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We need to be more inclusive of deaf students


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Going to university is a challenging experience for most students. It is a new chapter for many – the first time away from home, living with other people and being solely responsible for time management and attaining academic achievement. However, for some, there are additional challenges that too many of us are still unaware of.

Official statistics state that there are 11 million people with hearing loss across the UK - around one in six of us – meaning that most of us are likely to share a classroom with someone affected.

Image Credit: kalhh on Pixabay.

Although there are support services in place, a lot of deaf students still struggle throughout their secondary and higher education. Deaf students often do not have the option to take specific subjects due to exam requirements demanding listening and speaking modules to be performed. A recent petition has been created calling the government to introduce British Sign Language (BSL) as a GCSE subject for high school students.

Despite the limitations throughout high school, statistics have shown that deaf people are more likely to go to university, with 60% of deaf young people leaving school and going into Further Education in comparison with just around one-third of all young people aged 16. However, the same statistics have shown that the drop-out rate for deaf students in Further Education is twice that of the general population of students.

Why is this?

The report published by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) has found that nearly a half of all deaf students who needed support at university were still waiting for it when their course began, with most experiencing delays of more than two months and some even waiting six months or more. While this might not be the only reason for the higher drop-out rate, it is an example of the additional struggle deaf students have to go through during their time at university.

Considering this, what can be done by us fellow students to ensure we are more inclusive of deaf students? There are things that we, as fellow students, can do to ensure that deaf students feel included, with most changes just being on how we communicate. Some of these have been outlined by NDCS’ 'Look, Smile, Chat’ campaign:

Talk one at a time in a group situation

It is essential to ensure that multiple people are not all talking at the same time. Otherwise, someone with limited hearing will have trouble understanding, or someone having to lipread will have no chance to do so. Imagine you are in a club full of people, trying to understand what the person five feet away from you is saying.

Image Credit: StockSnap on Pixabay.

Stay still so the person can lipread you:

Face someone when they are talking to you and give them the chance to engage in conversation through reading your lips. Don't move around too much and avoid distorting your face through unnecessary shouting or slowing down. That said, you should also not rush your words too much. Just speak normally and do the polite thing and face someone when you are talking with them.

Remember to include them in your conversation:

Do not avoid addressing someone, just because you feel they might not understand you. Make them part of the group, involve them in discussions. Make sure everyone in the group knows what you are talking about. No one should feel left out based on the wrong assumption. Imagine if you were in a group and no one included you just because you speak another language.

Be creative with your communication:

If the person is struggling to understand you, offer to write it down on a notepad or even your phone. This small gesture can go a long way!

These are small changes we can do in our everyday lives to ensure deaf students feel more included. It is even possible to take this one step further:

According to a recent study done by video sharing platform TikTok – alongside their hashtag challenge #HowToSign, which encouraged people to learn more about sign language – BSL is used 145,000 people in the UK as their primary form of communication. These days several universities offer BSL as a core subject.

We spoke to Jess, a student at the University of Exeter, who took a module in British Sign Language this year. She says: “My own experience with disability has taught me that people aren't disabled; environments are disabling. We can make environments less disabling by educating ourselves. Studying British Sign Language has been brilliant. The language is beautiful, and I have found it endlessly helpful in building my communication skills.

“I think hearing people like myself often neglect the power of movement and gesture in communication and perhaps everyone would benefit from learning BSL in school. Learning BSL has also taught me to be more deaf-aware. The deaf community is larger than a lot of people realise I think, and a lot of people are excluding those who are deaf or with partial hearing without realising.”

Image Credit: Photo by Andrei Lazarev on Unsplash.

We also spoke with Clarion UK - the UK’s leading British Sign Language (BSL) interpreting agency – on what deaf students can do to prepare themselves for university life and also ensure that the support they receive is in place before university begins. Clarion gave the following advice:

Request that your timetable is provided to you as soon as possible - a month or so in advance. If there is one thing that makes the most significant difference for deaf students, it would be getting the timetable early. It will help the support to be in place right at the very start of your course.

Go to see a Needs Assessor at the earliest possible stage to get recommendations for your support. You could also talk to the Disability Support Manager at the university to let them know that you will be coming and what your needs will be.

Build a team around you that knows your university: It is the little things that cause stress and problems. Last-minute room changes often happen, and if the ones supporting you know where they are going, it is so much easier. They need to know the language of the course, and this can sometimes take a few weeks. The language used on degree courses can be overwhelming at first, and you, with your interpreters and notetakers, need to stick together!

For 1:1 support - rather than interpreters or notetakers - it is vital to make use of what you have been given. Don't leave it until the final year or the week before finals to realise you need some help. Your support worker will be there with you every step of the way and will turn into someone you can rely on when you need it.

Communication is key: If you don't understand anything, say so. If you are unhappy with any aspect of your support, talk to your support worker. Problems will happen and learning how to discuss and deal with them is a skill you learn and then use when you move into work.

In the last 12 months, Clarion has supported over 900 students within tertiary education - deaf and hard of hearing as well as those with other disabilities - working with universities, colleges and needs assessment centres.

By implementing such simple strategies such as facing a deaf person so that they can lipread what you are saying, we can make deaf students feel more included within larger communities. This is so vital: no-one deserves to feel isolated or held back because of a disability. 

To find out more information on support for deaf people, visit Clarion UK Student Support. Their services include BSL Interpreters, Specialist Study Skills Tutors, Specialist Notetakers and many more.

Lead Image Credit: kalhh on Pixabay.

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