Kim Webster’s University Diary: The communication issues of my first few weeks

Posted on October 22, 2015

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Freshers’ week is dust now, and the academic term is in full swing. So many new faces and lip patterns to get used to, new room layouts and working out where’s the best place for the interpreter to stand and ironing out the snags that don’t crop up until things are a reality.

There have definitely been a few communication issues in the last few weeks!

On the first day I drove there, and unsure of how parking works, I drove to the barrier and asked the parking attendant.

The parking attendant with the huge, bushy, fulsome moustache.

He said something to me, and I said “sorry, what did you say?” for what feels like a million times, and then he turned around. Clearly I missed something there. “Could I go through then?” He says more unintelligible things.

At this point, I’m thinking it would be quicker to crash through the barrier and then explain later. At least they’ll provide an interpreter in the police station.

Then I realise he’s actually gesturing and explaining a tiny black box to the side of the barrier and I’m supposed to scan my student card, simple! So that was the first communication breakdown.

Last week, I ordered a coffee at the café. Simple right? “Regular Americano please.” The barista says what I think is mug, and I reply in the affirmative. Another barista puts it through the tea and asks what size I ordered. After the coffee is made, it is clear the first barista actually said “Large?”

Then there’s the other students on the course. The lecture theatres are full of them. I was speaking to another student who’s in a lot of my lectures and seminars, and she said to me the other day “I was wondering why the sign language man was in all of my classes, and then I realised he was for you!”

I asked what she had originally thought and she said that she thought they just put an interpreter in every class just in case. Imagine if deaf access was that advanced! It would cost an absolute fortune.

A few times people have spoken to the interpreter instead of me, and I feel like saying to them “Shall I crawl away while you finish your conversation, clearly I’m not involved!”

The lecturers themselves have, on the whole, been great. Occasionally they accidentally walk in front of the interpreter, and he has to move.

It looks like a strange dance sometimes- when the lecturer blocks him, he moves to the side, and when they move he moves back, and so on!

After my first English seminar, the lecturer spoke to me after and asked if I had any worries or concerns, and how I was feeling. I thought this was a nice gesture, because in fact seminars were giving me nervous breakdowns.

I can’t hear the other students speaking, so I don’t know whether it is okay for me to speak, because I don’t want to seem like I’m shouting other people down or speaking over them.

I start to speak, then I realise someone else is and by the end of the session I’m just growling by myself in the corner. I explained this to the lecturer and he really helped to allay my (peculiar!) worries.

There has been a couple of little snags, and that’s been having a BSL interpreter for English lectures.

There’s too many words that need fingerspelling, and too much BSL translation for the English description, so when I write my notes up, I find that I’ve interpreted it differently in my head and things aren’t always matching up.

There’s a lot of reading to do on the PowerPoint presentations, and the lecturer is constantly talking so I can’t always read both the presentation and watch the interpreter.

I’ve been in touch with my disability advisor though, about the possibility of an Electronic Notetaker. Someone who types while I read on the screen, so it’s in English and I can make notes.

I tried to explain the concept to someone at Student Services earlier today and they thought I wanted someone to type my notes up for me. Even I’m not THAT lazy! Well… I wouldn’t admit it to Student Services anyway!

It has been a good couple of weeks so far. There’s been barriers but surmountable so far. It is harder to be a student and deaf, but not impossible. The key for me so far has been good support, organisation and a good night’s sleep, although that seems so very un-student-like!

Kim Webster was 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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