Time: how being deaf can affect your study time

Time just gets away...

Time just gets away…

As a student, particularly as a postgraduate, time is something you’re always fighting. This is particularly the case if you’re either a self-funded postgraduate or a part-time one, as there will be other demands on your time, such as paid employment.

Part of being a successful student (any student, not just a postgrad) is in learning how to manage your time successfully, so that you allow time to prepare for assignments and exams properly, do the background reading, do the research, and so on. There are plenty of resources out there on time management for students. Your university library should have a selection, there are online sites, and even “how to” books for students, such as the series of Study Skills books by Palgrave MacMillan will cover the subject within their wider subject title. There’s one on student procrastination – definitely one for me!

This blog post, therefore, isn’t about how to manage your time. I have no interest in re-inventing the wheel! What it is about is how being deaf can impact on your study time in two different ways, and what needs to be done about both.

Removal of potential sources and multitasking

These two are related, and touch on a very specific part of multitasking. I mean, of course, the radio, or any audio source of information. This problem was driven home to me not so long ago when I was catching up with general news one morning online, and I spotted a reference to a new report in a peer-reviewed journal with important implications for my field of study. The details of that aren’t relevant to this, but I excitedly downloaded the article through the university library, emailed my supervisor about it, and drove to uni to get on with my work for the day.

At uni, I ran into my supervisor, and I asked if he’d seen my email. He hadn’t checked his mail that day and asked what it was about, so I filled him in. “oh yes, I heard about that on the radio as I was driving here”. We proceeded to have a discussion about the article and its potential implications, but what was stuck at the back of my mind was that he was able to listen to the radio on his way to uni. He was able to put the time that was otherwise useless (from an academic perspective) to good use by listening to the radio and broadening his world-view.

This is something that most deaf people cannot do. Instead, we have to purposefully make time to read through a newspaper or an online website or watch a news programme with subtitles on the television. Either way, it is a purposeful, deliberate act that probably takes longer than it might take for the average programme to be read through on the radio.

More to the point, deaf people are unable to multitask in this way. Again, this was brought home to me not so long ago when I walked into the bedroom to find my partner changing the sheets as he listened to an audiobook. I cannot change the sheets while I read a book, or go for a run, or do the washing up, or drive to work – any of the million and one things that must be done on a daily grind, and where hearing people can use that time more productively. We cannot. Even more crucial: hearing people can have things like the radio on in the background and listen with half their attention on it, and then focus in when something of importance penetrates their consciousness. We cannot do that either. Instead, we have to purposefully read. We have to deliberately, purposefully, set time aside for reading that book, the newspaper, the online news site, the television programme with subtitles, and that takes time away from something else we might have done. But this is still important: any academic will tell you that keeping on top of developments in your general field is crucial, because you never know how something will impact on your field. To demonstrate, the article above that had potential implications for my field…? Was in a science related field and mine is most certainly a humanities field. Any academic will also tell you that keeping on top of current affairs is also important. Even if you are in a field that has little to do with current affairs, no academic can afford to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the world around them. The days of being able to lock oneself away in the ivory tower of academia are long gone.

So what is to be done? Sadly, there isn’t a great deal that can be done about this. The best thing is to make sure that you use technology sensibly to aid you. How you do that exactly is very much up to you and your own particular situation but, for example, if you take the bus to uni, and you have a smart phone, reading a news app on the journey may be one way of using that time more productively. There is also the ability to set up automatic searches for things of interest to you and your field on the internet, when new articles are published that could be of interest to you, and so on. You can schedule time to go through specific things. I schedule time first thing in the morning, at lunch and in the evening, to scroll through the BBC news website, and read what I want to. I also schedule time on a Saturday or a Sunday morning to read through more intensive sites such as educational blogs, and the Guardian Higher Education Network. Experiment and find what works for you. If you have things that you do to overcome this, please feel free to comment and I will happily add to this blog entry.


The other thing that takes you away from your studies, and that your hearing compatriots largely do not have to contend with (unless they are disabled in other ways), is administration. I don’t mean here your garden variety admin – everyone has to do that, like it or not. I mean here, dealing with the admin that comes with external funding bodies like SFE for DSA (if you have it) and booking your support team.

I plan to write more in-depth blogs about both support teams and funding support at a later date, but suffice it to say for now that there is always the need to sort out the administration around this. As a case in point: at the moment, I am involved in sorting out not only the administration surrounding payment of my interpreters and note takers from the last academic year’s worth of classes (paid for by DSA), additional support for extra seminars and a postgraduate conference (paid for by the University), and interpreting support for some paid assistant teaching work that I did for the university, teaching undergraduates (paid for by Access to Work). Three very different sets of administration driven by three different sets of bureaucratic regulations. And it all takes time. A lot of it!

What I can suggest is the following:

1) Organisation is absolutely key. Get different files for each set of admin and make sure everything is neatly labelled and that you have copies of everything. Record who does what, when, where and for how long. Print emails if necessary. Assume that can go wrong, will go wrong, and have a fallback plan!

2) Draw up a contact database – on your phone, in your head, in a little black book, whatever works – of people who you know you can work with, and more importantly, who you cannot work with. I’ve only ever found one interpreter I could not work with but you need to keep a note of names of people who you don’t want interpreting for you, for whatever reason. This way, if you need a support person in a hurry, you have a range of people you can contact in the hope that they may be free. Don’t leave it to your local accessability unit at the university because it robs you of the control that you gain through making these contacts [not to mention the potential problems that can result when another layer is introduced for arranging appointments!]

3) Develop those contacts and maintain good working relationships with them. This is crucial, if, for example, there is a problem with the paperwork and you disagree over hours or a timesheet has been lost or something like that.

4) In developing good contacts, don’t forget to develop good contacts with university staff as well. Many universities and colleges will not announce the timetabling for the upcoming term/semester until immediately before the term is about to begin, at least in England. Maintaining good relationships with staff means the chances are higher that you’ll get your mitts on that coveted sheet of paper telling you when you need to be where, and you can get a head start on organising your support requirements. And I don’t just mean lecturers and the like here. Actually, although you need to be nice to lecturers anyway, I think for this, it is far better to develop good relationships with admin staff. They are so often unappreciated – by staff, by students. Don’t add to that, and in the immortal words of Wil Wheaton, don’t be a dick. Finally, remember, the carrot works far far better than the stick!!

If you can think of any other way that your deafness impacts on your time as a student, and the solutions that you’ve come up with to address these issues, please feel free to either drop me a line at deafstudentuk at gmail dot com, or leave a comment here. In addition, if you’re interested in writing for the blog, please let me know!!

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  1. Elena

     /  19/07/2015

    Thanks for this. One thing you haven’t mentioned that I found as a student was extra study time to mooned ate for stuff you might have missed in lectures or tutes. As a student, I had notetakers of variable quality, and no sign language interpreters. So I went to lectures but before and after I read, and read and read ! Doing aw and liberal arts joint degree let me assure you this meant a LOT of reading! My brother used to sit through a whole day of medical lectures, then go home and rewrite the whole days notes again the way *he* wanted to write them (and colour code them!). So yeah, it as a lot of work that most of our hearing peers never had to do. But you know what? It meant we did really well, and got honors grades rather than just passes. Got us a lot of respect from lecturers and classmates alike. 🙂


    • Hi Elena! Thanks for taking the time to answer to me. I think the necessity of studying extra before and after lectures/tutorials/seminars may be – to a certain extent – subject specific. I found that I rarely had to do prep work beforehand any more than any other *diligent* student. One of my tutors once said we should be doing an hour’s prep for every hour of contact time, and I found that this was sufficient for me to be able to be involved in the session, and to keep up with the material. Afterwards, I would sometimes need to check up on things that had been said, that I went “huh?” to, or names that had been mentioned that the notetakers wrote down wrongly. But I tended to be very self driven, reading around my subject, taking assignments and sessions and using them to drive my reading, and that more than compensated for anything that I might’ve missed in classes. The one area that wouldn’t have worked for is the admin – notifications of extra classes, info about assignments, etc. etc. I found that by being extra diligent in reading through the university handbook, checking on blackboard, etc., and reading all the admin stuff got me through most of it, and my ‘terp/notetaker would make extra careful notes/translation on this kind of thing as they knew it would be important. Got to the point where I’d be the go-to person on the course when anyone wasn’t sure about something related to how an assignment should be done or referencing questions, etc. 🙂

      For me, I found that my notes were most useful for checking on names of books or academics that I could chase up on the subjects, or for exam revision. I freely admit that by the second semester of the second year, I had found and insisted on using, notetakers of GOOD quality, as well as interpreters for seminars (I didn’t have them for lectures, but that was my choice not to have them). I think I’ve written elsewhere about how best to build and use a support team. Its a shame that you didn’t have interpreters for seminars, but you are right about doing well – and I know that most of my teachers really appreciated me. I once had a class on the final day of the semester, right at the end of the day, before christmas. There was just 3 of us in the final session, not including my ‘terp/notetaker – everyone else had bunked off – and my tutor walked in, and said, “ah, I knew you’d be here – its so reassuring to know you’ll have at least ONE student in your class!”. Mature students are often very appreciated by lecturers and university staff because they take their studies far more seriously than some 18 year olds straight from school, often because its been a conscious decision to return to university, rather than the automatic progression that it seems to be for many 18 year olds. They approach studies differently too – appreciate the chance that they’ve been given, and are less focused on their social lives. I think that in some cases disabled students are appreciated in the same way, and if they’re not, they should be. 🙂


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