Kim Webster: How I feel about navigating new deaf access issues as I start university this week

Posted on September 30, 2015

Like thousands of people around the country, I’m going to be starting university in just over a week, which is terrifying for lots of reasons.

First and foremost, that they actually let me in.

Secondly, Student Finance England.

Thirdly, leaving my children at a wonderful nursery (they have a landline phone that can read text messages out! Hurrah for being deaf in the 21st century!).

Fourthly, I’m worried I’ll feel like Buddy from the film ‘Elf’, in the scene where he goes to Elf School, and is surrounded by little elves. Metaphorically speaking anyway, I assume I’ll still be 5’2” when I go to university.

Fifthly, but possibly most importantly, navigating a whole new set of Deaf Access issues.

I’m going to Nottingham Trent University. In 2010, before I had the kids, I studied briefly at the University of York. Then I decided I wasn’t quite in enough debt, and it would totally be better to do life the long way round… Ahem.

Anyway, I found Deaf Access at York distinctly lacking. I didn’t have an interpreter or note taker for my first lecture, no access statement, and I didn’t feel confident I was being supported.

I chose my student accommodation online, and picked the college and halls I wanted to join, but about six weeks later, I got an email saying that I was to be in a certain room in a different college because that was the only one that had a vibrating fire alarm.

I’m grateful that they had something that would alert me to the presence of fire, knowing that there was a high chance of the alarm going off during Freshers’ week, but there was no discussion with me about what I wanted. It was presented as de facto, and I would have liked some communication.

Deafness takes away a lot of choice in life anyway, from the mundane (can’t wear that hat, it makes my hearing aids whistle!) to being cut off from certain career paths because deafness makes us ineligible. The option of choice where possible makes it all the more important.

By the time I left York, I felt quite demoralised about being deaf. A lot of my lecturers were very understanding, but there were some who didn’t understand about transcripts for videos, advance warnings of room changes, placement of an interpreter, and the list goes on.

In comparison to NTU, I have a designated disability advisor, with whom I’ve had a textphone conversation (and that was my choice; we discussed how I would prefer to communicate- textphone, by proxy or email) and a meeting, where they booked the interpreter without needing to be asked.

We looked at my access statement which goes to all members of staff that I’ll have contact with, and covers eventualities such as evacuation from the library, field trips and extra support that I may find that I need.

I’ve had discourse with both the Deaf Access Service and their note-taking service. I’ve been bombarded with information about Disabled Students’ brunches/drinks/meetings. I’ve been informed I can have a student ambassador with me for extra support at social events and who I presume will be wearing a burgundy jacket saying ‘Hearing Student for the Deaf’. I might patent that idea.

Why is there such a difference in support? I really don’t know. I think from a broad and reductive perspective, NTU and Nottingham have a lot more deaf students, culture, deaf club.

If we were to dig deeper, I think there would be some boring sociological questions to ask. For now, I feel supported this time round. There’s one less thing to worry about, and I can focus on my studies. Also, Freshers! Freebies, yes please.

Kim Webster born moderately deaf, and went profoundly deaf in her teens. She’s a mother of two young children, an English and Linguistics student and works at Derby County Football Club part time. She enjoys reading, baking programmes, wine and losing hearing aids.

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