I may need, at some point, to be critical about the people I study with, my university (although I sincerely hope not) or other bodies that I have contact with. In order to avoid repercussions that anonymity is crucial. I’m working towards not only achieving a Master’s degree, but also obtaining funding for, and acceptance for, a doctoral degree, with the aim of going on to work as a lecturer and researcher in future. As anyone who has ever done this before will know, this career path is pretty tough, even more so in these days of austerity. To be doing so as a deaf student is even harder.

What do I intend to do with this blog? Well, the one thing it won’t be is a ‘woeeee is meee!’ blog. Yes, I’ll write about issues that I’ve faced and how I’ve dealt with them, but I also hope to be able to highlight best practice and give praise where praise is due. In short: I know I sometimes feel very alone, as a deaf student, surrounded by hearing people, most of whom have little understanding of the issues I face on a daily basis, and I want to reach out to people who DO understand, because they’re there, against the coal face, just as I am.

I’m sure I’m not alone in that: encouraging deaf people to talk via something like this I think could be crucial in making sure someone stays in education. I’d therefore really really like to be able to reach out to other deaf students. Although the primary focus will be on postgradute study, rather than undergraduate, I see this blog as being for all deaf students. I’m quite happy, in future, to open it up to being a group blog, if that becomes appropriate, or to post articles for other people. If you’ve got something to say: contact me! Subjects could be anything to do with university education and that is deaf linked; perhaps articles on how you worked well with a specific lecturer to overcome issues on a course, what you think is best practice, the accessibility practices at your uni, issues with DSA… it could be anything. The one area I’d rather not cover is with people’s personal lives. If you’re finding it difficult to get out there and socialise with hearing people, then I’d rather not cover that here because that’s not particularly unique to the student experience; non-students face it too. On the other hand, if you’re finding it difficult to mix with your classmates on, say, a field trip, on the coach, or you attend a voluntary postgraduate seminar in your subject and no-one talks to you, then that kind of thing, although not in the classroom, should definitely be covered. There are grey areas and I’m willing to be flexible – so if you feel strongly about something, get in touch with me, please.

As I also said in the ‘About’, I don’t want this blog to descend into arguments about deaf terminology. If this does open up into a group blog then different people will use different terms to describe their hearing loss, and I think personal choices on this should be respected. On the other hand what should also be respected is where people describe what works for them; it should be recognised by all (including writers) that what worked for them may not work for others. No one path fits all.

To contact me, email me on DeafStudentUK at gmail dot com. I look forward to hearing from you!