Deaf Awareness Week 2020 - Being Deaf at Uni

Updated: Jul 16

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


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

Previous blogs:


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].

  • For Wales, apply here [link]

  • for Scotland, apply here [link]

  • for Northern Ireland, apply here [link]

DSA needs assessment

Once it has been confirmed that you meet the eligibility criteria, Student Finance will ask you to contact an assessment centre, which is usually your university’s disability centre. This is an informal appointment where you disclose any diagnosed conditions you have, any areas that you may struggle at when at university (such as catching what the lecturer says), and any equipment or support that can be provided.


My top tip is to make a list of the support that you would like at university with your reasons before going to the assessment. For example, that you would like a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters for when you struggle to lipread the lecturer because BSL is your first language and interpreters have a high level of signing and lectures flow more smoothly with them.

The assessment is paid for through your DSA. After the assessment, you will be given a report listing any equipment or support that you will get for your course. Money is usually paid directly to the organisation that is providing the service or equipment.


Learning Support Plan

All institutions have a student support or disability office so prospective and current students can discuss how their needs will be met. A university’s website is a good place to look to see what support they offer to disabled students. When I was at university, this was called a Personal Learning Support Plan, but the name of this will differ depending on the university you attend. The disability office will usually be in touch with you, but if they have not or you got your diagnosis while on your course, you should email them.


What it is

It is a confidential report for disabled students, which describes any adjustments required for study, as well as for exams & assessments, and library arrangements. You will likely also be given a specific emergency action plan, for example, if there is a fire what the university will have to do (e.g. providing a pager so you know when to evacuate).


Types of support on offer

There are many types of support on offer, and what support you get will depend on your individual needs. However, some examples include:

  • Access to slides before taught sessions.

  • Lecture recordings for personal use.

  • Advice, if needed, on priorities for reading research and initial essay plans.

  • Clarification of information by the tutor when required.

  • Access to a table at the front of classes in order to see lecturer and/or interpreter

  • One-to-one sessions with the lecturer to discuss progress and any problems

  • Extensions for coursework deadlines

  • Extra time in exams

  • Use of computer and/or a scribe in exams.

  • Individual exam room.


How to apply

Usually, you will first need to contact your university’s disability service and ask to book an appointment with a disability advisor to discuss your support and exam arrangements. At the appointment, this is an informal chat where you can explain how your hearing loss affects you and anything you are concerned about (such as missing information from lectures or group work) and the advisor will work with you to make recommendations for adjustments that the university offers. You may be asked to send evidence of your deafness, such as a medical report or audiogram. Your advisor will explain any next steps that you need to take as these differ between student and university.


The law


Equality act 2010

If you are Deaf or hard of hearing, you meet the definition of a disabled person under the Equality Act (2010). This means that the university will have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments and not treat you unfavourably for reasons relating to your hearing.


Meet with your tutor

Most universities have Student Unions and Disabled students groups/societies, but building a rapport with your lecturers will be invaluable. A point that I always find useful is to make contact with the lecturer of each of your modules that you will be taking before they start. This can be a simple email explaining who you are, that you are Deaf or hard of hearing and that you wanted to check on what structure the module will be taking in case any provisions might need to be made.


This is a great idea because if the lecturer has not (knowingly) had a Deaf or hard of hearing student in their class before, they can ask you for suggestions of what would help you, so be prepared to reply or have a meeting. It might be useful to give them access to a copy of your learning support plan, so they can see what your adjustments are.


The following information may be useful for lecturers to make their module accessible for Deaf or hard of hearing students:

  • All students in the module could wear name badges for the first week

  • Ensure your face is well lit, and that lip readers are not facing the light, as well as using your usual lip patterns and try not to speak while the person is writing.

  • Keep your face within the view of the Deaf or hard of hearing student and speak in a natural tone.

  • Explain new concepts as you introduce them and write keywords on a board.

  • The student may be using a Notetaker, who may ask for clarification on a point to ensure their notes are accurate.

  • When an interpreter is being used, speak directly to the student and not to the interpreter.

  • Recognise that there may be extra processing time that an interpreter takes to translate a message from its original language into another language (whether to English or sign language or vice versa) and this will cause a delay in the student's receiving information.

  • Structure rest breaks for the interpreter into the session, as this is very important for their health and safety.

  • Some students make use of an individual radio transmitter; they may ask you to wear a microphone or be seen to be wearing headphones. Please note that this is part of their equipment.

  • Repeat questions or remarks of other people in the room.

  • Use visual aids to reinforce spoken presentations when possible.

  • When possible, provide class outlines, lecture notes, lists of new technical terms and printed transcripts of audio and audio-visual materials.

  • If you need to communicate with the student, do so in writing (such as email) for important information such as assignments, scheduling, and deadlines.

  • Bear in mind the challenges of decoding essay questions, instructions, coursework etc in an additional language (where the student’s first language is British Sign Language) where the form and structure are so different when marking.


Moving between England to Scotland, Wales or NI

If you are moving between England to Scotland, Wales or NI (or vice versa) to go to university, it is worth remembering that this will mean that NHS England will need to transfer over your medical records. It is a good idea to ask for a subject access request [link], a month’s prescription of any medication and copy of your audiogram from your local GP centre before you go to university as this can take a while to transfer over.


I also suggest that you also print off either a Communication Card or bring a letter, such as this template produced by Action on Hearing Loss [link] to hand to the practice manager at your new GP surgery at university, to ensure that your communication needs (such as an interpreter at GP appointments) are still met.


Do your research

Once you have been confirmed a place at your chosen university, make sure that you do your research at least a month before you start your course.

  • Make a list of any equipment you will need that is not going to be provided, for example, a vibrating alarm clock or textphone.

  • Check, and if you can’t find out ask, if the university has visual fire alarms. If not, your university will need to arrange for you to have a personal pager to alert you in the event of an emergency.

  • Find out if there are clear signs to give directions around the campus, and if not, find a detailed map of the campus.

  • Check that your lectures are timetabled in a room that is accessible to you, for example that there is an induction loop.

  • Find out who you are going to be living with, explain that you are Deaf or hard of hearing, and anything they may need to know so that you can communicate with each other.

  • In case the lecturers and tutors you will be working with are not deaf aware, prepare an information sheet giving them some guidelines and ask for a copy to be distributed to each of them.

Lastly, have fun, go forth and learn!

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