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Reflecting on my past year at University

So, my foundation year at university is complete. It’s not been easy, and I’ve hit many access issues along the way – but I’ve come out stronger.

This article was written for The Limping Chicken.

For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Dean Kamitsis. I was born hearing, and had a hearing upbringing. I became deaf over a period of about 5 years, through a head trauma. I’ve now got a severe hearing loss. I’m lucky enough to have learnt sign language as I started to realise I had some hearing loss. Being deafened in this way, means I am aware of all the things that i’m missing, and things that I can’t take part in.

Two years ago, I decided that I wanted to go to University. Growing up, it never interested me. I had a job and a steady income from the moment I finished my GCSE’s. I never thought I would need a degree. Going deaf changed that. I was applying for job after job, and not even getting any interviews. One of the companies told me it was because I’d not got any degrees, nor was I educated to a degree level. It meant that I wasn’t even getting through the screening process. Despite my knowledge and experience, it was that one thing that was holding me back. The pessimist within me thinks that my deafness was a contributing factor.

I attended the first open day at university, and looked around. They had booked me an interpreter, so I knew that I’d get all the information I needed. I also met lecturers from the course I was interested in. It sparked interest within me. I decided I was going to apply to enrol on one of their courses. I was excited. They told me that I would be supported throughout my university journey. They sold it to me.

I applied, and over a period of time, visited the university on a number of occasions. Sometimes it was an event that they were putting on (not related to courses); other times it was a “welcome” or further open day and so on. I was accepted, and was over the moon.

Prior to beginning, I had a meeting with lecturers to go through the options of the course modules, and applied for DSA. It was a very straight forward process, during which I was approved for BSL interpreter support as well as note takers. Everything was going great. I couldn’t wait to start.

As the start date approached, I kept checking for my “Welcome Week” timetable so that the BSL interpretation team could ensure that there was an interpreter available. I kept them updated to any changes that I noticed; not realising that as a foundation year student, my welcome week timetable would be different to the others.

It was at this point that I was beginning to worry that I’d made the wrong decision.

At 4pm on the Friday before the starting day, I got an email with a completely different timetable. Straight away I emailed back and asked if they had organised the interpreters. I didn’t get a response, so I called them up via NGTS. The person I needed to speak to wasn’t available, so I asked them to check if interpreters had been booked… and they hadn’t. I hung up and straight away emailed the interpreting team with my new time table. Luckily, one of them was still there and was able to arrange cover for the Monday morning. It was at this point that I was beginning to worry that I’d made the wrong decision.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later. The Student Union had arranged a conference which would be held a week later, and advertised it on Facebook. Because I’d only just joined, I obviously hadn’t seen any publicity – so I asked them to arrange an interpreter. They said they would look into it, and I crossed my fingers. A couple of days later, I asked the interpretation team if they had found cover… and they had no idea what I was going on about. Needless to say, the SU passed the request off to someone and never actually followed through with it. It was only when I started asking what was going on did they try and arrange cover – and the request went out a couple of days before the event; which was obviously too short notice to arrange.

I never got to go to the conference.

The next incident was a few weeks later when SU was arranging volunteer training for their student media brand; I requested an interpreter and a couple of days later got confirmation. I was so happy. It was very short-lived as I arrived, and it wasn’t an interpreter. It was a student that was currently doing a BSL-related course. The “signer” kept disappearing, and when they didn’t return in time for the training to start again, I’d had enough and left. I put in my complaint at this point.

The SU never seemed to learn from their mistakes; as a student on a media course, I wanted to watch the video content they were creating and sharing on social media. I had to request time and time again for subtitles to be added, and was told that all content would be subtitled in future as they know how to do it now.

Thing is, they were still uploading content to social media without subtitles. I had to remind them every single time.

It ended up with me having a meeting with the Chief Executive of the Student’s Union – where I was able to describe what had gone on, and why I was so unhappy with their efforts. It wasn’t easy, and it took a bit of explaining, but I finally felt I had been listened to. When asked what I felt a reasonable adjustment would be, my response was simply “If a video doesn’t have subtitles, don’t publish it”. I’ve now got to wait until the start of Year 1 to see if they’ve listened to me; I really don’t want to have to begin this particular battle all over again.

During the course, we were expected to watch various videos within the lectures and also during our self-study time. Time and time again, they were either not subtitled or had poor quality automatic captions from YouTube. There were literally TWO lecturers from 6 that took my accessibility needs into consideration. The first one had produced transcripts from audio pieces, and had subtitles on the videos used. The second lecturer swapped course content out with alternatives that had subtitles.

I was beginning to feel like I’d been sold a car that was missing a wheel..

Things reached their worst point for me when I went into a two hour lecture and the lecturer started an 80 minute film. It had NO subtitles at all. They’d made the assumption that it had subtitles, instead of actually checking. I tried to watch it, but couldn’t make head nor tail of the film. I watched about 30 minutes and left the room, I felt pretty upset to be honest. I say upset, I mean depressed.. totally depressed. I was missing out on joining in with all my peers because of my ears – I’d been let down through something I had no control over… my disability. I wanted to throw myself over the balcony… it had become too much. People don’t seem to understand that our disability is something that controls us… and that it can be really really depressing having to keep fighting just to be able to join in. It’s so tiring having to keep on banging the disability drum. I was beginning to feel like I’d been sold a car that was missing a wheel – things weren’t as rosy as I had been led to believe; despite being told this was one of the best universities when it came to access, I began wondering what the worst could have been…

I’d had enough. It was at this point I started writing down how I was feeling, and how I was being treated differently to those that aren’t disabled. I was being discriminated against. It lead to me writing a post titled “How Universities are failing their d/Deaf students” – you can read it here.

A couple of weeks later, I then published a video and blog post titled “The importance of subtitles in Education“.

After both of these stories went public, along side my deaf awareness images, the University have finally started making things right. I’ve had meetings, emails etc, and have assurances that all the content next year on my course will be subtitled.

I’m glad in a way that I had the issues within my foundation year, as they are all out of the way and it means I shouldn’t have the same problems when I start my first year of my Film Production degree. I don’t think I’d be able to have done well as well as have these issues if it was the actual degree; I’d probably have given up.

I’ve worked really hard, and put my all into it.

So… despite all the barriers but in my way, I did really well in my foundation year. I created a short (4 minute long) video piece as an assignment which has been selected to be included in the TSWY International Film Festival this year being held in Los Angeles in September. I was also awarded the “School Prize for the Most Outstanding Student for Foundation Media Courses Awarded for the Best Overall Performance”, which I am really proud of (and yes, that is how it’s worded on the certificate). I also achieved very high marks for my foundation year – with all of my subject average marks being over 70%. I’ve worked really hard, and put my all into it. I’ve set the bar high for when I start my degree, and made some awesome friends that I’ll be continuing to study along side in September.

Just because our ears don’t work, doesn’t mean we should accept second best. Nor should we make do with not having things like accurate subtitles. We are paying the same as everyone else; so should be able to participate the same.

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