How Universities are failing their d/Deaf students

How Universities are failing their d/Deaf students

So, for those of you don’t have me on Facebook, then you won’t know the latest debacle at uni… as in the problems that we are having with media that’s shown in lectures and it not being accessible to deaf people.

So, how are universities, right now, all across the country (including the one I attend) failing their d/Deaf students, and yet at the same time proudly state that they are “are fully committed to enabling access to all individuals who seek to benefit from our educational activities”?

Well i’m going to give you one example that is specific to my disability – it’s a disability that one in six of us, or to put an approximate number on, 11 million people within the UK have. This isn’t including international students that may come to the UK. Ok, which disability am I talking about? Well it’s one that plays a big part of your life, and it’s one of our senses. It’s linked to our ears, it’s deafness.

All across the UK, in lectures or seminars, most likely as you are watching this, there is some form of visual media being shown. Most of it doesn’t have subtitles – and for some lecturers, they think just turning on automatic subtitles is going to work. It’s not. We are actively being discriminated against, and we have no say on the matter. Whenever the issue is raised, it seems to fall upon their “deaf ears”.

Some people say that providing an interpreter or a typed up transcript is a reasonable adjustment. It isn’t. Your eyes cannot be in two places at once. You cannot be watching a clip, and watch the interpreter at the same time. It’s physically impossible to do. You also can’t be watching the clip and reading a full page transcript at the same time. If you don’t believe me, try it. Stop this clip, download the PDF from the link on the screen. Then try and watch the clip again without any sound, without the ability to pause it, without any help whatsoever. You will feel pretty helpless. Now imagine being the only person in the classroom that has this issue. How would it make you feel.

So why do I mention this? Well time and time again, across my foundation year, this has also happened to me. I think maybe one in five of all the media that has been shown to me has subtitles – so that’s four that aren’t. The lecturer has said to the interpreter, about a minute before, “oooh I’m not sure if this clip has subtitles” or “this clip has subtitles”.. and it starts and they are the automatic ones and are all wrong. Straight away, you’ve lost the interest and engagement of the deaf person. They’ve disconnected from you and the session. Imagine watching a clip, and the sound is all garbled, you’d turn it off. You’d lose interest.

Ok, why raise this issue? Well, yet again, this happened to me, but on a bigger scale. Normally it’s a maximum of up to 10 minutes-long that they have to interpret. But not this time. In this two hour session, it was eighty minutes of footage that I couldn’t watch or enjoy. Having an interpreter do that for eighty minutes and translate it on-the-fly into another language, all whilst still listening to the original language to deliver that bit next… well not only is it not fair on the actual interpreter, but it’s not fair on the student. They have to take it all in and absorb it all, 80 minutes constantly looking at something and concentrating on what’s being said. It means they can’t watch the screen. They don’t know what’s happening, or who’s saying what.

So in this instance, what did I do? Well I told the interpreter not to do it and tried to watch about 30 mins with my hearing aids in and failed miserably; my lipreading skills are truly awful sometimes. It was all just noise, so I grabbed my phone, and went and sat in the hall outside my classroom. I sat there for 50 more minutes, thinking about how my ears had, yet again, let me down. How I couldn’t take part in something because of something that was done to me. That because of the assault all those years ago, I wasn’t good enough. And up rears my depression’s ugly head. It’s a spiral. You just keep going downwards – and as the time went on, the balcony that I was sat opposite was looking rather attractive. When the demon on your shoulder is telling you that you are never going to achieve things because of your disability; that no matter how much you ask, plead and beg for access, you’ll never be 100% included. So yeah, I was in a pretty bad shape afterwards.

All universities need to be held to account – resources used within teaching time, as well as resources provided by any university for self-study time, need to be accessible to all. To put it simply and bluntly, it’s the law. If something is not accessible, it should not be used.

This post isn’t a rant or a “have a pop” at my university – and I’m not complaining about any specific lecturer, even though I’ve given specific examples above – but is more of a warning to new students that may be considering any type of university or higher education. It’s also a warning shot to universities that we aren’t going to accept things like this any longer. I have spoken with many students and it’s not tied to any one course, school or degree. It’s about the culture of lecturers thinking it’s OK to do all of these things, and think it’s OK to exclude us.

It isn’t.

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