Jealousy

As a deaf person, particularly as a deaf person that was subject to people putting them down at various episodes of my life, its difficult sometimes to see jealousy. I mean, jealousy that I’ve got a nice house or a nice partner, yeah, thats fairly straightforward, and not really what I’m talking about here: what I’m discussing here is a form of professional jealousy. Some people have a very specific form of  professional jealousy that can be quite difficult to pin down, as the emotions engendered tend to result in them behaving slightly differently to the usual behaviour triggered by straightforward jealousy.

When you work with hearing people, a wide range of them, who are on their own journeys and who may be at different stages in those journeys to you, one problem that you may come across is that they can be jealous of your capabilities. This is particularly the case if you’re achieving on the same level as hearing people, just as well – or better than – them. The thinking may go something along the lines of “my god, look at them. They achieved XYZ, and they’re deaf, and look at me, my ears work, I’ve nothing wrong with me, and they’re better than me”. Sometimes this may not even be this clearly thought out, sometimes its just an unconscious, ugly, angry emotion that they feel when they see you and they don’t quite know how to handle it. It can result in behaviour that is geared, in a very subtle way, sometimes, towards trying to bring YOU down, because if they do that, then they feel better as a result. A lot of negativity, discouragement, anything to get you to be worse than them, to stop you being better than them ‘despite’ your deafness¹. An example might be, when you’re waiting for a specific result, getting all kinds of snide, negative comments instead of hopeful, supportive ones. The difference between constant rephrasings of ‘so many people apply, be prepared to be rejected’ and ‘Good luck! I’m sure you’ll succeed, but have you got a back up plan if you don’t?’ and then not mentioning the backup plan again once you confirm that you have one. You can see the difference.

[Sometimes it can result in even more aggressive, angry behaviour, although within an educational or professional setting, this should certainly be the point where other people (such as Human Resources) are turned to. If you’re at this stage, don’t go with the suggestions in this article, DO get the appropriate authorities involved.]

So… what to do when you’re confronted with this kind of behaviour?

Much depends on how close this person is to you. If they’re just a classmate who you can easily avoid outside of the classroom, then problem solved, just avoid their company and refuse to take the more negative comments on board (which is easy enough, once you understand what’s behind them). Blocking them on social media is another option, if you find that many of their comments are coming through that way, particularly if you find yourself getting angry with them – why waste the effort in being angry? Block them and have done with it (and there are even different levels of blocking, if you’re worried about them seeing that you’ve blocked them or defriended or whatever, some of which won’t be visible to them).

But if they’re someone who you genuinely like, admire, who you’d otherwise like to spend time with, or someone who you have to spend time with for work purposes, regardless of choice, then what? This can be particularly tricky if the jealousy is appearing in someone who seems to swing between the jealousy and admiration. I have a friend like that; she openly admires the work I do, is friendly and wants to spend time with me, but every so often, she comes out with these terribly negative comments. They picked up in intensity before the PhD result came through, which is what first clued me in. I like her, mostly, when she thinks consciously about it, she’s very supportive about my work, she read through my PhD application and made a number of very useful suggestions, for example. Its just these little snide asides. I noticed the other day, that I was starting to unconsciously avoid her, or get a sinking feeling when I saw them coming towards me, which is a shame. So. What to do?

The way I see it, I have a couple of choices:

  1. Talk to her about it. I wouldn’t phrase it as ‘jealousy’, or even in the terms that I’ve used here. Maybe something like ‘I’ve noticed you don’t seem terribly happy about XYZ. Do you want to talk about it?’ may be good. This is particularly the case where you don’t think they’re even aware of it, bringing it out into the open like this may well work, particularly if they’re a friend that you think you can talk to on this level. On the other hand, it can spectacularly backfire, so be very very careful if you decide to take this path.
  2. Ignore it and wait for them to get past it. It may be that you don’t feel able to talk to the person on the first level, or it just isn’t possible because of institutional relationship rules (e.g. they’re your supervisor). Gritting teeth and just ploughing through is the tactic here.
  3. It may be that deliberately mentioning things that you struggle with would work. Such as, if you’re struggling with a piece of work or with networking or something. You certainly don’t have to do this; arguably, this is a bad move, as in, you’re not giving them the chance to grow and to account for their own emotions. You’re certainly not responsible for theirs, or anyone else’s personal growth (or lack of it). But if on the other hand, you do a little diplomatic fumbling with something, or show yourself as being NOT the super-capable-super-student that they think you are, it might just make your life a bit easier. And I don’t think anyone would blame you for that. I know I wouldn’t. Along the same lines, taking the time to praise them for things that they do, particularly if they’re doing it better than you, is another good tactic to use.

In my own situation, I think I may well be adopting a combination of 1 and 2. give 2 a chance for a while, and if it continues, move to talking to her about it. But either way, I doubt that this is the last time it will arise. And I do wonder, if sometimes this happens far more than I’d previously realised. I blogged last year about feeling very excluded at a postgraduate meeting, how many people there didn’t speak to me at all. Whats interesting is that those people, over the last year, as I’ve persisted in attending these meetings and other postgraduate events, have split into two groups. One group are those that have made an effort to engage with me on one level or another (e.g. find out what my research is, who I am), even if its only on a very minimal level and they’re keeping it strictly professional. I certainly am not deluded enough to think that everyone should be my friend! The other group are those who have just ignored me. Other than polite hello, goodbye, and so on, they’ve made no effort to talk with me, even when I’ve tried to strike up a conversation. There’s not many in that group (I would say, perhaps 3 or 4 now) but still, it was enough to make me wonder why, when they didn’t really know me at all. This kind of jealousy may well provide an answer to at least one or two people’s behaviour there.

I do think that ultimately, this kind of jealousy is a kind of backhanded compliment. Jealousy – of all kinds – is something that everyone has to learn to deal with, both in other people and in themselves, and in education as well as in the workplace, particularly if you’re suceeding, and doing so better than your hearing colleagues. There are quite a few articles out there about professional jealousy in both education and the wider workplace (which this is a form of). If you find that this article doesn’t quite offer the solution to your situation, then maybe try to adapt what others have suggested. And remember, if the jealousy gets out of hand, get others involved (authorities, not your friends), and document everything you can.

Further information: Jealousy in PhD Cohort / Addressing Envy in Grad School / Overcoming Jealousy in the Workplace / Seven Tips for dealing with a jealous co-worker

¹ And by the way, I do think this problem isn’t unique to deafness; people with other disabilities, or even other factors that can hold them back, can experience the same thing.

Resurrection

Its been ages since I wrote. Last October… good lord. has it really been that long? Well… a lot has happened around here. Things got busy in October: PhD application writing kicked in; I had conference papers and talks to present; and then flu hit. Yay. It went downhill from there, a christmas break that wasn’t (a break), and its just been a case of placing one foot in front of another since then. It wasn’t till a conversation with a friend on a subject ended with “you know, you really ought to blog this on DeafStudent” that I realised I’d not blogged here in absolutely ages. But more of that in a moment: now is about updating.

First of all – NEWS!! The exciting bit: I got the PhD funding I applied for. Which is really excellent news cos it’s really … really competitive funding to get, it marks me out as someone to watch in future. Its not just about the money – although the money is very nice (tutition fees plus living costs, and fairly substantial living costs too, around £15k per year) – its also about the opportunities that are included in the programme. I can’t go into details, cos, you know, that pesky anonymity thing, but suffice it to say that these opportunities allow me to build on my PhD, to contribute extra to my CV, and which make me that much more employable in the years immediately after my PhD. It’s also marked a change, since I got the news, of feeling more assured about myself, and happier because my immediate future is more settled. I know that come October I will have a regular paycheque and what I will be doing, what i will be studying, who with, and where. That kind of stability is, for me, immensely reassuring and makes me feel much happier.

What else? When I last wrote, I was about to deliver a series of talks. I’d done one, and was about to do a conference paper. The conference paper went well, I had a couple of questions, and did some useful networking with people. Networking is something I can and do struggle with, but I seem to have gotten a much better handle on it recently (and I might well do a proper blog post on that). The second hour long talk didn’t happen. I was very annoyed about that, I came down with flu to the point where I couldn’t even drive, much less stand for an hour and talk (and I do mean flu, not a cold). I hated cancelling but it had to be done. That one is rescheduled for later this year. The first hour long talk that I did, that I blogged about last October, was such a success and had so many enquiries for a repeat showing, that I was booked to do a second which I did a few weeks after the flu, rather croakily. It wasn’t as good, mostly because I still wasn’t 100% and the passion that drove the first was a bit more muted. But I hope they still enjoyed it – I’m booked to give another talk in September to the same group on a different subject, which I call a success!

The PhD application: I had an awful lot of support from my supervisors, but I also bounced the application to just about every academic I knew, even the ones that do not have any academic knowledge on my subject. This was quite deliberate: the people who choose from the applications, while academics themselves (or working on a similar level) are not necessarily academics in my particular subject, let alone my specific field. The application had to be detailed, within a certain (very frustratingly, very limited) word count, but had to be understandable enough that those outside my subject could cope. Bouncing the application round to everyone but the college porter achieved that. I also re-wrote. A LOT. I think my application went through 19 drafts before I actually hit send. I paid attention to what the programme managers said they wanted in successful applicants, and made a concerted effort to give it to them. Again, I can’t comment on what those specifics were, but I’m quite sure it helped in the box ticking. When the panel receives 10 applications for every post that’s available, you have to think in those terms to get you through the early stages. What do they want – A, B, C. Do I have them? Yes, no, what can compensate…? that sort of thing. A similar process dictates academic research funding, so .. get used to it now, was the advice given to me.

One thing that I am sure people reading this will wonder: did I disclose my deafness? Yes. A part of the form detailed the allowances that they would need to make for any kind of disability. Although this would have been removed from the form before the panel read it, before it got to panel stage, it had to be approved by the university to which I was applying: of all their applications, a set number got put through to the final approving panel, so the university was interested in approving the applications that they thought had the best chance of succeeding. The university I’ll be studying with is the same one that I’ve been with for the last five years so they were well aware that I’m deaf, and even if they didn’t know, they would’ve been aware cos I brought an interpreter along with me to the interview (more about that in a minute). In the event, I don’t think it made one iota of difference. Universities are so careful about that sort of thing these days that they’d be stupid to even try to be prejudiced or biased on the basis of disability.

Interview: As I said before, I took along my interpreter. That person was someone I’ve worked with extensively before. This was not the time to experiment with new people! The university was good in making accommodations to ensure that the interpreter could be there (they arranged the time and date well before anyone else’s, knowing that interpreters get booked up quickly, for example). That was the only advantage that they gave me; everyone who applied was interviewed (and told that the interviews would be held week commencing XYZ), so even knowing further in advance than anyone else when exactly my appointment would be did not gain me that much. The interview lasted about half an hour, I was asked some very pointed questions but I didn’t let it ruffle me, just answered to the best of my ability. They asked me if I had any questions. I’m quite sure that they thought that a formality – I soon showed otherwise. I can’t detail the questions I asked them here, but two of the questions put my interviewers on the spot, and gave me useful knowledge on how to handle my PhD. In other words: I saw my interview as an opportunity to gain knowledge as well as to impress them, and I think that may have made more of an impression than anything else.

The time between interview and the result was horrible. I tried to put it out of my mind as best I could, not helped by people asking me if I’d heard anything. Annoyingly, the interpreters were the worst for this! I’d see one particular interpreter for a class on a weekly basis and every week they’d ask if I’d heard anything, even though I told them the week before that the result would not be until X date. Argh! The day the result came through though was a very special one, as can be imagined.

In the last month or so, I’ve delivered two more conference papers and attended the introductory day for my PhD programme. All three required a lot of networking, which is why I think I’ve improved – one of the conferences was at my home institution so I knew most people already, but the other was at a new (to me) university and it showed beyond doubt that I can now at least go up and talk to unknown people about their papers, even if I’ve still got a way to go with networking. I’ll give more tips in another blog post, but I definetly punched the air on the way out of that one!

So, what next?

Well, I’ve an MA to finish off, which is what I’ll be doing over the summer. In October, the PhD begins; I’ll have access to a form of Disabled Student’s Allowance (not run by Students Finance England, thankfully, but by the Research Council responsible for my funding) which will help to cover costs for any communication support I need through my PhD. I don’t forsee a problem occurring, if I’m honest: it would be counterproductive, and I’ve been assured by both the head of the section dealing with the programme at the Uni and the head of the entire programme (‘The Big Cheese’, as my supervisor put it) that my deafness is a non-issue and that they’ll do all they can to keep it that way. I’ve been offered a place teaching on an undergraduate module next September already; although I’ve been doing some teaching in the last two years, that was fairly limited as I was working on a computer module, where the students had a workbook that they had to go through to complete the module – I was on hand to answer questions and sort out the inevitable screen freezes and blue screen of death. What I’ll be doing next year is a step up from that, encouraging online discussion amongst new undergraduates on my subject and hopefully fostering a love for the subject. Well… one can hope. So that’s exciting. There is also definitely the opportunity to teach tutorials during my PhD programme, although I’m not sure when (they may try to restrict it to the second and third years). It all adds up for the CV, which is good.

All I really have to do right now is finish my MA dissertation. I have the marks, apart from the MA dissertation to achieve a distinction, so naturally, that’s what I want to achieve. There’s also a prize for the best dissertation, so I’m aiming for that as well (and then I’m going to try to get articles out of it as well. Waste not, want not).

It’s going to be a fun summer…!!

public speaking

Its been more than two months since I wrote, and… holy moly! Its been an amazing two months – incredibly busy and it almost feels like today is the first chance I’ve had to breathe and reflect on what’s been going on.

Of course, I can’t share all of it, but here’s a bit of it….:

  • Finding funding that has allowed me to complete the second year of my MA – both tuition and living costs. In mid-August I was seriously concerned about being able to eat, never mind find tuition fees, and I feared losing all chance of doing the course I love, and the career I so desperately want. That threat has been lifted and the surge of joy and productivity that has come as a result has been amazing.
  • I now have the chance to pull together a PhD proposal and apply for some really important funding. It’s very competitive, but if I get it (and I’m in with a good chance), then I would get not only my tutition fees but a stipend paid for living costs, a pretty generous one as these things go, AND all my communication support costs would be paid by the same organisation. They have a meeting soonish on applying for the funding, for which I’ll need communication support and so far their attitude has been “who do you normally use? okay. fine. leave it with me”. Fantastic! Even the head of the funding has been quick to assure my supervisor-to-be that my deafness will make no difference whatsoever to my application. 🙂
  • Because I’m a part time student, my MA dissertation would not normally be due until January 2017. However, because I’m applying for full-time PhD funding, I need to hand in my MA dissertation early, or I’d be in a position where I’d be doing my MA dissertation and my PhD research at the same time. Now, since they’re on related subjects that’s not as difficult as it might otherwise be, but certainly not a situation I particularly want. So the uni have recommended that I hand in my MA dissertation early. Like, July 2016 instead. errrrrrrrrrrrrrk!
  • As a result of all this I now have three research projects on the go: my PhD proposal, my MA dissertation, and a project for the module that I’m now doing. Keeping all these bits of information in the right place – both in my head and organisationally – is challenging!!
  • I am also engaged in volunteer research, and if that wasn’t enough, have signed up to be a course rep this year for my course. I’m nuts, I know I am.

I am also in the course of delivering various public talks on my subject. Now, as a would-be academic, this is something I have to get used to, but still, the prospect of jumping from a 4 minute long talk (my longest talk before this) to a group of historians that came about as part of my voluntary research, or the 5 minute long talk that I had to do as part of my undergrad degree, to a full hour long talk to the general public, rather than university people and friends was rather daunting. I also knew it had to be done – a key part of the PhD funding that I’m applying for involves Impact and Public Engagement (deliberate emphasis), so you have to get comfortable with working with strangers, and standing up and getting passionate about your subject.

So, when I was asked to deliver this talk to the general public, with tickets being sold for it, I was understandably nervous. Not just for the usual reasons either – would they understand me? would I stumble over words and make an idiot of myself? And then, to make matters worse, some kind person gifted me with a cold the week before I was due to deliver this talk. ARGGH!

In the event the talk went well. I worked with a hearing friend who advised with the words – I had no microphone, and was worried about reaching the back of the room (especially given my cold), but they advised me to focus on enuciation rather than projection, and it worked really well. I also took example from a former tutor of mine, who had no fear of silence – he would happily stand in front of the class, lost in thought, for 30 seconds to a minute, making sure he’d said everything he had to say before moving on. I built silences into my talk, used them to drive a sense of suspense as I told my story. People laughed in the right places. They didn’t elsewhere (i.e. they were laughing with me, not at me). I even worked the rugby into it! I had many… MANY compliments afterwards, and the biggest one of all? I’ve been asked to redeliver the talk, probably next year, at a much larger venue, that can probably hold a hundred people or so. So, bigger advertising. bigger ticket sales. not that I’ll see any of that, but .. having your name plastered around town… oh dear. oh deary me. how’s THAT for nerves?

My supervisor also asked me to deliver a paper at a postgraduate conference, which is coming up in the next few weeks. There’s been some difficulties over communication support for that conference, with my initial request for interpreters being denied. However, this seems to have been sorted out now, and interpreters are booked. Its my first time delivering a paper at a conference, and only my second conference altogether, so there’s a steep learning curve ahead for me. That paper is now largely written so its just practice and tweaking now.

I’ve a third talk to deliver, a few weeks after the conference, at the AGM of a society that deals with my subject, so a fairly prestigious location, and organisation. This is being delivered to a group of people who know a lot about my general subject, although the subject of the talk itself is original, so if anyone is going to pick it to pieces, it’ll be them.

[One thing I do want to note is that although I can’t reveal the specific subject here, I can tell you that all three of these presentations are actually discussing exactly the same research subject. What this means is that I’ve had to re-write each talk to deliver a different emphasis. The general public talk has had to include a lot of background information so that they understand the import of my orginal research. The conference paper has far less in the way of background info, but more in the way of showing the gap in the research, and what my analysis has done to fill it. The final talk, to the society, focuses on the methodology – how they can use my methodology from this research to apply to other research projects, what it’s strengths and weaknesses are. I should add, by the way, that this research project was my undergraduate dissertation, which got a mark of 80 in itself and was commented on as being ‘one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of reading’ by one of the markers. Since my undergraduate dissertation this material has been substantially rewritten multiple times: once for a journal, which was ultimately unsuccessful, mostly because I didn’t anticipate the requirement of writing FOR the journal, of tailoring the material to it; once for another academic journal, which was successful and which won an important prize (being published in January next year); once for the general talk; once for the conference; once for the society talk. It will be rewritten again for the larger venue, and again still for another society talk – a different society to the first one. If all this is teaching me anything, it is about the importance of just that – tailoring material, of knowing your audience, of being able to use the same basic material to deliver different messages, to use your material as a lens to focus on a different part of the project. Yes, the basic material is always the same: what your project was about, your data, your research question, your methodology and your basic conclusions. But within that, you can and should focus on a range of points when discussing the project within different settings, and for me, undergoing this experience bodes well for the future.]

But, back to the talk. When it comes to delivering talks, the convention is that the floor is opened up for questions afterwards. It is these questions that pose some of the nightmares for me – answering a question at some length, to get the reply “that’s very nice, but not what I asked”… or full-on not understanding what the person has asked at all! At the first talk, my friend (who is very lipreadable) relayed the questions to me, and at the conference, I’ll have proper interpreters, but at this last talk, I’m on my own. I’d been thinking about how to handle this kind of situation for some time, because, with the best will in the world, you’re not going to get interpreters for everything, and I had come up with a solution, of sorts, that might work well in an informal setting. I explained the situation to them, my deafness, how it works (or doesn’t work) and gave them two choices. They could either book an interpreter, which would cost, at absolute most, this much, OR… The Solution, which they went for, and will be tried for the first time at that event. My Solution (caps intended) is that, basically, the audience gets pencil and paper at the beginning of the talk, and at the end of it, a box goes around. They write their questions down, and put them in the box, and I pull them out, with a flourish, raffle style, and read out the question, then answer it. It’s got its advantages for several reasons:

  1. its anonymous for the person writing the question. This can be particularly attractive to someone who is a bit more shy, but doesn’t want to stand up to ask a question and have everyone turn to watch them.
  2. done right, it can give a real lift, a bit of fun to the whole proceedings. You can even make it more fun by offering a prize – a box of chocs or a bottle of wine – for the best question! [again, something I learned from one of my tutors who would periodically offer a bottle of red for the best question – HE never had an issue with a silent room after asking a question!]
  3. It rather neatly solves your communication issues in the process.

It has its disadvantages too. You do have to be upfront about your deafness. You also have to have a certain level of confidence yourself, because if you do this in an apologetic manner – ‘I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to…’ – rather than – ‘I’m deaf, but rather than struggle through questions, I want to make it a bit more fun! Can you write the questions down for me, and I’ll pull them out, one at a time? Oh, and the best question gets a prize!’. You can see the difference. Immediately people will respond far better, far more positively to the latter.

However, this confidence is not a bad thing, and it is actually fairly easy to fake. You’ve heard of ‘fake it till you make it’? I watched a really interesting TED talk a while back about faking it till you become it (it has subtitles). Amy Cuddy talks about the importance of power posing, of body language, and of making this work for you to trick your brain into feeling powerful, confident, and strong. I tried it just before the talk I just did, and although I felt extremely silly doing all this posing stuff in the loos beforehand, I actually felt really really good immediately before the talk. No nerves. It undoubtedly helped that I knew my stuff, I had my talk all written out and I knew my material, where I was talking, and who I was talking to, but there is no doubt in my mind that the powerposing absolutely helped too.

So… having done the first of what will be many talks – apart from the ones described above, I have at least two more to deliver, and I doubt they’ll be the last – I feel very confident, happy, and strong. I don’t doubt myself or my ability to do this. And that’s something that is invaluable, going into the next year, and something I’m going to do my utmost to hold onto.

Being a deaf student … and working

The BBC recently published an article entitled “Increase in university students ‘working to fund studies‘”. In short: with increased tuition fees and reduced maintenance loans, more students were seen to be working to fund their studies. The reason for this is fairly clear and is discussed in this article, also from the BBC, “Are we missing the real student loan story?” which discussed the situation that some families find themselves in, where the two parents combined earn more than £42,600, in some cases, only just going over that amount, and being bracketed in with the super rich … meaning their child gets nothing in the way of grant support, and the parents are expected to find up to £5k – which they may not have, particularly if they have multiple children attending university at the same time.

Then there are the adult, mature students, who work to put themselves through university. This is more common at postgraduate level, particularly since any kind of state help stopped being granted for postgraduate study. There was a huge gap in provision between MA and PhD level, with many MA students being left to either choose a loan (which you had to repay to the bank, not Student Finance England), as soon as you finished your studies – not ideal if you were planning to go on to study for a PhD. Although universities and other sorts of funding are now beginning to address that gap, obtaining such funding and grants is still hugely competitive and difficult to find.

So its perhaps no wonder that up to 77% of students are now working, up from 59% the previous year. But where does this leave the deaf student, who often struggles to access the kind of jobs that other students will be doing, that are often of the kind that a deaf person may struggle to do? Things like bartending, waitressing, shop working – all of which depend hugely on communication? Yes, sure, it is illegal to discriminate but to a bar owner, thinking about trying to deliver drinks as fast as possible to a thirsty clientele on a Friday night…? Its a no-brainer. So… what’s the deaf student to do?

I freely admit, I struggle with this myself. In the last two years, I have been studying part time, with the intention of working part time as well to fund living costs and next year’s tuition fees. I have had precisely four jobs in that time (not at the same time I hasten to add), all of them temporary – and which added up to around £1,000 of work, no where near enough to support me, or to pay next year’s tuition fees. At this point I am being supported by family: and I spend far more time looking for work than I really should.

There is also the added issue that, in many ways, you want work that you do at this time to give added value – something that you can point to on your CV, and explain how it gave you experience at something that is relevant when you’re at a job interview in future. I am lucky, in that I have around 10 year’s worth of administrative and office experience behind me, before I started my degree studies, so I do at least have that to call on. I can prove I can hold down a job. In some respects, the four jobs I have held will do exactly that: I have teaching experience now, that will look fantastic on my CV for when I apply for PhD funding, and I have research experience – both voluntary and paid – and paid social media experience. But not every student can gain this kind of work – and more to the point, not every student can find work that can give added value to their field: its hard to see how shop keeping might give added value to, say, a physics degree. So that’s where you have to think outside of the box, and think about skills, rather than specifics. For example: you could, somewhat laughingly, refer to how you used physics spatial theory to make a display of something in a shop (and no, I am not in the field of physics. Does it show?). You can refer to a difficult client from a shop when you need to give an example of conflict resolution. You can refer to decorating a bar for christmas, for an example of group work or leadership. Soft skills, rather than hard ones. Your career service should be able to help you more with these if you find them difficult.

The other thing to try is to see if your university has a student’s employment agency. Some really good, interesting jobs can be available through them, although, often, non students are right in there and competing with students as well (which I feel is a little unfair). The work I did, transporting ballot boxes on the night of the 2015 General Election, which turned out to be one of the more interesting nights I’d spent in a while, was found through an agency like that. I only got paid around £25 for the night, but it was the experience, rather than the money, in that case – and that’s another thing to remember – that sometimes, you get paid in experience, rather than cold hard cash. Don’t carry that too far though!

You may also need to think in terms of multiple roles. A (hearing) friend of mine actually held down 3 jobs, all at the same time – working in a bar at weekends, in the student union shop during the week, and as a paid student blogger, which gained her credits for the career that she wanted to go into (journalism), as well as voluntarily working on the student rag. The last two were around 5-10 hours a month between them, but they made a big difference to her CV – the soft skills side of things – while the first two helped pay her rent.

Finally, whatever you do, do not allow the finances to interfere with your studies. That is far easier said than done, I do know. But if you find that working is taking so much out of you that you’re not able to give as much to your studies as you would like, if your marks are going down as a result, then find help. Your student’s union may have some kind of finances adviser who may be able to suggest sources of additional finance (many universities have hardship funds, for example) and may also be able to look at your current financial situation, see if they can make your pennies stretch further. You can play a big role in that, in learning to shop, cook and eat cheaply, for example.

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Are you a deaf student? What have you found that works for you? How do you balance the demands of work and study? If you feel like writing for the DeafStudentUK blog, please, do get in touch – deafstudentuk at gmail dot com is the address. I look forward to hearing from you!!

Conferences – Including the deaf academic

sign-language-translatorConferences, inclusion, communication support – these are all key words over on twitter at present. Not least because of the International Congress for the Education of Deaf People, where there was a spectacular fail to provide interpreters for deaf delegates, and even when interpreters were provided, they turned out to deliver less than stellar performances (I saw one figure of less than 20% of a talk being interpreted, which is terrible). But this, and other conferences (it is conference season, after all!) are opening up questions regarding conferences for deaf academics. [And by deaf academics, I mean academics who have a hearing loss, and who are academics in any subject, not academics in a field to do with the deaf.]

This is a long blog post, even by my standards, so I apologise in advance for that.

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Organisation as a postgrad student

OrganisationIt is traditionally said that the step from year 1 to year 2, as an undergraduate, is more difficult than the step from 2 to 3. Likewise, the step from undergrad to postgrad level of studying. This can be for various reasons. Some find the increased intellectual demands difficult; or that it requires a way of thinking that they didn’t really grasp at undergrad level (e.g. critical thinking). Sometime, however, it can be to do with organisation and management.

In many ways, life as an undergrad is prescriptive. Assignments are laid out for you, periodically, You are told, more or less, perhaps a bit less than you were at school, what is required from you, and varying levels of assistance provided. As you progress through university, this clear guidance of what is required, and assistance, is slowly withdrawn. In your first year, an assigment might come with a title, a work sheet dictating what needs to be done, what your aims are, and what you need to do to achieve specific grades (for those who’ve not studied at this level, this doesn’t mean that they’re given the answer, more that they are told generically what is expected for a first class answer. For example, it might include critical questioning, clearly formulated, understandable English with good grammar, good referencing in the corerct style, etc.). By your third year, you may only be given an essay title and perhaps a few comments about it.

At postgrad level, this process of withdrawing continues. As a humanities student, I’ve found that I’m not having my essay titles dictated to me any more. Instead, the onus is on ME to come up with a title, within the broader overview of the module as a whole. It means that the students not only get to work on what they want to work on, but also that they get to develop key skills, such as being able to identify areas that can be studied properly within the time and word allowance, as well as appropriateness. These were initially developed at undergrad level in the dissertation and will be enhanced further in the MA dissertation – which means someone from this level of working will be able to examine an idea, a concept, decide how far they want to delve into it, and know, from this experience, how much work is required, and how many words are required for a report on the subject – key skills for a researcher.

At the same time, however, the actual number of assignments go down. In your first year as an undergraduate, you may complete around 18 assignments, not including the exams, spread out over the course of the year. In my final year as an undergrad I completed 6 essays of varying lengths, 4 exams and one dissertation of 10,000 words. At MA Level, I have done 1 short essay (2,500 words), 2 projects (5,000 words), and one exam this year (although, granted, I am doing this part time – if I was full time, I would have done 3 short essays, 4 projects, one exam, and one dissertation of 20,000 words). The timing of these is further apart – If I had been studying full time, the short essays would have been due in before Christmas, two projects in the first week of January, the exam in the last week of April and the second project in the first week of May, and the dissertation in mid-July. This doesn’t mean that the MA student lives the life of Riley, punctuated by periods of sheer terror as they burn the midnight oil (although it can mean that too). What it means is that there is an expectation that the MA student is better able to balance their own workload, plan ahead, and pace themselves through the semester.

And this is where many students struggle.

For those returning to MA study after years in the workplace, they may not have a problem. I didn’t start to struggle until the last few weeks, and then, at a very specific level (which I’ll come onto in a moment). But for those going straight to postgrad level from being undergrads, then they may find that their level of organisation & management of their working, studying hours, isn’t quite enough. Deaf students may well struggle with this kind of management for an additional reason: hearing students can overhear conversations – whether between other students or other staff – about organisation and this can trigger thoughts about their own practices. Unless this kind of organisation is explicity covered in a seminar or something similar by a member of staff, or the student themselves approaches someone to ask them what they do, then ideas of how to organise themselves can pass them by.

So, what to do?

Most people will have a to-do list – this can be electronic, or like mine, it can be a notepad and pen. Every day, I write down what I need to do that day, numbered 1 to whatever, with the number ringed, and as they get done, I scribble the number out (which is most satisfying!). So far, so good. Some people may even incorporate the next level of management, a weekly planner, which works alongside the diary, where they write down everything that has to be done that week, perhaps as part of bigger projects, and from that weekly planner, they build their daily to-do list.

I do both of these – in fact, the picture above is mine, for this week – and you can see that it’s divided into sections – uni work, other work (right now, job search – I need a part time job!), and stuff that needs to be done around the house. At the bottom is a small table of things that need to be done every day. Emails need to be replied to, the washing up needs to be done, and so on. Overly meticulous? Perhaps. But it does ensure that these things are done, and for a long time, it worked for me.

Recently, however, I became aware that these two levels were no longer sufficient, that I needed to think about a third level of organisation. I was reading 5 ways to detox your desk (and mind), and while I’m pretty good with number one (clean desk!), number two made me sit up and pay attention. It refers to the Inventory, basically a sort of meta descriptive of all the various projects that are going on. Let’s take where I am now – trying to pull together a PhD proposal. At the back of my mind I’m juggling various things, including ideas and information for things that actually, I won’t be exploring for several weeks yet – at least. At present I am solidly engaged in the literature review, trying to identify themes and concepts within the literature to do with my subject. Every week I’ve been writing “Literature review” or “book assessment” on my weekly to do list, and its never getting crossed off – because its too big, too overarching. Which is pretty demoralising. Its not possible to view the overall project from within the weekly management tool, and in trying to do so, I was setting myself up for failure. What I needed to do was to break it down, and only list the thing within ‘Lit Review’ that I could get done within that week, whether it was reading a book or an article, or whatever. This level of organisation is particularly useful for when you have different projects on the go – so in one day, you may need to switch from doing a lit review to doing research for a local project through to writing an article on something to preparing a conference paper – all very different projects where you can be ‘at’ different points in each project at one point in time.

So this morning I’ve been putting together that third layer, writing out my inventory. and the key, of course, the real key, is to make sure you keep working with each of these three levels – at the beginning of the week, evaluating what needs to be done from the Inventory, from the diary, and creating a weekly overview, then from that, every day, doing a daily to do list. If that is done, slowly but surely, the big projects come together, almost like magic, almost without you looking. And what you’ll find is that this, once learned, is a key life skill – with applications far beyond university and study. Every successful person does this – they may do it in different ways, with different tools, with different levels of complexity, but what they all have in common is that they have developed their own way of working that suits THEM.

How do you organise yourself? Do you use pen and paper, or do you prefer dedicated tools and apps via technology? Share what works for you! Either email me deafstudentuk at gmail dot com or grab me on twitter @deafstudentuk – lets get a conversation on this started today!

abuse

StopTheAbuseA little break from your regular programming today…. I know that this blog is normally focused on all things deaf/student, but today I’m going to take a break from that, and discuss something that, unfortunately, many deaf people will experience in their lifetime in one form or another, whether students or not.

Abuse.

I’ve experienced two types of abuse in my life. I’m going to discuss both here, although there are many types of abuse and just because it’s not discussed here, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist at all and that I’m not validating your experience.

This post has largely been triggered by me reading a great (and highly recommended) blog written by Melissa Mostyn, I am a Deaf Survivor, over on Huffpost, where she discusses domestic abuse in deaf people, including the shocking (but not surprising) statistic that deaf women are twice as likely to suffer domestic abuse than hearing women.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse – that is, abuse between partners. The stereotype for this is males abusing females, although it is important to recognise that this is not always the case, that it can be women abusing men, or men abusing me, or women abusing women. Abuse can happen regardless of the audiological status of the particpants involved, although in this I’m tending to focus more on the abusee being deaf. In my case, my abuser, a previous partner, was hearing. He would use my hearing loss to his advantage. He would say horrible things behind my back, then when I turned to ask what he’d said, he would say something different, so smoothly, that friends would later tell me that they would doubt their own ears, that – in the beginning – they would convince themselves that they had misheard what he said. Later, they would compare notes, away from us both, and they began to realise what was going on. He would try to seperate me from anyone who he felt was a threat to his control of me. My family, for example. I distinctly remember me finding my old diary from when i was around 13, and showing him a part of it. His reaction was to say that my parents had been abusing me, from what I had written. His abuse of me was never violent. I was – I am – a strong woman and I would never have countenanced him laying into me, and I think he knew that. That’s a very clear line with me. You deliberately hit me, you’re out the door. That’s the stereotype, and in believing that stereotype, I was left vulnerable. His abuse of me was far more insidious. Telling lies, making me believe that people were bad for me when they were actually good, that they had said something that they had not. Isolating me, but only in such a way that it wasn’t clearly evident to me, getting rid of people who had become too close, or were too much of a threat to his control of me. Undermining my self-confidence, making me doubt myself – and all of this was made vastly easier by my deafness. When you’re deaf, you know that you hear things wrong. You know that you miss things. You know that you can’t hear on the phone. So you ask for help. The sheer nature of deafness and the problems with communication mean that you have to trust those around you – and sadly, sometimes, people take advantage of that trust, as they did with me.

What people also must remember is that the experience can be made worse for a deaf abusee in other ways as well. If they are a part of the deaf community, and their abuser is too, then there are problems inherent in telling the community about what’s going on – much like telling a family when abuse is going on, it upsets the people around you to think that someone that they love can do these things. In addition, deafness is isolating from the larger world. Avenues of help – so often primarily focused on the telephone – are limited for deaf people. Help that is available through sign language is rarer. Access to emergency help is slower – yes, you can text 999 but how much can you do that when someone is beating the life out of you?

If you feel that someone in your life is abusing you, then speak to someone about it. It doesn’t have to be the police. If you’re unsure, ask someone. A friend, a university counsellor, even religious figure you trust like a rabbi or a priest, or your doctor. if necessary, things will happen after that. That step though, that first step is the hardest. I know from experience – I ended up going to the police in my case – and walking into that station to tell the police officer what had been going on was the hardest thing I ever had to do. But when I did, they listened, they believed me. That was worth more to me, than when he was sent to prison. I realised that all the lies he had been telling me for years were not true, that I was not stupid or ugly. My healing began at that moment.

Abuse within Institutions

I’ve written before about the bullying I received at the hands of people I was at school with. I’ve always stopped short of calling it abuse. But I realised something yesterday. I was looking at facebook, I stumbled across the facebook account of someone I knew from those days who had many of that same group of people friended on facebook. I was stunned to see that many of them had the rainbow filters on. They were supporting the principle of gay marriage.

Much of my abuse was linked to things that had happened when I was trying to figure out my sexuality in my teenage years. What my sexuality is now is irrelevant and noone’s business anyway, so I’m not putting it down here. But to see these people who had made my teenager years a living hell on the basis of the label that THEY assigned me, regardless of whether it was one that I felt was right for me, made me very very angry. It is clear to me that what is happening is that the underlying beliefs haven’t changed, that what has changed is the public acceptabiilty of those beliefs. Like sheep, they follow the crowd, and now support for homosexuality is cool, they behave accordingly. They are, nothing more, nothing less, than a bunch of hypocrites. I want to call them out by name but…. like Melissa, I feel that saying what happened, that I am a Survivor is more important than outting them as the hypocrites they are.

My past isn’t so important at the moment. This is what is: by giving abuse in places like schools a different name – bullying – there is a tendency to see it as being lesser, somehow, than the imagery that springs to mind when the word abuse is used. Let me say this clearly: BULLYING IS ABUSE. The relationship is different, sure, and sometimes it is less pervasive than in, say, domestic abuse or sexual abuse, but the effects are not. Systematic, long-term bullying by a child or a group of children towards another child is abuse, plain and simple, and it is important that this is recognised so that the effects in the survivor can be dealt with. I suffered years of low self-confidence – I still do – and personal doubt because of what happened when I was a teenager and I am absolutely convinced that what I had been through as a teenager made it vastly easier for my ex-partner to abuse me as an adult.

If this is you, if you are a student reading this, and you feel that you are being bullied by other students, whether adult or not – TELL SOMEONE. Tell a teacher, a counsellor. If they don’t listen, tell someone else. Keep telling people until someone DOES listen. This shouldn’t happen to you, it is not a normal part of life, and has to stop. And no matter what, don’t listen, don’t believe what they’re saying to you. Make sure you get help in dealing with the effects of it all.

The long and short of it – no matter what, tell someone. get help. You can move past this. When I got the ex-partner out of my life, it took years to get past what had happened, to heal, but eventually I went back to university, and look where I am now. Someone who holds a first class degree, getting distinctions at Masters level, and working to start a PhD. Not bad for someone who used to think of herself as being “stupid”, because of what he’d said.

The help is out there – find it, use it. It will be tough – I don’t deny that, but it CAN be done. Things can be changed. If someone is making your life a misery – tell someone, get help, stop the abuse. And always remember that the fault is theirs, not yours, no matter what.

unthinking disabilism in higher education

A PhD position became available recently, connected to deafness. I had a look at it, but decided it wasn’t the right sphere for me, that I didn’t have the right skills for it, so I passed it on to our postgrad community in case anyone there fancied it.

I was asked several times why i didn’t go for it, as I’d be perfect for it.

They didn’t say this on the basis that they thought that my skills, knowledge and discipline made me perfect for it.

They said it on the basis that I’m deaf, and it’s a PhD connected to deafness.

This actually made me quite cross, because it is disabilism, pure and simple. it takes no account of me as a person, my skills, and reduces me down to one thing and one thing only: my deafness. And here’s the thing – they didn’t even see that it was ablist, that it was prejudice. It wasn’t malicious in any way – I suspect they’d be dreadfully upset if they ever read this, that they had inadvertently been so prejudiced – but … fact remains that that is exactly what they’ve done.

Imagine suggesting to a black person that they’d be perfect for a PhD examining skin colour in some way? Or a woman that they’d be ideal to study the effects of oestrogen? Or a transgendered lesbian that they should study the impact of sexuality in transgendered people? Or a Catholic that they should study the troubles in Ireland?

It would be very frowned upon, of course, all of these. People would – quite rightly – be upset and disgusted.

So why should it be acceptable to suggest that someone should do a PhD incorporating deafness purely on the basis of their disability?

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not by any means suggesting that people should not do those things. That the black person shouldn’t study skin colour, that the woman shouldn’t study the effects of oestrogen, and so on. If they CHOOSE to do so, that’s up to them. It’s a matter of choice.

I don’t choose to study deafness. I feel that for me it is the obvious route and that I want to study something totally unconnected to my deafness. That is my choice, and I have a right to make it. If others want to study something connected to their deafness, then that is their choice, and I support and applaud their right to make that choice.

But for me, or anyone, to be encouraged to study a field purely on the basis of their ‘label’ – be it gender, skin colour, religion, sexuality, – or, yes, disability – is just wrong. It suggests that they aren’t capable of more. That we should stay within our sphere, because that’s where we belong.

And that makes me very, very angry.

I’m much more than just my ears. much, much more. I should be free to study as I wish, to the best of my own skills and capability (which is very capable), just as anyone who is hearing is permitted to do.

It makes me very, very sad.

It makes me realise that there is still far too much work to do to educate people, even people in higher education settings. Rightly or wrongly, I expect more from them (and these suggestions came from other PhD students, not members of staff). It makes me sad that these intelligent people can’t see further than their own experience, their own privileged life.

It makes me very, very determined.

If nothing else, it makes me more determined not to go the ‘deaf’ route, to opt for studying deafness in my field in some way. I’m happy to facilitate education for others, to aid with deaf awareness etc. But I want to study what I will be studying, and my path will not change.

It makes me determined to do my bit to educate other people. It makes me determined to make the institution realise that they are failing their staff and students in not providing disability awareness. It needs to change – and it will change.

the removal of disability employment advisers from job centres

Thanks to my twitter account, I’m now kept fairly up to date with the goings-on of the deaf world – politically, at least. One of the people I follow is Alison, or @Deaf, who often posts really interesting news about deafness or disability politics that touches on deafness. (Thanks, Alison!) This morning Alison posted a link to a blog post by Kate Belgrave on getting rid of Disability Employment Advisers at Job Centres, which made me remember that I hadn’t posted anything about my most recent experience of ‘service’ from our local job centre.

Although a student, I am a part time one, and moreover, a self-funded one. This means that apart from an award to help with part of my tuition fees, I support myself. It’s not easy. Anyone who talks about students having the life of riley really needs a reality check because it is incredibly difficult to undertake postgraduate study; funding is competitive and not automatic, no matter how good your grades are. I have a first class degree, and in line to get distinctions for my Master’s degree. Funding for a PhD is still not guaranteed. But I digress.

Although I worked (temporarily) last summer in between graduating and starting my MA course, matters were made more complicated by the fact that a) my partner was out of work as well and b) we had to move house (the same week as I started my MA course. My stress levels were unbelievable, as I’m sure you can all appreciate). We rapidly discovered that the house needed work doing to it that the surveyor’s report had NOT uncovered (more stress) and by the beginning of December, with neither of us working, we were broke. Flat broke.

So, we resigned ourselves and went down the job centre. At first it seemed to be okay. We were assigned to an adviser called Neil who told us we needed to be job searching for 36 hours a week, but not to worry about it over Christmas, as everything was shut. By January we were searching hard for jobs. Our second appointment came in the second week of January. It was a busy, loud environment and my partner (whose ears work perfectly fine) didn’t hear Neil calling our name, and of course, neither did I, despite Neil standing right behind me (and I didn’t see him). When I eventually realised he was there I got a really filthy look… like ‘how dare you keep me waiting’. He had clearly forgotten that I was deaf, despite me asking at the previous appointment for it to be listed clearly on my notes. Before very long he was putting pressure on us. Why hadn’t we applied for more jobs? (in the previous week, my partner had applied for, I think, 5 every day). Why hadn’t I applied for this receptionist job? (um. telephones….). Why hadn’t I applied for this shop job (um… customer services… ). It was like he had absolutely zero understanding of the fact that I’m DEAF and that there are certain things I just cannot do.

And it was like that, week, after week, after week. It wasn’t just me either. When my partner eventually found work – his first job in more than 10 years, his dream job, working for a dream company, in an industry he never thought he would ever work in again, it was initially part time, two days a week, which put his hours in at 15.5 hours a week. Anyone with job centre experience knows that you can do work, up to 16 hours a week, but at 16 hours, you get kicked off JSA. The company my partner were working for had actually stretched themselves to hire him for those two days – they’d interviewed both him and another chap for the same job, and wanted them both, knew they were going to need them both in the months to come, but could only afford to give my partner the two days a week at that point. ‘Bear with us, please, in a couple months, we’ll make it full time’, they said. This actually suited my partner just fine – at that point, after being out of work for 10+ years, the part time work gave him a chance to get used to working again, instead of jumping in at the deep end with 5 days of work, which quite frankly, worried him, about whether he would cope with it.

Instead of saying “well done”… Neil’s reaction was to put pressure on my partner. “Can’t you get another half hour out of them?” … he seemed to totally miss the point, that the company was already stretching themselves financially by employing my partner at all. By pushing for that extra half hour, it could have wrecked any chance of a permanent full time job. In the end up,, my partner refused to give Neil the details of this new job because he was so concerned that Neil was going to call them and essentially ruin it for him. At around the same time, I got a temporary part time job as a teaching assistant at the uni I attend, and also a week’s worth of admin, which put me over the 16 hours a week limit. Between us both, we were kicked off JSA for a week.

I re-applied almost immediately. The first interview we had with Neil it was clear that he still did not remember that I was deaf. No attempts to slow down so that I could understand what he was saying. No attempts to talk directly to me, he was constantly talking to his computer keyboard. Constantly asking me to consider jobs that were totally unsuitable for me, given my deafness. Within five minutes he was hectoring my partner again. ‘Just half an hour extra, you must ask them, if you don’t, I’ll have to sanction you’. I was LIVID. It got to the point where I would go in there and refuse to talk to him, because the only way that I could retain control was to just bite my lip continually for the whole 20 minute appointment. My partner would answer for me (he’s better at remaining calm when he has to).

Around 2 weeks after we signed on again, my partner came home from work absolutely over the moon. His company wanted him to start the following Monday, full time. Less than 2 months in, actually, 6 weeks, they had kept their promise. My partner could sign off, and he wanted me to sign off as well. What he wanted didn’t come into it – we would have been kicked off regardless, with him working full time – but I was glad to. We signed off immediately, and the relief from stress was incredible – palpable. Our daily lives had become controlled by Neil, by fear of what would happen on Friday (our sign on day), we would argue at weekends, argue in the days before sign on day as we each struggled to cope with the stress and feared that we would never find a way to get off benefits. As it happens I was close to requesting to see a disability employment adviser because it was very apparent that Neil had no interest whatsoever in understanding my deafness, nor working with me to find me a job that I could do. It wasn’t just me. My partner has a disability too, and Neil showed a similar disrespect for his needs. Frankly, he just did not care. All he wanted was for us to get out of his office and not bother him again. It was clear that he hated his job, and hated us, with a passion. That man should NOT have been working as an adviser, because he was totally incompetent, and could not have ‘advised’ his way out of a wet paper bag.

To read that IDS now wants to get rid of Disability Employment Advisers… it just makes my heart sink. We were lucky. We were able to get off benefits relatively quickly, and with a first class degree, I knew that if necessary, I could find something on a graduate scheme and give up on my dreams of working as a lecturer in my field. It would have been horrible to have to do that, sure, but between a rock and a hard place, I would have done it. We’re both intelligent people, and we had the love and support of our families and friends as well, during that dreadful, dreadful period. Even through all the stress, we knew it was temporary, and that it would come to an end. For those who don’t have all that, the support of their families, the knowledge that they would get out of it, that they would find something… to have to deal with a man like Neil without respite, knowing that there was no way out, no understanding of their position… I fear for people. I fear that they will be pushed into jobs that they are unable to do, entering a cycle of finding work, losing it, and signing back on – with the attendant spiralling depression that will result. I fear that it will not be long before we read of suicides and deaths – we already are with other disabilities. The Independent recently wrote that the conservative rhetoric means that people with disabilities have no choice but to live with what is happening… or die.

I honestly believe that in the years to come, people will look back on this period with a sense of horror, much as we now look at what happened during the holocaust. I believe that people like IDS will be branded as criminals. I believe the Tory party will have to change its name completely – and will probably spend years in opposition as a result of what happens in this parliament. I only hope that events happen that makes it so that Cameron and co can no longer govern, and that they are forced to call an election earlier than five years.

And if this country votes them in again.. then I wash my hands of the UK. I really do.

Social Media – making it work for you

Social MediaYes. I know. The irony levels are high with this – using social media to discuss… social media!

But irony apart, social media can be really important to deaf students. [Actually, social media is really useful for all deaf people, but this blog is referring specifically to students.]

If you’re the type of person that really struggles with making connections with hearing people, worries about understanding hearing people, or are just concerned about networking (which, lets face it, is a necessary evil for academics) then social media can be one way of getting over that ‘hump’, so to speak.

Here’s a couple of ways in which it can be useful.

  1. It can allow you to get to know people as individuals. My partner, for example, is not English, and I recently found someone who was a part of the postgraduate group that I struggled with, via their facebook group, and that is from the same country as he is. We had a lovely chat about that country via social media and it helps the group to know that a) you’re very approachable as a person, b) gives them something to chat to you about in real life and c) allows you to break the communication barrier ahead of the face to face meeting. So. when you find them on social media, send them a message. Introduce yourself. and SNOOP (yes, I felt nosey too, but hey, its info that is out there – and you honestly think they’re NOT doing it to your accounts?). Get info on them. Note the commonalities that they have with you, outside of your course/uni, and then you’ve got a stock of info that you can ask them about. “hey, I couldn’t help noticing… XYZ on your facebook/twitter/whatever. D’you like.. ABC? Really? Have you thought about… ‘ trust me, they’ll be flattered that you took the time to remember and chat to them. 🙂
  2. Many universities, particularly if they have strong postgraduate communities in your field, will run a variety of facebook groups. In my own field, for example, I am a member of at least three, one is just the discipline-specific postgraduates group from my uni that I mentioned before, another is very discipline specific but has hundreds of members all over the country, and another still is discipline specific, but locally orientated and is about fostering relations between our academic community and people out there who are interested in the field but not academics. As a student alone (never mind the deaf bit) this can be really useful to give you a heads up on events that are happening that are crucial to your discpline, new theories, new books, and if you’re really smart, keep an eye on the names of people writing. Again, if you’re going to an event, some social media (like facebook) allow you to click that you’re attending, and if you can view who else is going, its a wonderful opportunity to bone up on people so that you walk in there confident as to who people are (photos are great for that), what they do, and a bit about them.
  3. Outside of the discpline, it can be useful as a way to keep in touch with the wider university community. I bet your uni’s student union will have a facebook group, for example, which will post info about events that you might want to go to, or info about different groups operating from within the SU that you might want to join, like… ooh.. cake baking!
  4. It can also be really useful as a way for you to educate everyone else, gently, about your requirements for dealing with your wonky ears. This can range from things like posting a link to a really cool video (like Charlie Swinbourne’s “Found”, for example), or a new work of literature featuring deafness in some way, or a link to fingerspelling, deaf awareness day, all kinds of things. This shouldn’t be seen so much as a “hey, you’re on my friends list, you must look at this”, but more in the way of drip feed… just making things available so that when someone realises that you’re the fabulous person you are and that they really want to talk to you about your work… they can access the material that will enable them to do that. Help them to help you. Many hearing people are really curious about deafness, sign language, deaf culture and would love to ask about it, but are worried about causing offence. Show them that you won’t be offended, and they’ll ask. 🙂
  5. Finally, its a way to show the world and your colleagues, what an interesting person you are, about your work, about YOU, beyond your deafness. Just as you’ll be looking for info to give you an ‘in’ for talking to colleagues, so may they be looking for info so that they can get to know you better.

However….

Social media has drawbacks as well. Things you post there can come back to bite you where you’d rather not be bitten! So, follow these rules for happy social media-ering… (is there such a word? no? well there is now!):

  1. Your university will almost certainly have rules about social media. Look them up and follow them. Trust me, said rules are there for a reason and a lot of them will echo what is said here. Not to mention that really, its just not worth triggering a dispute with the uni for. No one needs that kinda stress in their lives.
  2. Most social media options have privacy settings. Make sure you enable them, so that only people that you allow can see what you’ve posted. And remember, if you can see their stuff, then chances are, they can see yours! I’ll never forget posting a pic of xmas lunch on my (real name) twitter feed, and my lecturer greeting me after the xmas holidays with “Nice lunch, wish I was there!”. I’d forgotten that in asking to see their feed, they also had the right to see mine! Although I had no problem with them seeing my xmas lunch – it was a good spread!
  3. Some social media sites change their rules on privacy on a regular basis, and some will change your settings on the basis of “we’re changing this rule to XYZ, this is the default, if you want it different you need to change it” and then don’t tell you that they’re changing it (one particular site is very bad at doing this… naming no names but it begins with an F…). Don’t be caught out by that and check your settings regularly. Make sure you periodially check what can be seen by people who aren’t your friends too!
  4. Remember, the internet is a jungle. Privacy is a forgotten principle there. If you don’t want it being shown to your mother, don’t put it out there – even if you’ve got privacy settings that make your social media account look like Fort Knox. If its on the internet then assume that people can view it. That includes those drunken 3am pics of things you really rather you could forget you’d ever done!! Forget about deleting stuff – you can only do that if you posted it, and  deleting stuff from the internet is much easier said than done! This is particularly the case for when you come to want that super important job that you’ve been working towards – it is now common practice for people to google the applicant, and look for their social media accounts. Those pics of you falling over drunk at 3am can be held against you! When going for an interview, DO google yourself and see what’s out there about you, so you’re prepared. Also make sure that you see your social media through their eyes. What do your photos say about you? That you like to spend every saturday night getting absolutely totalled, or that you’re a confident person who enjoys travelling and seeing the world? Which would you rather employ?
  5. Along the same lines, don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. As Mr. Swayze memorably said in Roadhouse, ‘I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice’. For example, if you must have a giggle with your friend about that lecturer who wears the very odd clothing, then don’t put it on social media, and if you absolutely must, then don’t use the lecturer’s name and don’t include any identification details. You don’t need to sanitise all your opinions but make sure that even if someone who is trying to get you in trouble takes a screen shot of your social media account, that there’s nothing there that would enable that.
  6. In addition, be very careful about what you say about organisations and people that are important to you. For example, posting things about your employer can cause a whole heap of trouble. Just don’t do it.
  7. If you want to post stuff that you would rather your supervisor/granny/employer didn’t see then do consider setting up social media accounts with fake names. This doesn’t always have to be cos you’re ashamed of whatever you are posting. I’m definitely not ashamed of being DeafStudent (in fact, my real identity is rapidly becoming the world’s worst kept secret!). But it is always an option. If you are going the sekrit-identity route, then make sure that you don’t inadvertently give away your super-hero identity by cross posting, or replying to something with the wrong blog account, or even sharing a blog entry with the wrong twitter feed – there are automatic things for that on wordpress, for example, which I have to carefully check or it will post something with my real name on it onto DeafStudent’s twitter feed! Also think about inadvertently sharing, in your writings or photographs, where you come from – mentioning a location, or a recognisable location in a photograph. Even just the name of otherwise generic things can reveal far more about you than you thought.

Social media is about communication – let that work for you to help you deal with issues in real life. You may think its a waste of time – perhaps it is, there’s no doubt that things like facebook can be terrible for procrastinating on that essay that you really don’t want to do and you’ve been dragging your heels on. And there’s no doubt too that social media can cause terrible problems, twitter trolls have been the source of real heartbreak for people, for example, and bullying is as rife – if not more so – in the social media world as it is in real life. But despite all that it also has the power to do a lot of GOOD. Used wisely, used well, it can really help to create the connections between you and hearing colleagues, help to educate them about deaf awareness, make you friends, and get you information about important things and events.

How do you use social media? If you have any thoughts or tips that I haven’t written about here, please do feel free to email me – deafstudentuk at gmail dot com. If you are a deaf student thinking of going on to study at postgrad level, or a postgrad already, there’s a facebook group running already! Please do get in touch with me – we only get stronger together!

Technology, Part Two

Smartphone Technology

Smartphone Technology

This is a very brief follow up on ‘Technology, Part One‘ which was posted a month or so ago. I spotted this article on the BBC which discusses research out of the US which suggests that ‘students cannot multitask with mobiles and study’. The study, entitled ‘Mobile Phones in the Classroom’, looked at 145 undergraduates and examined the effect of facing interruptions from their phones while they had to watch a video lecture and take notes/answer questions from the video. There was a substantial fall in effectiveness in those who were using their phones. An interesting line at the end of the article says that other research suggests that it is low-achieving pupils who are most likely to be distracted by phones.

So, what does this mean for deaf people? Well on one level, its a no-brainer. I mean, in a teaching environment, if I take my eyes off the lecturer/interpreter (or whatever) to check my phone then I’m paying even less attention to what’s going on than a hearing person listening with half an ear. In a teaching environment, the phone goes on silent and stays in my bag.

But what about outside of a teaching environment? What about when you’re watching a video with subtitles, with the pause button available, or you’re taking notes from a book you’re reading, or trying to write something? Then, deaf people are operating on the same level as hearing people … with the same problem when it comes to interruptions from phones, social media and the like. It becomes important that you’re able to exercise a little self-control and not look at your phone to allow you to focus on whatever it is that you need to do at that point.

So. Here are six suggestions for this:

1) set a timer. This works well for revision-type tasks, where you should only really study in short bursts anyway (research has shown that revision done this way is more effective). This is popularly known as the pomodoro technique – if you google that, you’ll find lots of how-to sites on that technique. You can also do this with a set task, rather than a time, which isn’t too long and you know roughly how long it’ll take. e.g. read through and do notes for a chapter, or a set number of pages.

2) allied to this is making a plan for the day – work through your plan diligently, taking your breaks, and try to vary the kind of work you do – or at least, vary where you do them, or how you do them. When memorialising something, for example, stomping up and down and chanting is a tactic that works, even if you do feel a bit stupid (probably best NOT done around annoying little brothers).

3) put your phone on the other side of the room, or in a different room altogether. Out of sight, out of mind.

4) turn it over/down/away on your desk, so that even if a message does come in, you won’t see it.

5) give it to someone else! Parent, partner, friend. that way they can keep an eye on it and tell you if a super important email comes in, but ignores everything else.

6) if you really cannot be without your phone – e.g. you’re waiting for an important email – consider turning off notifications, or worst comes to the worst, actually removing apps like facebook and twitter from your phone for the duration. There are also vibrating apps like Good Vibrations which you can apparently use to tailor your phone’s responses to various things – so you can set it to vibrate when you get a text message from superduperimportant person, but blank everything else. I haven’t tried this myself though, so please take this recommendation with a large pinch of salt.

Oh, and it goes without saying: if you’re struggling with phone interruptions, and you’re trying out these techniques, DON’T have facebook/email etc. up on your computer while you work! Be disciplined – shut that stuff down!

Short moral of the story? Make your phone work for you. Don’t be ruled by it! Technology is great, but only if it helps, rather than harms.

Written English: where does enabling stop being enabling?

The Language and Identities in Interaction Research Unit at JournalsYork St. John University has recently published the first in a series of language related policy issues in higher education, on making higher education more Deaf-friendly. I’ve had a number of reservations about this, which I am discussing with them in a series of emails (and which I hope to blog about at a later date), but for now, I want to explore one thing that has been nagging in my mind as a result of this exchange.

Written English¹.

While it may, arguably, be possible for a Deaf person to go through their undergraduate degree submitting all assignments in BSL and accessing their curriculum in BSL (as the position statement recommends, points 1.c and 1.d) I do think that for an academic this may be impossible. Even if the protocols of having a PhD thesis or an academic article translated from BSL into English before being assessed could be agreed upon, I fear the cost (always a concern) may be insurmountable. As a student climbs higher in his or her subject, they have to do more reading. Even the sciences, which base their results on experiments which require less English reading to understand, still have to do literature reviews. For the humanities, which base their evidence on other texts, written English is everywhere. For those who wish to work in academia eventually, a publishing record is a must, as universities and academics are judged at present by a score worked out from this record (the REF). 9 out of 10 journals across the world are written in English. Yes, it may be possible to get them translated, but at what cost?

It is critical, therefore, that a deaf student wishing to go on to study at a higher level, have a decent command of written English. Without this, as things stand, they will not succeed.

Unfair? Perhaps. But I would argue that for someone to succeed at these rarified levels, they must have a certain level of intelligence. Not to be a genius necessarily – any one who studies at these levels will be able to tell you about this student who was brilliant and who everyone thought would go on to be a doctor and they didn’t cos …. well.. reasons. Often the duller tortoise wins that particular race. But a certain level of intelligence, yes. That is required – to understand the work of other people, to be able to explain concepts, to be able to communicate (in whatever language) what is in their heads. THAT is a requirement, and why, when it comes to study at postgraduate level, most universities ask for at least a 2:1 in a bachelor’s degree.

My argument would be that if you have that intelligence, then you should be able to read and write written English. It may be difficult, I grant you. I had to learn a foreign language in my second year at undergrad level, because it is occasionally necessary to read texts in that langauge in my field. I struggled with it – I found that my grasp of grammar is very instictive and I don’t really understand the underlying rules that dictate the way that language – any language – is used. My eyes still glaze over when words like nouns, pronouns and verbs are used – and this language was taught that way. The final exam involved the interpretation of passages in that language and I scraped through, scoring in the mid 50s. My lowest score for an exam at uni, and I still worked my butt off for it! But that was a language that I am not surrounded by, a language that I had only been learning for three months. For D/deaf people who have that level of intelligence (important qualifier, that), who are surrounded by written English all the time, all their lives, it arguably should be easier to learn than I found it for my foreign language [and yet, it seems that this may not be enough, as this study shows].

I would be really interested to do an informal assessment on those few people who have managed to succeed at University, who have done postgraduate degrees, who have gone on to enter academia, write journals and books, to assess whether they feel comfortable with written English. Do they feel able to understand works that they read in English? Do they submit things in English? Do they have people who read through their works, checking for grammatical errors, that sort of thing?

This becomes even more of an issue because of something I read the other day somewhere. A student at a college was unable to graduate from his course because the government had decided that all people who didn’t have GCSE level C in English and Maths, needed to obtain this level before they could graduate from a college course [a fuller discussion of this can be found here]. While, granted, studying at postgraduate level is very different from studying at GCSE Level (or Level 2), with a totally different demand on one language skills, the same core argument applies.

How much should it be possible to legitimately demand that deaf people have a certain skill in written English? Where does the line lie between being unthinkingly obstructionist (as is is with the student I just described), and enabling study to a point where … actually, you’re not doing the student any favours by allowing them to NOT use written English?

And perhaps even more to the point: what can we, as a society, do to help deaf children leave school with better levels of literacy in written English, so that access to written English is no longer an issue for students wanting to study at postgraduate level… and beyond?

 

¹please note, throughout, I am discussing WRITTEN English and not spoken English. Spoken communication is, of course, a different issue.

 

Your Support Team at University

sign-language-translator An important part of being a deaf student – at ANY level – is having a good support team, who understand your requirements and are able to meet them.

Assuming you can get a support team (DSA funding will be discussed in another entry), and you have the support of your university’s disabled student support service, what is the best way to set it up so that it supports you as efficiently as possible?

At the time of writing, it is still possible to get DSA. Provided the requirement for both Notetakers and Interpreters are listed on your Statement of Needs that should be done as part of your assessment for DSA, then you should still be able to get both if you need them. Certainly I have both, and I will be discussing them in this post.

Interpreters

Whether you talk for yourself (as I do) or whether interpreting is both ways, what is absolutely critical is that you make sure that whatever interpreting is done, it works for you. This actually means a number of things:

1) Not all Interpreters Are Equal. Not all interpreters are able to handle the information that is being exchanged at higher education level. I had one interpreter that was absolutely fine in my first year, but in my second, it became apparent that she was really struggling to understand what was being said to her. Things finally came to a head when I had her and another interpreter for a long, double session, and the other interpreter pulled me to one side and told me that the one having problems was… well.. having problems. In an ideal world an interpreter will recognise when the material that is being discussed, that she needs to interpret, is beyond her capabilities to either understand or to interpret, and will refuse to take any further sessions, and explain why. But… interpreters are people like us all, who have to put food on the table, and it can be tempting to continue to take a paying job. Use your own knowledge, periodically, to make a check on what is being interpreted. Does the level of interpretation match the prepatory material that you’ve worked through? Does he/she seem to be struggling with terminology? All interpreters will occasionally fumble over names and terms, and the odd very technical term may float over their head – that’s normal, and to be expected. But if they have worked with you on your subject for some time and they are still stumbling over names/terms/concepts that are being regularly discussed then alarm bells should start to ring. You may want to ask another interpreter to sit in to do an informal assessment, or take advantage of a double session and quietly ask the other interpreter to do an assessment. It puts the other person on the spot a bit, but if you explain why, then they should be happy to do this.

2) Try to use a range of interpreters. It can be tempting, especially when you find someone who works well with you, and that you like, to try to use them on everything going. God knows, I did! But inevitably she couldn’t do all the sessions – and a jolly good thing it was good. It’s forced me to try a range of interpreters. Some I haven’t gotten on well with (one, I took an instant dislike to, especially when she turned up late and didn’t even apologise, and then insisted on telling me what my requirements were, and insisted in interpreting everything to me in BSL despite my request for SSE… THAT woman will never work for me again and is spoken about in those terms. THAT woman!), others I have liked a great deal, and would be happy to use them for meetings where the level of terminology wasn’t too high, but not for seminars for my MA subject. Still others, I could happily add to the rota for people to interpret for my studies. Try to use as many people as possible, so that you have options when someone isn’t available. As will inevitably happen! That said….

3) …. Try to maintain consistency within one module. This is a really important point and one I try to follow as much as I can for notetakers as well. It means that the people involved get used to the teacher, his/her methods of teaching, ways of speaking, the class, and the subject. It means that they can get used to the terminology offered, and prepare themselves as well. I definitely notice the difference, when a new interpreter comes in for a session that someone else has been doing, no matter how good the interpreter. They fumble over terms where the other one knew what the term meant already, and may even have devised a sign for it already. You – and your interpreter – will find it much much easier if you can maintain that consistency throughout.

4) Do YOUR job. That means preparation! Do your reading in prep for the seminar, so that you can help the interpreter by filling in on terms that they may be struggling to fingerspell. Bonus points – you’ll look like a model student to the tutor, cos, guess what, you are! I once had a seminar on the last day of term, a friday, before Christmas. Tutor (to me): “Ah, you are a comfort, I know with your class today I’ll have at least one student show up!” [Not so bonus point, you look like a major suckup to younger students at undergrad level. It can be difficult if you’re already struggling with the desire of your friends to want to march to the back of the lecture theatre. If they give you grief, just tell ’em you’re coughing up £9 grand for this, and you want your money’s worth. That’s harder to argue with.] If you have the kind of university/department that makes material available before the class/seminar/lecture – e.g. powerpoints, reading lists, brief summaries… make sure you GET them off Blackboard or Moodle or wherever they are, and give copies to your interpreter. They’ll thank you for them. If you don’t get copies, go to your tutor and ask for them – if they aren’t comfortable with giving them to you, because they want you to go into a class blind, ask if they can send them to your interpreter. This is a reasonable adjustment that they (tutors) should be happy to do. And if they have done this, make sure you read the material.

5) If your interpreter voices for you (i.e. interpretation is both ways, rather than just one way, as it is for me), then there’s something else you need to think about, particularly at postgraduate study. Their voice. Ask a trusted classmate how the interpreter comes across with their voicing of your statements. Is their speech good? Do they have an accent (if so, what sort of accent and how strong is it)? What impression is the interpreter giving of you? If you can, lipread the interpreter and make sure that what they’re saying is a good match for what YOU’RE saying (perhaps ask your notettaker to jot down what the interpreter said as well as everything else, so that you can check on that). A good interpreter should have little accent. They should use appropriate language to match your signs, and perhaps more importantly, professionally appropriate signs. They should be comfortable with using the terminology that is appropriate to your subject, and with expressing concepts, in academic language. There is a huge difference between saying, for example, in a medical setting (and no, I’m a humanities student!): “The patient is a 23 year old male who presents to the emergency room with foreign body and airway compromise”, and “A 23 year old man came to the emergency room because he had something caught in his throat and he had a hard time breathing” (example taken from here). If you’re using BSL to get across your ideas, that BSL may not reflect the same academic language, but if you were to write it in English, you would use academic language. It is important that your interpreter be aware of this, and translate your BSL to appropriate academic spoken English. It is also important that they – and you – are aware of the impression that they give. As your voice, they are giving people an impression of you, and fairly or unfairly, you will be judged on the impression they give. This is particularly the case with accents. Some regional accents give a particular impression (either negative or positive) and it is important you and your interpreter are both aware of this – it may lead you to choose not to use a particular interpreter for sessions that are important, such as a presentation by yourself to an important conference, or your viva.

6) One last thing I would recommend. Take charge of making bookings for the interpreters yourself. I know the temptation is high to leave it all to your disabled student support service, but honestly, this gives you much greater control over who you get. It’s also good practice – in the years to come you will have to sort it yourself anyway, so you may as well get used to it. If you leave it to student support then you may get fobbed off with someone who isn’t really capable of a full interpretation… and you deserve better. Make the connections. Find the agencies. Your student support unit may grumble, but you have the right to do this. DSA rules mean, I think, that unless the interpreter is specifically listed as a provider on your Statement of Needs, all invoices have to go through accessability anyway, but there is nothing that says that you cannot be the one to make the bookings.

and that brings me on to…

Disabled student support services

Not all disabled student support services in universities are equal! Mine is pretty good – others have much worse experiences. Whatever yours, try to establish a good working relationship with them. Be understanding. The staff in them aren’t there just to sort out the problems of people with disabilities. Some of them are academics in their own right. They may also not be terribly deaf aware – don’t assume that just because they’re a disabled student support service, that they understand the finer points of deaf issues. I was the first deaf student at mine for some time, and they asked me for help with things at various points (which I was glad to give). At the same time, understand that they are overworked and underpaid. DSA has moved from being paid by the local authorities to Student Finance England a few years ago, and this move has massively increased the bureaucracy surrounding DSA. The person I deal with the most told me that when I first started at Uni, SFE had only just taken DSA on – before this, they had a big panic at the beginning of each academic year, working hard to get everyone sorted and their assessments done, and then that was it – the rest of the year they could focus on their own academic work. In the last five years that picture has changed totally. What took one person a matter of weeks to sort out now takes 2 full time admin people, continually dealing with DSA, to keep up with the paperwork. That money has had to come from somewhere. So, try to be understanding.

At the same time, don’t let them walk all over you. You have – at present – rights to access education, and to have support to access that education. Don’t let them fob you off with something that is unsuitable for you, just because it is easier for them. If necessary, be willing to complain.

Notetakers

If your uni is anything like mine then you will probably find that the notetakers they suggest you use aren’t professional notetakers, but other students, earning a bit of extra money. Nothing wrong with that. Some of the best notes I’ve ever had have been from other students. But bear these points in mind….

1) Not all notetakers are equal! (oh, c’mon, you’re not really surprised by this at this point, are you?). Your university should not allow undergraduates to take notes for you, it should always be done by either a graduate, or an MA or PhD student, preferably one from your field. A couple of the notetakers I have had worked on this as a full time job. Again, nothing wrong with this. But understand this: these notetakers almost certainly will not be trained. They will have been used to taking notes for someone who is dyslexic, or has handwriting problems, or some other reason that means they can’t take notes in a lecture – but who has nothing wrong with their ears. This means that they’re not depending on the notes in the same way as you will be – as a replacement, for if you’ve missed something, or worse, if your interpreter hasn’t been able to attend for some reason. One of my interpreters I first met as a notetaker for deaf people and they commented to me “if you can notetake for deaf people, you can notetake for anyone”, which is very true. Make sure your notetakers understand the problem. Ask them to get as much down as possible. One of my notetakers at MA level actually records the class, as well as taking notes, so that they can go back and listen if there’s something that they missed – and no, this is not a regular service that all notetakers at my uni do, it’s just something that SHE does, because she appreciates the importance of the notes that she provides (bless her). On the flip side, one notetaker, in my first year at uni, made notes so brief that a one hour lecture filled all of one side (as opposed to the 6 from a more comprehensive notetaker). In addition, he spent that hour flipping from the word document to surfing on facebook and ebay. I began to wonder how much attention he was paying to the lecture, and I eventually complained about him, because he was effectively surfing on MY time. And then I requested that he didn’t work for me any more. However, he still works as a notetaker, as I’ve seen him at the uni since then – I run into him a couple times a year. He studiously ignores me.

2) You may find, particularly in the earlier years of an undergrad degree, that your notetaker is actually serving double duty. This is good for your DSA, as it means that your notetaker will only charge your DSA for a proportion of their time. Not so good for the notes. It may mean that there is a conflict of needs. In this situation I would expect the notetaker to be professional and inform the disabled student support service or yourself, so that two notetakers are provided, or the notetaker use their brains and do something like record the lecture so that they are able to produce two sets of notes to each set of requirements. However, that’s a perfect world, and we all know this world is wonderful, but it is very far from perfect. You may find that you never meet your notetaker. I did all mine, because I wanted to speak to them, but it is not unknown for people with dyslexia to never speak to their notetakers, or even know who they are – its easy to miss them in a large lecture theatre.

3) The relationship I have with the disabled student support service means that they provide the notetakers. I just tell them where and when I need them and they show up. I can, and do, request specific notetakers. This is where PhD students, or those doing it as a living, are particularly useful, as they provide reliability. PhD students, provided they can give you the comprehensive notes you need, are really good if you can get one that’s in your field. Some of the best notes I ever had (on a part of my field that I really hated and struggled with) came from a PhD student who was studying in that part of our shared fields. Her notes helped me pass the exam at the end of the year!! So if you find a notetaker whose work you like, make a note of them, and if possible, request them again.

4) Booking notetakers through the disabled student support service works for me. It may be that yours won’t do this. It may be that you don’t like the notetakers that they provide. You may prefer to use professional notetakers. Be warned: professional notetakers are more expensive than the students that the uni will provide, and this may impact on your DSA. This is particularly more important at postgrad level when the DSA is set to a limit of around £10k per year – keep an eye on it, request regular updates on your spending from Accessability and don’t go over that. But also don’t allow student support to lock you into using notetakers who don’t give you what you need on the basis of cost.

5) What I said before about preparation & interpreters – applies to notetakers as well. They, especially, appreciate things like reading lists, as it enables them to check the details on book authors and titles that are thrown out really quickly by the tutor. If you have key readings, give them copies of that – so that in a discussion, they’re aware of the background that you’re all working to. If you’ve got a powerpoint – and this is particularly the case if the tutor matches his or her talk to the powerpoint slides – make sure your notetaker has a copy, so that they can relate their notes to the slides. It makes it FAR easier for you, at the end of the year, when you come to use these notes as a revision guide for exams.

6) Interpreters and continuity? Ditto here. Try to ensure that you have the same notetaker for a series of lectures/seminars. It’ll make things easier for you and them.

7) Again, this is more for postgrads than undergrads, particularly doctoral students or those planning to go that route. If you attend a conference, or give a paper at one, then what you need from that is notes from the questions that were thrown at you after your talk, and your replies. One way of handling that is to ask a friend; the other is to ask a second interpreter (if you’re there all day you should have an interpreting team anyway), and you may want to hire/beg/borrow (not steal) a dictaphone for back up. that’s fine for an informalish post-graduate conference, but if you get to go to a really important one that you often have to pay to get into, then you may want to consider paying for a professional notetaker, particularly if it looks like your Q&A may go on for some time (the length of your paper should dictate the length of your Q&A).

Other Personnel

Obviously, you may have other needs that require other personnel to help you – I have only ever used notetakers and interpreters, so I can only comment on these two. If you would like to comment on other types of support – perhaps ones involving technology such as live captioning – please feel free to reply to this blog or to email me on deafstudent at gmail dot com. I’d love to hear from you!

‘Lose Yourself’ in ASL going Viral; reported in Huff’s Weird News

This video has recently been making the rounds… It features an interpreter interpreting/signsinging to Eminem’s ‘Lose yourself’ in ASL (I don’t speak ASL, and I thought it was pretty good, but reading the comments, it seems that her actual interpretation isn’t that great). It is currently at almost 3 million views – and is climbing, rapidly. I think what is so infectious about Shelby’s interpretation is her transmission of the attitude of rap, the way that she totally throws herself into the song and what its about. And good for her – I’d say that I’d like to see more of this sort of thing, but honestly, it already exists – in BSL as well as ASL. There are thousands of videos out there of varying quality of people signing along to their favorite songs, sometimes its conveying the feel, the concepts of the song, as Shelby has done, sometimes its a literal signing word for word. Both are okay – they have different purposes. I think some of the best are the ones done by deaf people themselves. Some people have really turned it into an art form – christmas carols, signed like this, has immense power and never fails to make me cry. Music, performed by artists like these, has the power to reach hearing people as well as deaf, as sign language need not be a barrier to communication between deaf and hearing (if you want to know more about that, look at the reviews for The Tribe).

However….

The increasing popularity of videos like this is making me uncomfortable on one important level. Periodically, when videos such as Shelby’s go viral, it has two effects. One is to enhance the knowledge of sign language. That’s not a bad thing. Making sign language something that is cool is great, it means more hearing people want to learn, even a little bit, even if just to understand what the people in the videos are signing. Fantastic! I’d never criticise that. Videos such as this one by Paul McCartney really testify to this process.

On the other hand… there are the inevitable reviews, comments. And it is these that make me uncomfortable. A hearing friend in the USA first alerted me to Shelby’s video, saying that she thought it was very cool and that I might like to see it, even though it was in ASL. I refrained from telling her that while it’s a good example of its kind, its not THAT unusual. I just thanked her. Then she compounded it, by sending me a link to this. The title is a bit iffy – ‘Woman performing “Lose Yourself” in sign language gets us super pumped’ – but it starts with “we have always wondered how to say ‘Mom’s Spaghetti’ in sign language”. Really? no commentary about how good this is that it levels the playing field for deaf people? No commentary about how expressive Shelby is, how good it is that we’re able to follow the basic message along with the beauty of her signs? You choose to focus on Mom’s spaghetti? You know, if you seriously always wondered how to sign this, there are sites out there that act as dictionaries, and I’m sure you could google this. Or ask a deaf person who can sign. Novel concepts, I know. But the thing that REALLY annoyed me when I first read this yesterday (but didn’t have time to comment on it) was where it came from. Its not there now, but yesterday, it came from the Huff’s Weird News desk. That’s right. This article was deemed up there with an article about cheese costing a lot of cheddar; a man in florida getting upset when someone else took his bingo seat; and a groom and his mom going head to head at his wedding in a dance off. And I can’t think of anything that is more insulting than this. By putting a wonderful, expressive language – actually, ANY language, any culture, into the “Weird news” category, what are you saying? That we’re a freak show?

Thanks, Huff. Thanks a whole bunch.

But this speaks to a bigger issue. Can professional outfits such as The Huff, NME, mashable … really not find deaf journalists to comment on this? Or a deaf sign/singer? Despite the fact that Shelby is on record as having done this video as part of a job application for a role as interpreter for a TV channel in Austin, Texas, there seems to be little recognition of the part of these reporters that Shelby did this as an interpreter, not to make a great video for hearing people to enjoy. I’m not saying that hearing people can’t enjoy it (that would be ridiculous) but for news organisations like this, professional journalists who are PAID to be critical and to look beneath the surface, it seems ridiculous that they could not think and talk to people who DO know about sign language, ask deaf people for their impressions of it, as well as hearing people – and thus gain a much more rounded, better article in the process.

It speaks to the fact that for them, deaf language is something to be thought of as beautiful, fantastic, watch the video, then put to one side, and forget about it. There but not heard. Once more, hearing people are speaking for us, but not taking the time to truly learn something about us.

Am I the only one to find that truly so deeply offensive?

Thinking time – what it is and how to get it

Time03Now on the other side of my first article for an academic journal (well, sort of, still got some bits to sort out but it’s on hold while my personal tutor gives it a read through) I want to write about a few things that occurred to me while writing it. The first is time: the last time I wrote about time it was in reference to study time, and how being deaf can affects it. For this article, it is about thinking time.

Regardless of what discipline you are studying, if you go for postgraduate study – or even, I would argue, during your undergraduate dissertation – you will need to think, and think hard. I certainly had to do so in the last week or so, while writing my article – so different to writing an essay, or even writing for the blog – and I found myself returning to old practices as I worked…. namely switching everything off.

At one point I even went and plugged my smart phone in in another room, I certainly turned off all social media, and the only person who had any access to me on Instant Messenger (my partner) got told in no uncertain terms not to bother me unless the house was on fire. And even then… !!!

But that enables concentration while working, while actually typing. And as one book reminded me, before I started writing my article, in many ways, putting fingers to the keyboard is the very LAST thing we do, not the first. Rowena Murray’s Writing for Academic Journals is highly recommended – she walks the reader through the entire writing process, from identifying which journal you plan to write for, examining one’s own reasons for writing, and introducing various writing tricks, some of which I put to very good use, and which will be very useful in future. The tips she gives for writing really help to get writing done when you’re in a position where you don’t have a day at a time to write – but only chunks of time, say two or three hours. She walks through planning for documents – whatever it is, essays, articles, the same principle would apply, and suggests that planning is key. Most people plan – they may do intro, main, conclusion. Some will do it to level two – intro – what that includes, maybe 5 points, the various points in the main, the points in the conclusion. But virtually no one does it to level three or four, breaking THOSE points down, right down to the fine detail. She suggests that we think about verbs to use in these points – what are we doing in those bits? explaining? analysing? describing? Following her method, a substantial chunk of time will be put into developing your plan, far more than it takes to write the document in question BUT writing the document will, she suggests, be substantially easier, as you’ve already worked out the kinks, the questions, your linkages, etc. throughout.

And that brings me neatly back to the subject of the article. Time. Doing it her way (and I do recommend it – I partially did it for the article, and it did work – to a point, but the failure was mine, rather than her suggested methodology) means hours and hours of thinking, cross checking information and references, rethinking, revising – you’re almost writing it without writing it. And that thinking process is absolutely key. Because it is only in that thinking process that you are able to develop the questions that you ask yourself, your studies, the massively important questions that enable you to take a completely different look at your subject.

Let me give an example. The story of how Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin is fairly well known and oft-repeated – you can google it if you don’t know it. But what’s key is not so much the accident that caused the inihibited bacterial growth. What’s key, and what ALL academics share, regardless of discipline, is the thinking process, the critical thinking. Fleming saw the mould and instead of sighing in disgust at a ruined experiment and how he would have to start over and the time and expense wasted… he stopped. He thought … “ooh. that’s interesting”. He realised that the bacterial growth was being inhibited by something, and set out to discover what that inhibitory factor was. And from that thinking process developed the antibiotics that you and I use today, that revolutionised medical practice.

Now, most of us won’t have this kind of effect on humanity, it must be said, but at the same time, it really highlights the importance of that critical thinking process. Stella Cottrell’s Critical Thinking Skills is a book that promises to develop those skills, but regardless of whether you purposefully act to develop them or not, they must be prominent in your activity as an academic.

But doing this, and taking the time to think through your studies, is increasingly difficult in the modern world. So here are my suggestions for taking that time and using them productively:

  • Turn everything off. Even the internet, unless you need it for your writing. But certainly, have as little open as possible. For me, most of the time, that’s MS Word, and possibly 2 web pages linked to my university library and the Oxford English Dictionary. Certainly you should not have social media like Facebook, Instant Messenger, etc. open. For people who need to have access to you all the time, tell them you’re working and ask them not to bother you.
  • Put your smartphone in another room. The temptation to just check if you’ve got that email yet is otherwise overwhelming. Promise yourself regular breaks at which you CAN check it, every half hour or so.
  • If you’ve done a level 3 plan the way that Rowena Murray advises, decide what you’re going to write in this session. If you’ve got 2 hours before you need to leave/start cooking dinner, then look to see what you can do in that two hour window. If you get to the end of the two hours, leave yourself a note as to what needs to be done next. This is a simple idea but so critical – you think you’ll remember, but honestly, you won’t. Schedule 15 minutes to write, in DETAIL, what you need to do next on that bit of writing and any other thoughts you’ve had.
  • Sometimes a blank page – whether digital or actual paper – can be the most terrifying thing ever. If you’re struggling with writer’s block – even at the planning stage – then walk away from your desk. Do something else. Trust me, your mind will continue to work on the problem even while you’re swimming/walking the dog/mowing the grass/tackling that huge pile of washing up. Try to make it a solitary pursuit though – so not down the pub with your mates. Unless….
  • ….Sometimes, talking through a problem with a fellow student, a critical friend, can be extremely productive. yes, that process can happen in pubs but probably best done elsewhere! If you have a friend in the same sort of field, with the same sort of aims as you, then its a good idea to ask them about a joint critical process – i.e. he bounces ideas off you, and vice versa. You can also act as proofreaders for each other, and help each other to stay on focus through several drafts of an article/essay.
  • Another way of getting around the time issue is to think about it while doing something else. I have to drive a certain distance every morning and evening to drop off/pick up my partner from the train station. I find that often, I do quite a lot of good thinking en route. Hearing people could possibly verbally record some of their thoughts into a smart phone as they drive: as deaf people, we’re denied that option. I do try to get to the pick up point five minutes early, though, so I have time to jot some thoughts down – either into an app on the phone or a notepad that I keep in the car.  Whatever you prefer to do while you’re thinking stuff through, make sure you get to paper as soon as possible after so that you can jot stuff down – or you’ll lose it. Its a good idea to keep pen and paper near you during this period at all times as ideas come at the most awkward of times. On the loo. in the middle of the night (I make myself very unpopular with my partner, doing this one…!).
  • Asking yourself specific questions (smaller than your subject question) is another good way to deal with writer’s block. What does the title mean? how will you confine your answer if the question is just too big to answer within the word space? Other useful questions are: what are your motivations in writing this? who is your target audience? Rowena Murray’s book deals with these kind of prompts extensively.
  • Finally, if you don’t have a critical friend, you can have a conversation with yourself. You’ll feel pretty daft the first time you do it, but try putting a cushion into a chair opposite and imagine that you have to explain your subject to the cushion. Even better if you can imagine the cushion is a real person. Don’t just do this in your head – there’s something about the act of verbalising (whether in spoken English or sign language) language to someone/thing else that makes things more real. Often when explaining things to other people, you’re simultaneously explaining to yourself. So, make that process work for you. Imagine its the world’s stupidest cushion. Explain, in 1o minutes, why your subject is massively important! This is what the Academic Support Kit calls the “So-What?” test – if you can’t explain why other people should care about your work, then you won’t hold a reader when you write about it.

Do you have any other methods for finding and using that thinking time? If so, feel free to email me on deafstudentuk at gmail dot com – I look forward to hearing from you!!

 

Brief asides – writing academic articles, problem 1

HeaddeskPeople: learn from me.

If there is EVER, any possibility, EVER, that you will use your work (whether dissertation or essay) to construct an article, write down every single bit of bibliographical detail that is required. NOT just what your uni requires!

The article I am now writing wants the name of publisher in all the refs. This is an article springing from my undergrad dissertation. A dissertation that only used the place of publisher.

I am now faced with going back and redoing all the refs… my undergrad dissertation had 115 footnotes, and the bibliography was eight … read it and weep … eight pages long. Dear god. Kill me now…

Exploring and re-evaluating my deaf identity

LabelYesterday, I suddenly realised something. The user name on my blog, DeafStudent, really is wrong. I’m not a deaf student.

I’m a student who happens to be deaf.

I know that some of you may be thinking, ‘big deal, so what?’, but its actually quite important. For me, my primary associative identity is the student part, not the deaf part. I’m a student, I’m aspiring to be someone in my field, a published author, a respected lecturer, I’m all of that. I have other identities too, other labels that society likes to slap on people – my gender, my skin colour, my sexuality, my marital status.

In all of that, being deaf is just another label for me. It represents what I struggle with, what I cannot do. It is very much a negative association, never a positive. I do what I do, achieve what I have, despite my deafness. It is a thing to be battled against. A war to be fought. And by the way, I’m not by any means suggesting it should be this way for everyone. Many people are very proud to be deaf, to champion Deaf culture and language – and more power to them. This blog post is about my thoughts, about my expression of my identity, and right now, I’m struggling to figure something out – when I get like this, I write. So bear with me.

I watched My Song yesterday, for the first time. It’s a wonderful, well acted & written, short drama from 2011 exploring deaf identity and language, portraying a teenage deaf girl, Ellen, learning BSL, making her first steps into the deaf world and the reactions – both negative and positive – to those steps, from the hearing people around her, to the deaf people she encounters. I’m really glad that the writer & director chose NOT to portray the deaf reaction as being all fluffybunny, welcoming and warm, because the deaf world certainly isn’t like that – it’s made up of people, just as the hearing world is, and some of those people are going to be welcoming and positive, and some will be negative and repudiatory. I’m not ashamed to say that the drama had me in tears and deeply moved me – I associated strongly with Ellen, and it stirred up a lot of stuff from when I was younger that I obviously still, 20 years later, have not successfully dealt with.

My story is long, and detailing it here is inappropriate but what has become very clear to me over the last twenty four hours is how much I felt the deaf world rejected me when I was much younger. I’ve always told myself – and others – that I decided not to be involved with the deaf community because I found it to be cliqueish, exclusive and bullying. These were all traits that I had met at school (yes, a deaf school) and I’ve always told myself I decided those traits had no room in my life any more, and I went my own way. So much is true, but what I’m now realising is that the deaf community rejected me just as much, back then. I effectively disappeared, and not one person cared to find out if I was okay, what had happened.

In short, for me, there was no Ben to chase after me to make sure I was okay.

Perhaps, given this, that it is no real surprise that I have rejected any deaf identity as much as I have, and instead, associated far more with other elements of myself. I see my deafness as something I should apologise for, apologise for the inconvenience of it. That’s something else that got stirred up from ‘My Song’, seeing Ellen being forced to’get used to’ the new man her mother is dating, instead of, as she plaintively says, ‘maybe he could get used to me!‘. There doesn’t seem to have been any attempt to tell the new guy what her needs are, to make it clear that she finds his accent difficult, that it’s not personal. Always, for Ellen, her deafness is the problem, the inconvenience, the issue that people have to deal with if they want to spend time with her. She so clearly sees that in the people around her, and their failure to take her need to communicate a different way, to explore a different identity, that I think exploring her deaf identity was bound to happen. That much was so familiar from my own life, and to a certain extent, still is. At uni, in other parts of my life, I spend time apologising for my needs, apologising for costing people more, apologising for being a problem, an inconvenience.

So what is the lesson in all this? That I should start to associate more with my deaf identity? Maybe. Going to uni has forced me to reassociate with sign language, at least. When I first got there, I was determined to use notetakers only, and electronic notetakers at that. It was one of my key support people – someone who is now a damned good friend as well – who gently pointed out that even the fastest typist wasn’t going to keep up with the speed of exchanges in seminars and that maybe I should consider sign language translation? I knew I couldn’t work with BSL (I have to work hard to translate BSL back into regular English, as it’s not my first language) and instead she worked with me to develop something suited to both my needs and the complexities of the subject I study, something close to SEE. So I have been growing closer to sign, once again, in the last couple of years.

Beyond that though… The last two weeks have been eye opening to me for one simple reason: I have not been wearing my hearing aid. At all. I used to wear two: difficulties in my right meant I had to stop wearing an aid in that ear and it seems now the only option I have for that ear is a CI. In the last two weeks, I’ve had a bad ear infection in the left, and wearing my aid has been impossible. This is probably the longest time I have gone without hearing aids since I was a small child. What has been incredibly surprising to me is how well I have actually coped without it. I miss moving through a world with sound, I miss hearing things around me, even simple things like my partner moving around downstairs – there’s a comfort in that, to know I’m not alone in the house. And certainly my (hearing) partner misses my hearing aid – misses the ease of communication that they have with me when the aid is in, and misses having long chats with me. I struggle more without it. I do recognise that. But I also cope an awful lot better without it than I thought I would.

Sure, some of that is due to the presence of my support team at uni. I assisted the University with a review, for example, last week, where external assessors came in and questioned a range of students as to their experience at the university and the particular department that we study in. I was one of those, there as a representative of my particular field, not as a disabled representative. There were two sessions for this and the Uni paid for me to have an interpreter for both, and as a result, I was able to fully engage with the process and support my department as much as I possibly could.

But at the same time, I also went through things alone, with no communication support. I took part in supporting the local election count last Thursday evening, moving ballot boxes. There was no question of me not doing it because of my deafness, and their only pause was to think about possible problems – the working environment meant that particular roles would have been more difficult for me, but I think if I had insisted on doing them the electoral staff would have supported me. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, talked to a huge range of people, and although I was conscious of my deafness, even more so because I had no aid, it’s almost like something shifted in me. Yes, the problem was my ears, but it’s not my fault. Yes, they have to take the time to deal with stuff they wouldn’t otherwise, but… as my father-in-law likes to pithily say, “shit happens”. Yes, they had a problem to deal with. SO FUCKING WHAT. (excuse my language).

I stopped being apologist, that night, stopped apologising for being a problem, and moved into being something far better: Me. I interacted with people, smiled, thanked them. No matter that they had to repeat themselves several times, that didn’t matter: what mattered was that I was friendly, curious, enquiring, pleasant, and grateful. Not for their being willing to repeat things, but for being willing to engage with ME, not the deaf label. I made sure they walked away with a smile, thinking “what a nice person!” rather than “god, that was awkward. I hope I never meet a deaf person again.” And I did the same thing again at the postgraduate meeting the following day, having a MUCH better experience than I had the previous time, where no one spoke to me.

Removing my aid had a very powerful effect. It meant I had to stop pretending to being hearing. I had to stop pretending to be someone who “isn’t really deaf, you just don’t hear very well“; stop mimicing hearing people, as I do so very, very well, in order to make them feel better. And in so doing, I made contact with the deaf part of me, and formed a bond with my deaf identity, started to move towards greater acceptance of myself, who I am – warts n all – and think about how I can be positive about my disability, make it work for me, instead of against me. How I can make it so that I bring something different to the table, something that is unique to me, instead of pretending to be the same as everyone else. In short, developing a healthier relationship with my deafness, with the deaf label. Working with it, instead of thrusting it out there in front of me, using it to push people away.

Deaf identity doesn’t have to mean going to deaf clubs, mixing with deaf people, learning deaf culture. Sure, it can mean that and if that’s the way you choose to go, then more power to you! But it’s not the right path for everyone, and sometimes, it just means accepting who you are, putting your foot down and saying: ‘It stops here. You start meeting me on MY terms. Not yours’.

My name is DeafStudent. I’m a deaf person. I’m a student.

I am me.

Technology, part one

Smartphone Technology

Smartphone Technology

I expect that most successful post-graduate students will know this already, but in order to get ahead in higher education, the key mantra is to work smarter, not harder. If your uni is anything like mine, then you will get long bibliographies of books you should be reading and you look at it and wonder how the hell you’re meant to keep up with this lot. The answer, of course, is that you aren’t. They’re meant as a guide as to what’s out there. Most of them will identify what they regard as a key text, but otherwise, its up to you to direct your learning.

But as with so much else, time is precious. For the normal student, that’s the case – but for the deaf student, time is a resource that is forever running out. Smartphones are game-changing devices, quite literally. For the deaf student, they have immense capacity to provide assistance – not directly, but indirectly in terms of saving precious, precious time. I intend to devote this blog entry to some of the apps that I find helpful and use myself.

One thing I’m not going to do is to recommend a specific smartphone. I use an android: some of the apps that I recommend may not be available on i-phones or windows phones; but they may have apps that won’t work on androids. Please take that caveat seriously – If you like the sound of an app that I describe here, look for it on your app store through your phone, that way you can be sure that you’re not getting something that will break your phone! I’ve tried to group apps so that you can see the use of the app – even if the specific app I mention isn’t available, there may well be one similar for your phone – its worth looking.

The second thing I’m not going to do is to make recommendations for apps for social lives at uni. This is for a couple of reasons. 1) I firmly believe most of you are more than able to do this for yourselves anyway! 2) I’m a mature student so what I deem useful for my social life almost certainly will not be the same as for a 21 year old. 🙂

Finally, some of the apps I mention may be apps that you have to pay for. I’ve tried to say where this is the case but I’m not infallible – do check before hitting that ‘install’ button.

Communication

First up: the obvious. I survived my first year at uni as an undergraduate without a smartphone and I was always terrified I was going to miss out on something while I was running around and away from my laptop at home. I did everything via email: the uni had a copy of my mobile number for texting, but that was for emergencies. Email was the way that the Uni did everything anyway, and I was more than happy to fit in with that. Smartphones are very very able to handle email – and more importantly – multiple email accounts. As you might imagine, Deafstudent has its own email account, and that comes through to my phone. I actually have three email accounts on my phone. My uni email, my own personal email under my real name, and the deafstudent email. I use three different email apps for it, but there are apps out there that will handle multiple email accounts. As an android phone, I set up the android email as my uni email, the gmail app as my real name – as this is what my phone is linked to, and I use the type mail app for my deafstudent account. There are plenty of other email app clients out there though.

In addition, my uni uses blackboard heavily. This is a learning management system by which modules are organised, material is made available, and assignments are submitted. Many universities use it – if yours doesn’t, it may use something like Moodle, which is very similar – there may be others. Having access to this on the go is useful too – to check details of classes, to find out when assignments are returned, that sort of thing, and Blackboard themselves do an app. My university actually has their own app through which I can access Blackboard, the library etc., so I don’t use the blackboard app directly but it may be useful for those whose universities don’t do apps. It may well be worth checking on your app store whether your uni does an app for it’s students.

Documents

If your uni is anything like mine, then your notetaker may well email you notes after your lecture or seminar. You may actually want to check that immediately cos the lecturer mentioned some really important person or their book and you want to get it out of the library. So the ability to at least read documents that have been emailed to you on the go is an important one. There are plenty of ‘office’ apps out there. I use Office Suite and Polaris Office, but hey, go investigate and choose your own. Definitely download a couple, though, so that you have an alternative if your primary one can’t handle a document.

Another app that is of immense use to handle documents is a PDF reader. Some office apps may be able to handle them, and if you have the kindle app, that can sometimes handle them too. I use ezPDF reader, which is a paid app (but not too expensive – £2.54 at the time of writing – and there is a free trial version available if you want to give it a go) as this app will allow you to annotate your PDFs. This comes in very useful if you’re on the go a lot and you want to read through the article you just downloaded from the library, and make notes directly on it – or highlight the text, that sort of thing, then print out your annotated version when you get home.

One thing that may make the movement of your documents far easier, as well as providing a backup for your files, is cloud computing. The idea here is that you keep your documents out there in the internet, rather than at home where your files are only accessible through your laptop, and, as a result, vulnerable. Personally, I prefer to keep them on my laptop but I DO keep backups of everything on a cloud. Some universities give each student a bit of their own area on the university computers, accessible from any computer on campus. This can be really good if you do a lot of work on campus (i.e. if you don’t have your own laptop). While I have some files there, most of the time I use dropbox, as it facilitates movement between my smartphone, tablet, laptop and desktop. If you want to use dropbox as a backup, you can install dropbox sync, which automatically backs up whatever file is directories that you specify onto dropbox, and then onto your phone/tablet. Be wary of this though, if you specify your university directory, as I did, then by your third year your phone will be screaming at you because its overloaded with data. Use wisely! There are almost certainly other versions of things like this out there – find what works for you.

Finally, in managing the movement of documents and finding them on your phone to work with them, some sort of File Management app is always a good idea. There are lots of versions out there – just type “File Manager” into your app store.

Research

Library Research is something every university student has to do, in varying amounts, and there are apps out there that can really help with this. One of the best I’ve found is CamScanner. This is a paid app, but as with other paid apps, there is a free version, although I can’t find it, probably because I have the paid version already. There are a number of other apps from the same stable that are worth looking at, but they all work on the same principle: of taking a photograph of a page and turning it into a scanned image. It will allow you to do this for multiple pages… and then turn it into a PDF. There are other apps that do similar things – it may be worth shopping around.

Once you work with this you can quickly see the strength of it for scanning articles that aren’t in digital form, or for scanning sections of books. You can even use it to scan paperwork so that you can email it to people like SFE when they need documentation for your DSA. These days I rarely do any proper work in the library for very long: I do my research at home as to what books/articles I need, write them into a small notebook with the library reference number and its location, then go around and collect the books/articles. I scan the articles with Camscanner, books I assess – if I think I’m going to need the entire book, then I borrow it, but if its just a chapter, then I scan it. With this technique I can be in and out of the library with all my research in just a few hours, and then work from the comfort of my home.

This technique DOES require you to have self-discipline: it is far too easy to find other things to do (such as blogging!) once you get home. But it does have the potential to save huge amounts of time, especially if you keep files. I find even now as a postgraduate that I will need an article or a book chapter that I first read in my second year, and I will go and find my scanned copy to re-read it, rather than getting it out of the library. It also means that you can turn otherwise wasted time, such as bus or train journeys, to good use – as you can read a book or article you scanned earlier, and maybe even annotate it in ezPDF ready to be printed out when you get home.

Several caveats to all this:
1) Copyright. Obviously, you’re taking a copy, just like if you’re doing a photocopy. Unlike a photocopy, digital copies have more potential to be given to more people, particularly if they are placed on the internet. Doing this can get you into a great deal of trouble. Be careful with who you give copies to!
2) Any successful student will tell you that half the battle is organisation. Most students learn quickly to write article or book references across the top of any printed or photocopied documents that they take, so that they’re not scrabbling to find that reference that they just KNOW exists the night before an essay is due in and the library is closed… !! Obviously with Camscanner this is more problematic. The way I have found around this is to always photocopy the front page and then whatever else you need to give you your reference. With a book, that would be the title page, then the page behind it, with all the bibliographical details such as when it was printed, where, what edition it is, etc. I find it useful, sometimes, to also scan the index page, particularly if it is an edited book as you may vaguely remember a chapter in that book and want to check it out. Also do not forget to scan the appropriate footnotes pages for the bits that you’ve scanned. With edited books, these footnotes are often at the end of the chapter, or as a proper footnote on each page. Some books do them as endnotes at the end of the book. For an article, this may be the front page of the article that shows the edition number, year, issue number, etc. Make sure, too, that your scanned copy shows the page numbers!

Another useful app is something called Ref Me. This allows you to scan the barcode on a book, or to put in the ISBN Number (which is found on the reverse of every title page for every book) and it will use the internet to find the details of your book. You set up an account with Ref Me, which you can then use via their website on your laptop/desktop browser, and you can copy bibliographic details into your bibliography or references for your essay. Very cool. Make sure its set to reflect your institution’s referencing requirements, and away you go! It works well with other bibliographic software as well like EndNote too.

In terms of ebooks, downloading the Kindle may be worth it. Personally, I use the kindle to read fiction, for when I want a break, and rarely use it for reading study books. I find it difficult to move back and forth using a kindle and prefer hard copy, unless I’m using a PDF version that I can annotate. There are exceptions however. Sometimes the ebook is just cheaper (and not available in the library), so you stump up and get it.

Finally, if your University library allows you to borrow e-books then its a great way of accessing the library from the comfort of home (or those times when you’re working at 2am the night before your essay is due…!). Different publishers specify different readers. I’ve even found that one publisher, who published a series of books in e-format, specified a different e-reader for each one! Highly annoying, that. Unfortunately Digital Rights Management (DRM), which is what stops you from keeping a copy for free, and just borrowing it for the time period specified, is difficult to get around – for a good reason. It’s worth keeping an eye on the proliferation of e-readers, noting which ones you like, and if you find ones you don’t like, delete them after you’ve read your book.

Notes

Most students have to take notes of some kind. Whether that’s notes in a lecture, or just taking notes from a book, or revision notes – even if you have a notetaker, you’ll almost certainly have to do the last two. I’ve not yet found anything to beat the humble paper and pen but if you’re technologically minded, then there are lots of note apps out there that can create beautiful notes for you. One I like to use is JotterPad, which is free to use and very minimalistic. Most files are saved locally, but it does allow you to save files on dropbox. The files save as a .txt, so you would have to open them in a wordprocessing program and make them look nice on your desktop/laptop before printing. But for notes on the go, its not bad. In Note, which comes from the same stable as CamScanner is one I found during the writing of this article and I have to admit, it looks quite good. The concern I have with that is that you spend so long beautifying your notes that you don’t get any work done! The one thing it does seem to do which JotterPad doesn’t, is to save your notes as PDFs, so you can save it on dropbox and then print it. However, if you go with In Note, you’re stuck with doing your notes on your phone until they’re complete, whereas with JotterPad, it is possible – in theory at least – to work on a document at uni on your phone via dropbox – then come home and download the file from dropbox to your laptop and continue working on it there. What that really comes down to is your particular style of working. There are other note apps out there – searching will find them – but me? I stick to pen and paper. 🙂

Organisation

As I’ve said before, most successful students will find that their success is due, in part, to their control of organisation. This goes from organisation of papers, through to their diaries, task management, and so on. There are lots and lots of apps out there to help with some of these. There are many diary apps. I particularly like the ones that are based on Google’s diary – I myself use Business Calendar, which is a paid app (there are free ones around). Yes, you have to give up some privacy (i.e. Google gets to see everything you put in there), but the key strength of it is that the info is kept on your Google account, not your phone, so it’s very movable, for example, if you lose your phone or it breaks, or even if you upgrade. Ditto with Contacts. Gone are the days when you need to redo everything everytime you upgrade (thankfully!).

There are also tons of task-manager apps out there, some of which link into your diary so you can schedule tasks for yourself. Particularly useful if you have a lot of assignments due in a specific period. My partner swears by Wunderlist, which comes in various (free/paid) versions depending on your specific requirements. The strength of Wunderlist is that it can supposedly (it has hiccups occasionally) works across devices, like Ref Me, you have an account with Wunderlist which you can use on your laptop, phone, tablet, desktop, etc. You can also share lists within Wunderlist with other people who have Wunderlist – very useful for group working. There is a Wunderlist for Education, although I fail to see how its different to the usual Wunderlist. There are other task managers out there. I quite like Todoist, which, like Wunderlist, has different paid subscription levels according to your requirements, and is accessible across your devices.

As with taking notes, though, I prefer good old pen and paper. I buy a ring-bound book, open it up so that there are two blank pages available, on the left, I note all the to-dos for Uni for that week, on the right, I note all the to-dos for non-Uni stuff for the week. Following week I turn the page and start a new section. In between I fold the book back on itself, so uni stuff is on top, non uni on bottom – all I have to do is turn it over to access the other side. Combined with different coloured pens its a system that works well. I do combine this with recording the dates of assignments and classes in my phone diary, so the two systems work together. If I have a lot of things to do at Uni one day, I may sometimes record that list in Todoist, or scribble it on a postitnote and stick it inside the phone cover. If I have a lot to do at home in one day, I sometimes scribble a daily to do list on a reporters notebook. Its a system I’ve honed over the last 5 years and it works for me: I’ve often been complimented on my organisational abilities. It helps that I also have an office of my own at home, which I know many students won’t have – as a mature student, having my own home (not my parent’s) gives me stability that really helps with my studies. I have a filing cabinet that I put all my research notes into, for example, and rarely throw anything away.

Divider03What apps do you find useful? What working methods do you have for organisation? It’s important to share – because by learning from each other, we grow stronger, and I’m a firm believer in the importance of technology – making it work for us, and helping us to work SMARTER, rather than harder. Feel free to leave a comment or email me on deafstudentuk at gmail dot com. Thanks!

Educating deaf children

Deaf Awareness Week

Deaf Awareness Week – 4th to 10th May 2015

The NDCS (National Deaf Children’s Society) has this week announced that there is evidence to show that deaf children with mild to moderate hearing loss ‘struggle in classrooms‘, mostly caused by poor acoustics and a lack of understanding by staff (you can read a summary and a link to the full article here).

The initial report is shocking enough – mostly because it absolutely highlights, for me, how very little has changed since I was a child in mainstream education. While the report focuses – and quite rightly so – on what needs to be done to improve matters for deaf children in education NOW and in the future, today I’d like to write about the implications of what has been noted, particularly if things do not change.

In a nutshell, deaf children will continue to struggle at school. They will continue to leave with lower qualifications, substantially worse access to further and higher education, and lower prospects for success in careers and life (although, as Charlie Swinbourne has written, many are currently wondering if they should even bother to strive for a career).

This makes access for mature (over 21) deaf students to Further – and then from there – Higher education even more crucial. It is the only way, that if the measures above are NOT addressed, that deaf people have any kind of chance of redressing their poor education, of learning what they need to learn, in order to get on in life and succeed. Deaf people already have so much stacked against them that really, they need every single positive tick on their side in the education box to help them. [and yes, I count myself in that criteria as well.]

The troubles besetting deaf people’s access to higher education have been fairly well publicised – the challenges to Disbled Student’s Allowance, for example. The changes to further education have been less well publicised, less well known, perhaps because they aren’t aimed specifically at deaf people, but at further education in general. But they will impact on deaf people just as hard, mostly because – and I have no statistics to back this up – I suspect that proportionally, deaf people would be more likely to need to access further education when they left school.

I had a substantial chat with someone who works in further education about the impact of these cuts on deaf people. Naming no names, or the institution, or even the location as this is happening across the country (to the person that I had the chat with though: thank you for all this information!) This is what has been happening:

1. EMA has been cut – in England at least (it is still available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Education Maintenance Allowance used to be given to help young people with the costs of studying in further education. Instead, in England, there is a bursary for those aged 16-19. You can also get a loan if you are over the age of 24 to help with career development. If you’re aged 19-24, you’re outta luck. This is general, by the way, not specific to deaf people, BUT, as my contact pointed out: the general cuts to funding ‘all affected the deaf and people with disabilities disproportionately, as they are generally less privileged and less well off, so it becomes the death of a thousand cuts…’.

2. Additional Learning Support is the term given to all disabled students, a generic term covering the various technologies and personal support that can be given to disabled people to assist them in learning environments – that’s schools, FE colleges, universities, the lot. Here’s the thing though: in FE colleges, funding for ALS is provided by the local authority. That means that every time someone applies to go to college with a disability, their needs are identified, and then someone from the college has to go to the Local Authority and ask for that funding.

That funding isn’t ringfenced.

Too often the local authority, struggling with cuts all over, with too many things they need to cover and nowhere near enough money, simply tries to deny, or only partially grant the package of ALS that is requested by the college. While there has to be accountability, they seem to too often query the level of support given, with financial motivations, rather than the motivations of what’s best for the person (which is as it should be). Greater amounts of work need to be put into ALS requests, which can lead to disabled students being undervalued, or worse, being actively resented because of the additional work that is required.

At the same time, colleges, which, like the local authorities, have had their budges slashed, are looking to actually make money from disabled students, from the ALS. If they can make a discrepancy between what the student’s requirements actually cost and what they get from the local authority, then they essentially make a profit from the student. Which makes the local authority question the budgets for ALS more tightly, which… oh, you can all see where this is going, can’t you?

Decisions on ALS are also often being made late, which means that the support teams in colleges often just don’t have time to find and bring in the appropriate person – which means that support teams are chronically understaffed, underpaid, and overworked.

3. Factor in the fact that FE colleges have had their budgets cut so badly (up to 40% in some cases), that 190,000 adult education places will be lost, and the picture looks truly, truly bleak.

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What does all that mean for deaf people?

Very simply, this. Imagine you’re one of these children, highlighted by the NDCS, that leaves school with less than stellar qualifications, even if you’re actually pretty intelligent and capable of a lot more. You struggle, you manage to find a job you enjoy, and you work hard. But you watch people being promoted over you. You wonder why, you talk to people, and it transpires that you don’t have the qualifications needed to be promoted, even though you have the capability. So you think about going to college in order to get those qualifications.

Good luck with that one. Colleges have warned that by 2020, adult education simply will not exist in England.

By driving forward with these cuts, the government is condemning deaf people. Condemning them to a childhood with poorer access to education, to leaving school with poorer qualifications, poorer prospects of a good job. Poorer access to further and higher education, which could make the difference to a good job. Poorer assistance with the job, in making the difference so that deaf people actually CAN do the job, regardless of their hearing loss. Poorer help with benefits, so that, if after a lifetime of being given these poorer chances, you can’t find a job, you’re kicked when you’re down anyway.

… death of a thousand cuts indeed.

 

 

BADD – Disabilism in Higher Education

BADD - with a sneaked in deaf symbol

BADD – with a sneaked in deaf symbol. thought it was about time I did this.

As I said earlier, today is Blogging against Disabilism Day, and I have yet to offer up my sacrifice to the gods of the day (no, the one earlier doesn’t count). I’m meant to be doing my final essay of the year, but seeing as I’m done reading through all the research material, and my brain has now all the power of an almost empty whoopiee cushion …. I’m turning to BADD. And since I don’t want to read anyone else’s till I’ve done my offering (if I do that, I’ll just throw up my hands in despair) … I’d best crack on.

I wanted, here, to give a kind of overview of my experiences to date, in terms of disabilism – or encouragement – in education. To give a short description of my educational career so far: I returned to education, via a further education college and a diploma in 2010. In 2011 I started my undergrad degree, graduating last year, and am now doing a Masters degree. So far, so good. So what have been my experiences so far?

The university as a whole has been fantastic. I’ve talked with some of my interpreters about my time there and they have confirmed that largely, the university has been pretty good, in comparison to some of the other educational establishments that they’ve worked in. The disabled support unit for students has been supportive as well, after a rocky start. They initially seemed incapable of understanding the importance of full and comprehensive notes, as comprehensive as they could be, and I got through a few notetakers in my first year before I found people that did the job that I needed and then I simply requested them throughout. I sorted out interpreters myself; mostly because, again, I knew who I wanted and would work to achieve that. I also wanted and strived to maintain continuity for a module in my support team: that’s important. Again, initially, I think there was a bit of mistrust on their side: largely because they’d never had anyone like me before coming in with very clear ideas about what they needed and wanted and was prepared to take on extra admin in order to get it. [I think to a certain extent, my time at the Further Education college had spoiled me, as I’d been given VERY high quality provision there].

From my lecturers, I’ve largely had nothing but support, with one exception (more about that in a minute). My current lecturers, (two of whom I know well and the third is working on getting to know me!), take their time to talk to me (even when there’s an interpreter present, unless its in a class setting, and then they talk to me about as much as they do everyone else). Some handle it better than others – I’d say about as well as the average social cohort of hearing people might, some better, some worse. I think it helps that in every case throughout my undergraduate degree, at the beginning of a module, I would email the lecturer or seminar leader, introduce myself, explain my capabilities, what I would be showing up with (an interpreter and notetaker) and what my requirements were from them. Later in my degree that worked very well: I encountered the most problems in my second year when we were being spoken to by a different lecturer every week in that lecture series – I simply did not have time to email every single one, and most of the time I had no idea who it would be beforehand anyway.

The exception is a lecturer I have had ongoing problems with – and I have since learned seems to have problems with specific individuals (he regards people like marmite – he either loves you or hates you). In my case, we were going through an oral assessment and the rules of the assessment conflicted, hugely, with my requirements as a disabled person. Said lecturer stuck to his guns, being fairly rude in the process, and we had no real choice but to continue the assessment regardless (because of the presence of other students). What was even more stunning was the fact that the lecturer was meant to be the representative of the school when it came to disability issues – which and they displayed an astounding lack of knowledge about on that day. To the university’s credit, the lecturer was hauled over the coals and they put measures in place to ensure it would never happen again.

In terms of my fellow students: I’ve had a few comments. Most people have been friendly enough in class, but don’t seem to have wanted to socialise with me outside of class. The trouble is, I don’t know whether that’s because I’m deaf, or that I’m a mature student. I really can understand that a lot of them don’t want an old fart hanging around when they’re being sick outside nightclubs [what they may not get is that that’s mutual!]. But as a mature student, I have my own friends and life outside of university which means that having a university social life isn’t quite as important. There are people who are becoming friends, who look past the deafness and the bit of plastic on the back of my ear to see ME – and I’m incredibly grateful for them. Just wish more people could get past the awkwardness and just talk to me.

Outside of the University, I’ve struggled with disabilism from Student Finance England, who oversee DSA (Disabled Student’s Allowance, that pays for technical or personal help for disabled students). At postgrad level there are a whole range of seminars that are available to go to, done on a voluntary basis, and as part of various societies. These seminars are presented by people who are experts in their fields and its a really nice way to get outside of your own narrow focus and to widen your perspective for an hour, to keep your knowledge of other parts of your general field current. Attendance at a few of these throughout the academic year is advised, especially if you want to progress to PhD level (as I do).

Will SFE pay for it as part of DSA? No.

I understand their reasoning: if they cover this, then they could get into a situation where they have to cover support for people wanting to go on a cookery society, or a pub crawl, something that, really, doing this is not going to affect your degree grade. But this is very much a grey area. Some of the seminars are more critical to the acid test of whether attendance/non-attendance would affect my final degree grade, and although all my lecturers wrote (bless ’em) supporting letters saying that attendance at these seminars was critical to a fuller understanding and development of my wider knowledge of the field, SFE wouldn’t budge. In the end the university paid for them, but only those ones. Their budget is finite, and there are other seminars that I would love to go to, ones that are run by fellow postgraduates, (and that I blogged about in my second post, Networking) and that are really important for developing good working relationships with people that ultimately, I may be working with in my career. I get really angry at SFE, at their inflexibility to cover things like this, even a two part course that I went on to learn how to use some computer software that would be incredibly useful for the module I did before Christmas … they would not cover. Its not compulsory. And again, the university covered that.

I know that I’m a conscientious student: I work hard, I get good marks, I show up to almost every class, without fail (in fact, one of my current lecturers said something to this effect in my second year; that they love me because they know in me, they have at least one attentive student to teach at the end of term!). That makes it very easy to support me – sort of, the deserving disabled. I do wonder, sometimes, if the university would be as supportive if I wasn’t bringing in such high marks, if I had struggled even to pass and had graduated with a third class degree (instead of the first I actually got). It brings to mind the discussions that have been held over the last 400 years or so. How do you seperate the deserving from the undeserving? In the past, it was the deserving poor, not the deserving disabled – although the disabled was definitely seen as a subsection of the deserving poor. Do you treat them all as equal? Difficult questions – and ones that are particularly pertinent to society today, still, and especially pertinent given the upcoming election and the fact that next week is deaf awareness week.

I think I want to round this off on a positive note. What would I like to see for the future? Funding for those grey areas would be a good start. SFE needs to recognise that a university education is about more than just the compulsory classes; it’s about the whole expansion of the mind, of experiences, of learning who you are. Cut that short and you turn out a half-assed graduate. I’d like to see universities themselves being given bigger budgets for communication support of all kinds. I’d like disability awareness training to be a compulsory part of fresher’s week – hell, I’d like disability awareness training to be a compulsory part of schooling, period, delivered in age-appropriate ways at various points through school – this could easily be delivered as part of a wider civil skills module, perhaps, so that they learn about racism, gender politics, local politics, national politics, and critical thinking. That last is the key: to question the papers, what they read, and to think for themselves. I am a big believer in education. You might have heard the old saying: Give a man a tin of beans, and he’s fed for a day. Give him a bag of beans (seeds), he’d be fed for a lifetime. Or something similar. It varies. For me, education is the bag of beans.