Deaf Awareness Week 2020 - Being Deaf at Uni

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

CN: education, DSA, access support, learning support plans, interpreters


Wishing you a happy deaf awareness week and a safe lockdown!

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When I meet new hearing and Deaf people alike and mention that I have two degrees, I’m told that I must be really clever, and the majority of people are shocked I went to university. And unfortunately, I understand why. A report from the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) [link] found through examining governmental data that Deaf and hard of hearing students in England are struggling at every level of the education system. Further, another report by the NDCS [link] revealed that 46% of Deaf and hard of hearing university students who get additional support did not receive it in time for the start of their course with 59% waiting more than two months and 28% for over six months. Given this fact, I completely get why Deaf people would not want to put themselves through trauma and isolation by going to university. However, if it is your dream or aspiration to, you don’t need to give up just because tells you that you should. So, if you want to go to university but are feeling unsure about it, here are some top tips of things you can do to get the support you need:


Applying to university

Here is a BSL video on searching for university courses [link] and applying to university [link]. Some universities are known for their pastoral support as well as their disability support, and it is important to take this into account when thinking about the type of course, and where you want to study.


First, think about whether you want to go to university and what you want to study – this is probably the subject you are most passionate about, but make sure you do your research as many universities offer exciting modules and opportunities. All universities have the legal obligation to make the course accessible for you. When researching what you are studying, look at what each of the universities that offer the course includes in the assessment and teaching of the different modules – for example, some have an oral presentation aspect, some are 100% exam, and some have coursework elements.


For many of us Deaf and hard of hearing folk, the Deaf community is a really important part of our lives – so find a university which has a Deaf culture! In the UK, there are five universities where you can study Sign linguistics: Heriot-Watt University (Edinburgh), University College London (UCL), the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), the University of Wolverhampton and York St John University. The universities of Edinburgh and Leeds also have postgraduate courses for Deaf teacher training. There are also many universities that have disabled students’ societies, as well as BSL societies, including University of Liverpool and Liverpool Guild, University of Bristol, University of Edinburgh, Glasgow University, University of East Anglia, and Durham University.


Visit UCAS [link] to search for courses and universities, and to find information on how to apply.


Visiting the university

The best way to find out what a university is like and whether you feel at home it to visit! Not only can you look around, but you also have the opportunity to discuss how your needs will be met, as well as meet course tutors and ask general questions.


Top tip: when you visit, ask what kinds of adjustments the university will make for you to access the course, and about accessible accommodation, for example, you may need halls/house with adaptations to include flashing fire alarms or doorbells.

To find out when open days are, look here [link] or the BSL video here [link].


Admission tests and interviews

Many universities now have admissions tests which are offered after screening UCAS applications. The results of these tests are considered alongside UCAS points and performance if you have an interview. If you sit an admission test, you should discuss your need for exam adjustments, such as extra time, with the university’s disability advisor. If you have an interview, you should discuss any access needs beforehand to ensure that the university can ensure they make any necessary reasonable adjustments, such as an interpreter.


If you believe you were rejected from a university on grounds of being Deaf or hard of hearing, contact the institution and ask for the reasons for their decision. If you still believe that the university has not taken reasonable steps to avoid discrimination, you should make a complaint and potentially a legal case under the Equality Act 2010.


Support while at university


Disabled Students’ Allowance


What is it?

Here is a BSL video explaining DSA [link]. Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) is a government scheme that covers some of the extra costs you have because of your deafness and/or another disability. You can get the allowances on top of your other student finance. You will not need to repay DSAs. How much you get depends on your individual needs - not your household income.


Types of support on offer


DSA can help with the costs of:

  • specialist equipment

-> if you are assessed as needing a new computer, you will need to pay the first £200, but DSA cover the rest.

  • non-medical helpers

  • extra travel because of your disability

  • other disability-related costs of studying

DSAs do not cover:

  • disability-related costs not related to your course, such as new hearing aids.

The support you will be given will depend on your individual needs. However, types of support that d/Deaf and hard of hearing students have been entitled to include:

  • a notetaker

  • specialist tutor/mentor

  • British Sign Language or lipspeaker interpreter, or palantypist

  • streamer – transmits a lecturer’s voice to your cochlear implant

  • radio aid – a microphone linked to the hearing aid, which you give to the lecturer


How to apply

You can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) if you live in England and have a disability that affects your ability to study.


You must also:

  • be an undergraduate or postgraduate student;

  • qualify for student finance from Student Finance England; and

  • be studying on a course that lasts at least a year

If you are, or will be, a full-time student and have applied for student finance, sign in to your student finance account to start your DSAs application [link]. The DSA application should appear on your ‘to-do-list’. If it is not, select ‘change your circumstances’ to apply. If you do not have an online account because you applied for student finance by post, download form DSA1 for Disabled Students’ Allowances [link]. If you have not yet applied for student finance, you can apply for DSAs when you apply for student finance online [link]. If you do not need student finance, you can apply by downloading and filling in form DSA1 for Disabled Students’ Allowances [link].


If you are, or will be, a part-time student, and want to apply for DSA (or are already getting DSA but need to claim back expenses), you will also need to download and fill in form DSA1 for Disabled Students’ Allowances [link].