Ni Gallant: Starting university… and wearing my hearing aids for 17 hours straight

Posted on October 4, 2012



I’m writing this sat in the laundry room of my university.

From what I can work out there are 3 washing machines and a tumbler dryer on the go but all I can hear is, well, nothing. This is what I love about university. I woke up this morning and looked at my hearing aids before thinking – “you know what, today I want to be Deaf.” Nobody stopped me, my parents didn’t nag me. There wasn’t even a particular reason, and even though I can’t hear anything I feel perfectly safe because for the first time I have a pager in my pocket which I know will vibrate like hell if the fire alarm goes off.

As well as all this silence I’m feeling amazingly awake, buzzing, and full of energy… Despite having two hours of lectures already today I don’t feel like I’m in information overload – the reason why? Oh, well I have an interpreter now! In terms of academics and support I’m loving it! After years and years of battling for support in a mainstream school, with a council that never seemed to come through with support even when it was promised, I feel like I’m on cloud 9 right now. This is another thing I love about university.

I’m not going to lie though; there have been moments when the tears have spilled over and I’ve sat in my room with my hearing aids out wishing and hoping that another deaf person will just walk through the door and start up a conversation with me. You see, although I have enormous amounts of fantastic support within university outside of lectures it’s just me. All on my own. My university is actually split into three campuses – North, South (that’s me!) and Millennium Point – and although there are apparently a couple of other deafies up at City North, here at South I’m the only one.

In the long run I hope this won’t matter too much, that people will become more deaf aware and that the university will hurry up and organise a deaf social event like they’ve promised! But at the minute it means that for the first time in years I’ve felt almost (shock horror!) like a hearing person…

Whereas I would normally do as I’ve done today and spend any free moment hearing aidless I realised last week that what with moving in, talking to new people (scary!) and going out for Freshers I’d actually had one day where I wore my aids for 17 whole long hours… That has to be some kind of record! I found myself sitting in conversations, where I couldn’t hear much of what was being said, debating the benefits of stem cell research and cochlear implants… Scary thoughts for someone who’s always sworn blind they would never consider them! Not that I’m saying I would – but I’m really starting to see why people would think about it!

In the defence of my lovely and wonderful flat mates, and flat next door mates, they have made an effort! Nearly all of them now know their names in sign, as well as various things such as “hello”, “good morning” and amusingly “where are the tea bags…?” So I can’t fault them for effort. But I think it’s more of a general misunderstanding about the complexities of not being able to hear half of a conversation, or not ever having had to think about how tiring it is to lip read a conversation all day. But I do love them all to bits, and I hope that over time they’ll become fluent signers or at least incredibly deaf aware!

To look back over my past week I have to say that moving in day was the most daunting experience, a flat full of new people who could have potentially been horrendous to lip read was never going to fill me with joy! But I do seem to have lucked out – so far all my flat mates have been easily lip readable!

I suppose the funniest moments have been in clubs where at first I felt even more isolated until I realised that people’s deaf awareness increases ten-fold. Suddenly texting on phones when you can’t understand is acceptable and normal, and using gestures and signs is common place! I even found I had an advantage – lip reading skills are very useful in a club!

I guess in conclusion I should say that after a week and a half I both love and hate university. I love my support and my friends. I dislike the general lack of deaf awareness, but I applaud the efforts made by everyone I know (well most of them…). At the same time I do hate not having my deaf friends around me – I find myself overjoyed just to have an appointment with my disability advisor and actively seeking out speech and language therapy students or pretty much anyone with sign language skills!!

I’m sure that overtime things will improve and so for now I’m staying as positive as possible! But if you’re reading this and you happen to be a deaf person living in Birmingham please do get in touch! I would love a coffee with another deafie!!

Ni is a deaf teen who has just started university. This year she was on the NDCS Youth Advisory Board and she also runs a Youth Group for Worcestershire deaf teens called “Deafinity.” She writes a blog (www.nigallant.blogspot.com) about life from a deaf teenagers perspective and says that “somehow what I said resonates with other young people – so I carried on!”

The Limping Chicken is supported by Deaf media company Remark!, provider of sign language services Deaf Umbrella, the Deaf training and consultancy Deafworks, the RAD Deaf Law Centre, and BID’s upcoming 5th anniversary performance by Ramesh Meyyappan on 12th October – don’t miss it!

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