Are you about to start university?
This is an exciting yet nerve-wracking time for anyone. You’re about to take a huge step and begin the next stage of your life.
However, if you’re deaf, this can add an extra level of nervousness to the mix.
But – you’re not in this alone! Here’s some advice for deaf students starting university.
Please scroll down for the BSL translation of this article.
Tips for Deaf University Students
There are a number of concerns deaf students might have when starting university, particularly if living away from home. These include a lack of necessary technology (e.g. recording equipment), whether they will meet like-minded people, and if they’ll receive the help they need.
While support and facilities differ from college to college, there are some tips that can help regardless of where you study:
- Keep communication open
- Speak to your lecturers
- Build up a good relationship with your counsellor
- Don’t be afraid to speak up
- Join societies and groups
- Give yourself time to settle in
- Take advantage of technology
- Talk to your peers
1. Keep Communication Open
If you feel comfortable being open about your deafness with the university, this can help them to make sure you get the support that is right for you.
There is no one-size-fits-all and what you might personally need to thrive at university might differ to what someone else who faces barriers to their learning might need. Insist on what the university needs to do to make your experience there more inclusive.
Early on, try and find those you can trust who could help make life much easier in the long-term. Communicate with those you live with, your tutors and the university services available, letting them know what challenges you face and suggest how you think they can help.
2. Speak to Your Lecturers
Most of us will start university a week or two before lectures start. This gives you time to find out who your lecturers and tutors will be.
If you’re happy to, it might be a good idea to get in contact with them beforehand to explain how they can help you. Ensuring they speak facing the students, not facing the whiteboard, speaking clearly, providing written notes and using a microphone are some simple ways your lecturers can be more inclusive for deaf people. Check out this article for 7 teaching strategies to empower deaf students.
Arriving at your lectures early so you get a good seat with a clear view will help you lip-read and get a good look at any visual aids.
3. Build Up a Good Relationship With Your Counsellor
You will most likely be given a counsellor or personal tutor, so try to build up a strong one-to-one relationship with them.
This has a number of benefits, including:
- You’ll feel more comfortable communicating any issues
- They’ll develop a good understanding of your needs
- They can ensure you get the support you need
- They will make you aware of any support/facilities you may not know about
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up
Don’t suffer in silence.
If there’s anything you’re unhappy with, or you’re not receiving the support you were promised, don’t be afraid to speak up. Far too often people avoid asking for helping for fear of ‘making a fuss’ but you will set yourself, and other people from the deaf community, up for success at university and beyond if you highlight challenges as they arise.
In an ideal world, your university would proactively be making the learning environment inclusive but if they are falling short in this regard, let them know when they are not being deaf aware.
Remember, you are paying a lot for your university degree and while it may be a great investment in your future, it is also the university‘s job to do everything it can to bring the best out of you.
Again, don’t feel you have to do anything you’re uncomfortable doing. However, this is your university experience, and you have the right to enjoy it in the best ways possible.
5. Join Societies
Deaf and hard-of-hearing people are at a greater risk of feeling socially isolated but your university can give you a chance for you to connect with like-minded people. Find your community by getting out there and immersing yourself in the social scene! One of the best aspects of a university is meeting new people and developing life-long friendships.
You could connect with others in the deaf community through the BSL Society, for example. If there isn’t one, your student union could help you set one up.
However, think big. Consider your interests/hobbies and broaden your circle in this way. Maybe you want to take up swimming, help fundraise for a charity or start up a deaf film club. If you want to join a gym, check out these tips on exercising at the gym with hearing loss.
6. Give Yourself Time to Settle In
For anyone, settling in can be extremely difficult, particularly when living away from home. Make sure you give yourself time to adjust.
There can be pressure to ‘love’ university immediately and throw yourself into every social event. However, don’t be too hard on yourself. Take things at your own pace.
If you feel your mental health needs some extra support during this time of change, Sign Health offers Psychological Therapy services in BSL which can help give you the tools you need to get through tough time. Deaf4Deaf is another fantastic organisation who can provide counselling and support to students. They have a track record of successfully winning NHS funding to provide counselling from expert deaf professionals.
Sign Health also has a range of BSL Health video resources to help deaf people get the information they need to thrive.
7. Take Advantage of Technology
Technology can make your college experience significantly easier. So, make sure you use it!
Try to get a good understanding of the ways you learn best. Recording equipment can be beneficial to some, for example, but less so for others.
8. Talk to Your Peers
In most cases, you’ll be surrounded by other students who will be happy to help.
If you’re comfortable with it, they can assist you in lectures or seminars, for example repeating phrases or sharing notes. It’s important you understand that you’re not alone and there are people in your corner!
Whatever happens, don’t take ‘it doesn’t matter as an answer‘. If someone tells you ‘it doesn’t matter‘ when you ask them to repeat something you missed in a seminar, or at the pub, they’re wrong. You are 100% the judge of whether it does or doesn’t matter so stand your ground.
How Can Universities Be More Deaf Aware?
Ultimately, it’s not enough for universities to wait to be asked by deaf students for support. The onus should be on the university to proactively work towards being fully inclusive institutions of learning for all their students.
The current reality is, however, that many universities still have a long way to go before becoming fully inclusive places for deaf students. To achieve this, university staff need to be given deaf awareness training to improve the accessibility of their lectures and seminars.
BSL courses could be on offer alongside other languages and society committees could also receive free accessibility training so they can attract more members from the deaf community. There is so much that hearing people can do to be more deaf-aware.
Need More Support?
So if you are deaf and at university, or starting your studies very soon, hats off to you! You have already overcome so many challenges to get here and now is your time to shine.
Are you a person who is deaf with a university experience you want to share? We would love to hear it. Get in touch.
Our mission at Deaf Unity is to provide support and guidance for deaf people. Check out our projects to find out more about what we do.
- Know that you’re not alone. Talk to your peers and those who work at the university.
- If you’re not happy with the support you’re receiving, speak up.
- Give yourself time to adjust to the change.
BSL Translation of Key Takeaways
Presented by Deaf Unity supporter Hussein Omar
This article was written by Heleana Neil, who works in Marketing. Passionate about all things content, Heleana can be found writing in her free time, as well as for a living.