Fred Suter: My experience of communication support at University
Published: Jun 10th, 2013
Where do I start? Although this may sound a bit like “advertising”, this is my genuine experience, and I hope for every deaf student who is struggling communication-wise to come visit me on my planet and pick its golden fruit.
Coming to the UK from Germany as a deafened student I knew I would have to make sacrifices when going to University in terms of communication. I knew I wouldn’t be able to follow everything. There were limits. Boom! Rubbish! Unfortunately, in my first year this was true. My University’s Disability Team provided me with note takers who would sit next to me in lectures and write things down.
They did a great job for me, but as I expected in terms of communication I was like a second class student trying to keep up, and always trailing a little behind. I felt like I was being treated differently, and in particularly I felt overly reliant on another person. I kept worrying “will she show up? It’s 5 minutes till class” and “where did we arrange to meet again?”
A Communication Breakthrough
Then I began meeting some other deafened people in the UK and when I explained how I kept up at University they asked me if I had heard of “palantypists”. I hadn’t, so I made a note of this and did my research. I found the company Bee Communications who provide Remote Captioning and with much excitement I wrote to the manager, Beth Abbot about the possibility of using it.
At the same time I liaised with the Disability Team asking if Remote Captioning could be funded by my Disabled Students’ Allowance. (This is an allowance that disabled students are entitled to, which helps pay for the support and equipment they need because of their disability). The Disability Team checked with Student Finance England, who agreed to fund the support. It was ready within a few days and from the first moment of using it, I felt like I was back on the planet I belonged to.
After a few co-operative talks helping to sort out technology, working out the best scenarios for each situation, I was there, I was home, where communication works just normally as it should. And I shed joyful tears every time I think about how it transformed my life. Although I am still kind of dependent on a captioner who types things up, there’s no need for anybody to be present, besides me, my laptop (or tablet), internet connection and the right microphone.
I have perfected this set up process over the years so that it only takes me a few minutes to have it ready. Other students and lecturers hardly believe it when I tell them how it works. I can now come to classes at the time other students do. Communication has become very worry-free. And now thanks to Bee Communications’ new booking system I can just enter when I need support and I can count on it to happen.
Languages are an important part of my life. I speak German, English, German sign language and have been learning and teaching British Sign Language. As part of my degree I am learning Spanish too, so one of the most amazing things for me has been using Remote Captioning for that. I work with a captioner based in America who captions in both Spanish and English so that I can follow all of my Spanish lectures. It’s been absolutely invaluable to me to almost learn at the same pace as my hearing peers.
I wish so much I could have this support 24 hours a day. For now though all I can do is have it within University. (Needless to say I love the academic side of student life and would like to have a timetable of 40 hours a week!) But I do not complain. I couldn’t be more thankful that I have had this opportunity and above all for all the helpful hands involved in getting this moving. If you want it, you can have it, so go for it!
Fred Suter is studying BA (Hons) Modern Languages at The University of Southampton. He has found using remote captioning has been invaluable for the way he studies and accesses lectures at University, and feels that all deaf students should be able to choose the right support for them.
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