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.

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.

(more…)

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!

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?

Time: how being deaf can affect your study time

Time just gets away...

Time just gets away…

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

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

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

Removal of potential sources and multitasking

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

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

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

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

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

Administration

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

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

What I can suggest is the following:

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

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

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

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

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

‘Invis-abilities: the Elephant in the Room’

The elephant in the room

The elephant in the room

Yesterday I was contacted by Rachel Wayne, a PhD student from Queen’s University, Kingston in Canada. Her studies are in the field of Cognitive Neuroscience and Clinical Psychology and she recently came to some very personal conclusions as a result of some research work she was doing with her supervisor. The result of that one conversation with one person, as she put it, sparked not only a deeply important personal realisation but a whole series of blogs which culminated in a TEDx talk entitled ‘Invis-abilities: the elephant in the room’. The TEDx talk is well worth listening to (and for once, google’s autosubtitles behave themselves) so it is definitely worth a watch. Her talk may not be evocative for every deaf person, particularly those that see their deafness from the Deaf perspective, but it certainly spoke to me. This was particularly so in the part where she talks about feeling that she ‘had to constantly advocate’ for herself and what she needed in the classroom. I know there are times where I get so tired of being the needy one, constantly (or so it feels) asking for support for this event or that seminar. Just once it’d be nice to be asked “say, there’s this conference in August, do you want to? if so, I’ll sort out the support…”. Inspired by Rachel, I plan to write more about this at a later date.

But back to Rachel: her writings, in three parts, are also very much worth a read, where she reflects on how to enable communication with deaf people; gives some insights into deaf students in further and higher education and finally, some strategies that deaf students and their teachers can use and the bigger picture.

More information about Rachel and her work can be found here.

Networking

Networking

Networking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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