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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.


Exploring and re-evaluating my deaf identity

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

I’m a student who happens to be deaf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am me.

‘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 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.