Ni Gallant: What it’s like to be a deaf student

Posted on February 20, 2013

Since September 2012 I’ve been a full time student on a Social Work course at Birmingham City University.

I love the course and everything it offers me; a mix of law, psychology and social policy with a practical application so that in the future I’ll be able to use the things I’m learning in whatever job I end up doing.

I’m the only deaf student on my campus and the first deaf student to ever do this course at my university – yet I picked BCU as my definite choice because of the support they could offer me and the opportunities I would have.

In lectures I use an interpreter and note-taker. This is a change from my previous mainstream life where I had to “make do” with a radio aid and note-taker. With my increase in support I already notice massive differences in lots of things; I don’t feel as tired as I used to at the end of the school day, which gives me more opportunities to socialise, and my marks are much better because I don’t struggle to take on board the information.

When I first started at university I wrote about how, for the first time in my life, I was finding socialising more difficult than academia.

This is still the case in some ways, as although there are deaf students on other campuses I’m the only one here. Yet I’ve found ways to cope; I have two hearing friends who sign well and are very deaf aware, and as well as this I’ve met other deaf young people my own age who go to university around Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

However, I do go home to my family and old deaf friends reasonably often, and I’m lucky I chose to study so close to home.

I’ve always strived to raise people’s expectations of me as a deaf young person, and get frustrated when people expect less of me than my peers purely because they perceive me as “disabled”.

As part of my work with vInspired I recently ran, with the help of volunteers, an event to encourage students to think about their mental wellbeing. I was amused by the number of students and lecturers who looked askance when I informed them I was deaf, or when they saw me signing with my volunteers. After challenging one lecturer who had immediately changed her behaviour after learning I was deaf, I realised that she had never met a deaf young person before and was unsure how to communicate.

Although it irritates me that this is a regular occurrence in my day to day university life, I feel like having a deaf student on campus has benefited other students; as health workers they will undoubtedly meet deaf people in the future and I like to think I’m doing my bit to educate them about the abilities of deaf adults and young people!

All in all, university for me has been a positive experience and has given me the independence over my life that I craved through my final year of sixth form. It has opened doors and allowed me to explore who I am in relation to Deaf and hearing worlds. It’s forced me to become more confident in myself and to “put myself out there” communication wise in order to have the social life I’ve wanted.

Despite occasionally wishing for more deaf company, I’m happy with the life I have at university, and as I recently told my younger deaf friend, it’s important to grasp the opportunity to go to university and prove to doubters that we are only deaf, not dumb!

Ni will be writing fortnightly about student life. Look out for the next one!

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 ( about life from a deaf teenagers perspective and says that “somehow what I said resonates with other young people – so I carried on!”

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