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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

Am I really good enough to be an academic?

Imposter01I’m currently buried in exam revision – and taking a bit of time out to write this, while dinner is merrily cooking away. I say exam, it’s more in the nature of a test – practising the skills that we, the students on the course have, rather than what we know. Still, there is some knowledge that needs to be absorbed and of course I have to practice the skill itself (and you’ll understand, I’m sure, that I can’t get any more specific than that).

Preparation for exams always involves a certain element of fear: fear of the unknown. Will this be covered? Will the examiner be crafty and put that odd thing in? Is this nugget of info something I should be memorising? And then, sometimes, for some of us, underneath it, is that sneaky little fear: am I good enough for this? Is this where I fall? Is this where I’m found out, is this where people realise that I’m not as smart as they think I am?

I struggle with Imposter Syndrome (this page has lots of info on this). I’m not alone in this, and its not linked to my deafness (or at least, I don’t think so – I’m not a psychologist so I have no idea if there is a commonality in these two things). I know I have it, and there are many many articles out there detailing it and what to do about it. Its commonly found in high achievers – in fact, one graph out there, on this page, specifically says that the higher you achieve, the lower the likelihood that you will think you’re as good as you are (in other words, if you have imposter syndrome, you likely are a high achiever). I’m not sure that little nugget is any comfort to those who have it (it ain’t for me). I only know that I have spent the last four years absolutely convinced that at any moment one of my lecturers would tap me on the shoulder and says “I’m dreadfully sorry, but we’ve made a mistake, you don’t belong here. Please leave.” … I know. They just wouldn’t do that (they’d send a letter, if they had to do this) and it certainly wouldn’t come out of the blue with no indication or warning that something was wrong. And it certainly doesn’t apply to those who have a first class undergraduate degree as I do. Nevertheless, I still worry.

And now I’m at Masters level, the worrying is worse. I hear, in the back of my mind, my father telling that “people get promoted to their level of incompetence”. The worrying was made worse, I think, by the university’s unclear guidance as to the difference between marks at undergraduate level and postgraduate level. Does a 70% mark mean the same thing at both? does a 70% mark at Masters level equal an 80% mark at undergrad level? The first assignments of the year fell either side of Christmas. I was reasonably happy with the assignment I handed in before Christmas, but, due to some stuff that happened over the Christmas break, and the fact that I struggled to conquer a particular software programme that I needed to use meant that I didn’t feel so good about the second assignment. In fact I handed it in with the attitude of ‘well, I have to hand something in. Better than nothing at all.’ When my lecturer came up to me about a week after the hand in date and said, with a huge smile, jokingly, “I just got done reading your assignment. It’s rubbish!”, I think he really did not understand when I just gasped (with relief) and said “yeah, it is, I know, I’m sorry”. He apologised and said “no, its not really rubbish. I wouldn’t have said that if it was… I was just joking”. In the end I got 71% for it – distinction level – and 72% for the assignment from before Christmas. So… shows what I know.

Imposter syndrome isn’t linked to my deafness… but is it made worse by it? In some ways, I think it is. That little voice in my head that tells me I’m a fraud, also tells me that I only get good marks because I’m deaf, or that they give me the good marks, that they invite me to things, because I make up a quota, that I make the university look good. I know, too, that I am almost certainly being incredibly unfair to the university and to my tutors (and quite apart from anything else, assignments are marked anonymously (with student numbers, not names) and each assignment is co-marked by a secondary marker, and a selection of assignments are marked from outside the university at the of the year, so that there is NO way that the system or a tutor can favour any one person … and … breaaaaaathe!) and that, you know, I actually DO deserve to be there, I AM that good, but still… there’s that little voice in the background that just … doesn’t … go away.

I know I’m not the only postgrad student feeling this way. In fact, its incredibly common amongst postgrads, as this article from 2008 reveals. But if we’re not alone in feeling this way, what’s the solution?

To talk about it.

It sounds obvious, but … talk about it, to friends, family. Tell them you struggle with this. Ask them to listen when your little naggy whiny “you are SO a fake!” voice is particularly loud, for whatever reason and TELL them you feel that way – even if you only feel able to do the equivalent of waving a placard going “help”. Have people around you who are willing to kick you up the backside when you do.

Other things that you can do:

  • Accept that you may be contributing to the  problem by having unrealistic ideas of what your classmates are capable of, and what your attainment level should be right now – in other words, stop feeling bad, because you don’t exhibit the knowledge that a senior lecturer with 20 years research behind him can show. Try to address that, to develop a more realistic attainment level by talking to your classmates and understanding what they’re doing – ask to read their papers.
  • Understand what you do when your syndrome is kicking in, what your patterns are. Do you procrastinate? Do you go over papers again and again, striving for perfectionism? do you want to quit because you’re so sure that you’ll never match up to the required standard so you may as well give up now?
  • Understand too the normalisation of where you are now – right now, you’re in a place where taking a postgraduate degree is normal to you. You’re mixing with other people who have Masters degrees themselves, maybe even doctoral degrees, so you’re in a group of higher achievers than would otherwise be normal in a given population. It’s important therefore to remember this, to remember that not everyone in the world has a bachelor’s degree, let alone a Master’s degree, let alone a doctoral degree, and even just studying for one, let alone achieving one, is really not the norm, and is something special. Attempting it and failing does NOT make you a fraud.

I actually have a piece of paper stuck to the wall behind my computer, with all the things I have going for me right now, all the blessings in my life, all the things I have achieved, some of which some very special friends have told me (and I am so blessed to have them). At the bottom are two sentences: “You deserve to be happy” and “You can do this”. I look at it often and feel inspired, and it shoos the voice away for a bit.

If you’re a deaf student, and struggling with imposter syndrome, then know this: I think you’re incredibly brave.  It takes guts to continue, every day, fighting the fear that someone is going to call you a fraud, and yet you’re still there, in the lectures, in the seminars, learning away. I know this cos I have to do the same thing.

But I say to you – keep on fighting it, keep on learning, cos, you know, you deserve to be happy. And you can do it.

Time: how being deaf can affect your study time

Time just gets away...

Time just gets away…

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

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

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

Removal of potential sources and multitasking

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

What I can suggest is the following:

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

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

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

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

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