Interview with Julie McElroy on Her Achievements as Deaf Learner

Published: Jan 31st, 2016

A picture of Julie McElroyGlasgow-based Julie McElroy is an inspiration. Currently in her final year as a PhD student, she has defied the odds to become a beacon of strength for the deaf community. She is working hard to champion the Disability & Equality In Enterprise Scotland and campaign for more support and funding.

In this interview we talk to Julie about her achievements and her experiences as a deaf individual in higher education. You can find out more about Julie and her campaigning efforts for the deaf community on her blog.

Please can you start by telling us a bit about your background and how you came to be diagnosed with hearing loss?

I was born prematurely along with my twin sister. As a result of being born early, I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy which means I have mobility issues as well as speech and hearing impairments. My hearing impairment is classified as profound bi-lateral neural sensory hearing loss which means I wear two hearing aids on a daily basis.

How have you learned to cope with your hearing loss and disabilities, and lead a fulfilling life despite the challenges it brings?

My motto speaks for itself: drive, motivation and passion for life. When I was a teenager it was a struggle to come to terms with the extent of my disability and imagine the sort of life I was going to have. Thereafter, I had a vision to turn my life around. I have been on a journey of discovery, opportunities, and changing perceptions. I am now focused and disciplined in achieving my goals with the complexity of my disability.

Tell us a bit more about the projects you’re involved in, the awards you’ve won, and how you’re supporting the deaf community in Scotland?

In 2010, I launched and presented an exclusive corporate video on behalf the Hearing Company. The Hearing Company offers hearing care services in over 400 high street locations, and have been doing so for over 50 years. Following the release of the DVD, we were able to secure a deaf awareness debate in the Scottish Parliament in 2010 to encourage more support and awards.

I have won many awards for my work and contribution to society. Glasgow City Council gave me the Lord Provost Award for Inspiring Individual which is given to those who make a contribution to Glasgow and beyond. Also in 2012, the University of the West of Scotland nominated me for the Adult Learner of the Year. I then went on to win the prestigious national Adult Learner of the Year Award in Scotland.

You’re currently studying for your PhD. What support have you received in higher education to get where you are today? Do you think more needs to be done to encourage other young deaf and HoH students to succeed in higher education?

It has been down to the self-belief of my PhD supervisor that I have been able to pursue a PhD. I have been fortunate to have the right support in place through DSA, and through this I have met great note-takers who are incredibly willing and supportive.

Yes, more work need to be done to encourage more deaf students into Higher Education. I haven’t come across any other deaf students throughout my time at University, perhaps three at the most. Higher Education has its challenges and for deaf student to keep up is onerous at times.

How has writing and maintaining your blog helped you with your hearing loss?

It has been a great help and I have been fortunate to have a varied career in the media. I have written and shared my experiences with lots of people, and have even completed brief stints for BBC Scotland Outdoors, the Glasgow Evening Times, Able Magazine, the International Paralympics Committee (IPC), and the New Media team.

What key advice do you offer to young deaf and HoH individuals wanting to pursue higher education and future careers?

Be prepared to work hard and motivate yourself to become a self-learner in Higher Education. You have to be able to take autonomy and produce the standard that is expected to the best of your ability.  

What words of inspiration can you provide to those feeling frustrated and concerned about the obstacles they may face because of their hearing impairment?

Always keep pursuing your aspirations as I believed once one thing is complete and another door opens.

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