Victoria Williams: 5 tips for universities supporting Deaf students

Posted on September 5, 2014



The nights are getting darker, and X-factor is about to begin, signalling the end of the summer and the beginning of the academic year 2014/15.

Deaf students will be leaving the comfort of home and entering the scary and independent world of University, where deaf students tend to make up less than 0.01% of a University population.

Therefore the already daunting task of finding like minded friends to commiserate leaving home with will be near impossible. Looking at the end of the course, it’s scarier that only 1 in every 4 deaf students will actually graduate.

Here are 5 tips a University can adopt to turn their deaf students into deaf graduates:

1. Understand the specific needs of the deaf student

This can be very tricky, as this could be the student’s first independent experiences they have had, as they have had all of their support arranged for them up until now.

They may not be fully aware of the choices that are available to them and what may suit them best in a University environment.

2. Supply the appropriate Communication professional

Here is a run-down of the key BSL Communication Professionals:

  • Sign Language Interpreter (SLI) – a BSL level 6 qualified interpreter that conveys spoken and written information from one language to another without adding or omitting information, with full respect of confidentiality.
  • Communication Support Worker (CSW) – a BSL level 3 qualified interpreter or below with same responsibilities as an SLI.
  • Lipspeaker – A hearing person who is professionally trained to be easy to lipread. They use facial expression, gesture and fingerspelling to aid understanding.
  • Notetakers – provide manual or electronic notetaking services for Deaf and hard of hearing people. Both produce a summary rather than detailed notes. Notetakers are useful when a student needs to observe a tutor or lipspeaker.
  • Speech to text reporter (STTR) – listens to what is said and inputs it, verbatim, onto an electronic shorthard keyboard. An STTR can produce 200+ words a minute and includes laughter and applause within the notes.
  • Deaf Blind Manual – conveys information to a deafblind person using hands on signing. The deafblind user receives communication through holding and touching the hands of an interpreter.

3. Choose a BSL interpreter over a CSW where you can

BSL interpreters are always the recommended choice in Education, as a CSW has not completed their interpreter training.

Although CSW’s are the cheaper option, employing one to convey dynamic and sophisticated information could hinder the student’s learning, particularly when it comes to exams.

Level 6 Qualified interpreters are more capable of conveying complex information and new words into identifiable BSL signs.

4. Book high-quality Communication Support

University tutors may believe that any communication support equals a normal University life. However, hearing students gain a lot of insight though listening to tutors and the people around them.

A tried and tested Communication professional can enable the deaf student to absorb the learning environment as effectively as other students.

From a personal perspective, deaf students typically don’t enjoy Freshers Week. They are new to the academic environment and town and need to get to know others to fully enjoy their time at University.

Ensure that you book communication support to break down barriers between deaf students and their hearing peers.

5. Guide Deaf People who do not view themselves as disabled.

Deaf people do not view themselves as disabled in the traditional sense. They see themselves more as a cultural minority because they use a different language.

This often means they do not apply for DSA until quite late in the day, because they do not realise DISABLED students allowance is something they need.

By following these tips, you should be able to hit the ground running with your deaf students and allow you to develop an inclusive and accessible environment for them to thrive in.

Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 16.40.50Victoria Williams is a Registered Sign Language Interpreter (RSLI) and runs terptree, a business that provides interpreting and additional services in order to support the Deaf community. Follow her on Twitter: @terptree The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s 6th most popular disability blog.  Make sure you never miss a post by finding out how to follow us, and don’t forget to check out what our supporters provide: 

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