I am Ishtiaq Hussain, from Stourbridge. I am a Visual Vernacular artist and a British Sign Language teacher in the West Midlands. I am very passionate about BSL and love meeting and socializing with Deaf people. I like to keep fit with jogging and attending the gym. I also like to attend Deaf theatres, watching Deaf shows and comedy shows too.
I attended Wolverhampton University to study Deaf Studies and Drama; I chose to study Deaf studies because I wanted to gain knowledge about Deaf history, Deaf education, Deaf identity and just generally gain a better understanding of Deaf issues. I am Deaf myself and felt keen to have that knowledge.
Barriers in Education
I had a very poor education due to the substandard quality of education at secondary school. This had a profound effect on my learning and my English. I noticed this at an early age – I remember once when I told my father that my school was not good and that I was not getting homework – my father assumed it was me that was not concentrating properly at school. I was adamant and I told him to visit my school; that he would see that we were not learning anything. Instead we were always playing. My father agreed to come into the school. When he did we were all playing – but the teacher told him that we were rehearsing for a play!
That’s how bad it was back then. However, later on as I got older my education began to pick up when I attended Doncaster College for the Deaf. I had access as most of the teachers were Deaf themselves so I had direct communication. That’s why my education improved; those 3 years at Doncaster College dramatically changed my life when compared to my secondary school years.
When I attended Wolverhampton University, (I chose to study 6 years part time because I know I wouldn’t be able to cope with 3 years full time pressure) I was looking forward to studying a subject that I was always interested in. It was the only University that had Deaf Studies and was nearest to me. When I started I went for the DSA (Disabled Student’s Allowance) for my requirements of support to be met. I began studying and realized the support I was getting was not enough. I asked to update my DSA and was not allowed: they explained that I could apply for it only once, which I was not aware of. I was very disappointed because I wanted to continue to study but with better support.
Lack of support
During the first 3 years, it was a big struggle, but I did try to carry on positively – I revised and did my essays, which were sometimes up to 2,000 or 3,000 words. I really struggled because of my English. The pressure was so intense, and I lacked confidence. I decided that I wanted to change the way I was studying and to get the right support I needed to enable me to carry on and confidently complete my work.
I went to the disability service department, and all my lecturers were present to discuss how they could help. I described my situation and struggles. I explained that as English is my second language, I have always tried extremely hard to finish off all my essays but felt very pressured. I almost felt like giving up and wanted more support. The lecturers’ response was ‘That is university!’ I felt incredibly deflated. I still wasn’t going to give up. I asked them why I couldn’t have an interpreter with a notetaker, and sign to the interpreter and the notetaker to write what I was signing for my essay. This still would mean my own words, my own thinking and my own work. The lecturers’ response were we that they couldn’t allow it, due to the ‘academic’ English written by the notetaker which I thought was cheeky!
Disgusted at this response, I explained to them: ‘If the lecturer was speaking, and interpreter was translating, the words are academic – matching to what you say. What if there was no interpreter there to translate what you are saying? How would you be able to teach me?’
With my response, the lecturers began to see my point and what my rights were. I also explained to them – ‘imagine if there was no interpreter to translate for you in lectures. You would get stressed and be unable to communicate with me, because you cannot sign! We cannot force you to sign to me.’ That is how I feel with English, being forced to do English essays. I also pointed out that it had to be fair both ways, having an interpreter to translate makes everything accessible, and I should be able to have the same access and rights when I want to produce my essay in BSL.
A meeting was arranged to discuss my suggestions. Two weeks later, they informed me that unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed this method of signing for my essays. They knew my idea of access was plausible and made sense. I felt this decision was so unfair, to have to go through another 3 years of struggle, stress and pressure because of the English barrier, unlike the lecturers who can easily access English. Sadly, for that reason, I decided to quit – quit my dream to complete my studies and get a degree.
I know if I was granted the opportunity to sign my essays from my own research and the knowledge I have gained over the years, I would have been able to complete the degree, without a doubt. This is a case of wasted opportunity based on access and not getting the right support at University.
How can Deaf people achieve their full potential? Here are some points that I feel would benefit Deaf students at university –
- Deaf people should be able to have the choice of using BSL for essays.
- Instead of reading books, using human resource – a signer to translate the book into BSL.
- Email communication – signed video to the lecturers, with their responsibility to get translation of the signed video (this gives Deaf people choice to sign their emails if their English is 2nd language).
- The University website should be made accessible for Deaf people to browse the website (such as BSL translation).
I hope my article has given you a better understanding of my experiences and how access needs must be met for Deaf learners in education.
Ishtiaq Hussain is a Visual Vernacular artist and a British Sign Language teacher in the West Midlands. He is passionate about BSL and wants Deaf Learners to have the same rights and access to education that everyone has. He feels that there is a solution for the BSL-English barrier for Deaf students – and that Lecturers and support providers need to be more flexible with support provision.