University of Edinburgh

Deaf Students in Scottish Higher Education

Chapter Ten: Deaf Perspectives

This chapter provides some insight into the actual experiences of deaf people within HE, and also to some extent within FE. The views of deaf people are also presented elsewhere in this report. However, it is important to gain an overall sense of the everyday reality of the lives of deaf students. The picture presented in the following pages shows considerable variation in that experience. Some students are positive both about the HE experience itself and about the nature of the access support provided. However, the testimonies of these deaf people also reveal considerable shortcomings within the system. The comments and views on the following pages give important clues as to the nature of both the problems and the potential solutions.

Level of support

It is clear that the perceptions of the deaf student can contradict the views of the providers. One student comments in the written questionnaire that his level of support was ‘non-existent’. However, it appears from the way he completes the rest of the questionnaire that some support was in place. It may be that, given the negative way he describes the quality of this support, he felt that it might just as well have been non-existent. This student goes so far as to say that the deaf voluntary organisation providing interpreters ‘sacked him’ because he was not satisfied with the interpreters and asked for replacements. This is a very strong way of describing the nature of the relationship between provider and client.

The student explains:

"When they sacked me at that point, I had to get in touch with **** [a different voluntary organisation]. The Disability Officer was aware of what was going on, but they didn’t get involved. I wasn’t happy at all. The interpreters were OK—I just couldn’t follow them because it wasn’t SSE9. It was their decision which interpreter I would get, so I had no choice at all … When ***** [the first voluntary organisation] sacked me, it meant I had no interpreters or notetakers for a few weeks towards the end of that year. So I had to read the lecturers’ scripts. One lecturer refused to give me a copy of the notes … I did complain to ****** [voluntary organisation]. They said that I was the first person who had ever made a complaint like that. I find that really hard to believe."

Students can feel that they are caught in a dilemma. One student commented that he would have preferred to go to one of the English universities which were known for their good support for deaf people. However, these universities would not accept HNC as an entry qualification. He also commented that:

"I had to decide which was more important — the communication support or the course content. I decided that the course was more important. I still feel that’s the right decision. When I went to university, my aim was to get honours, but it never happened because of problems at university and I only got an ordinary degree. I was disappointed, but I was happy to leave university because there’d been problems, so I was glad to go. But I was really disappointed that I never got Honours."

Another student suggests that she was able to deal with access problems because she herself had considerable experience in HE. The personnel who were working as interpreters only had Stage Two (intermediate) level of BSL and, although they improved with practice, this was partly because the student herself was, in a sense, providing support to them:

"This would not suit someone who is new to the higher education level because the communicators did not have sufficient chemistry knowledge. I was able to cope because I am an experienced chemist."

Sometimes students had what might be regarded as inappropriate expectations of DSA:

"Many lecturers are aware of my hearing loss and provide lecture notes on handouts to help me. However I am not happy with the disability allowance which will not pay for my books. Books can cost up to forty pounds each and I need them to help me keep up to date with the university work and understand the subjects."

Clearly all students have to spend money on books and it may be unfair to treat deaf students any differently. However, some students described their access to lectures and seminars as so low that their only way of accessing the course was through books and materials from the web:

"I could understand the lecturers through the notes — and found information from books which the lecturers put down. But I missed information when the lecturers were actually presenting the information which wasn’t in the books. In assignments I used information from books. If I had just been relying on what the lecturer said, I would have failed exams/assignments. But because I had the lecturers’ notes and the books it was OK … Some of the lecturers refused to give the notes — they said I should be equal with the hearing people."

What we have here is a situation where the student simply did not have access unless the lecturer provided notes: there was no access provision in the way of notetaking.

One student who already had a PhD and was studying for a teaching qualification was able to compare support in different institutions over a seventeen-year period. She had attended three Scottish HEIs and one English HEI.

"I have studied or worked at four different universities over a period of 17 years — BSc Hons, PhD and PGCE and 2 postdoctoral research contracts. The level of support (communication) is much better now than when I started in 1986 … I struggled through 4 years without any communication support (those were the days with no DSA)."

However, even for this student, who was able to recognise improved levels of support and also had quite sophisticated techniques for dealing with inadequate provision, access was still at times problematic.

Staff attitudes towards deaf people

Sometimes students felt that staff were in some way negative about their deafness:

"After asking for help last year I didn’t receive any and was made to feel bad about my disability."

Another said:

"I felt they could have helped me by suggesting ways to hear or record my lectures: instead I was told to ask all my lecturers not to face the board when they write and talk, which is impossible!"

Here the onus was put onto the student to provide deaf awareness training to the lecturer. The student may, in any case, feel somewhat embarrassed at being perceived as different or requesting special help. One student pointed out that a particular HEI has adopted a policy of asking each subject area or department to nominate a Disability Coordinator. Following liaison between the Disability Office staff and the Disability Co-ordinator the latter is then responsible for more direct interaction with departmental staff to ensure that there is awareness of access requirements. Such provision had not been available when the student began his course, but he saw this as very helpful.

A number of students gained the impression that if they had a different label, particularly dyslexia, then more adequate resources would be made available.

"I felt that if I had dyslexia I would receive much better support, which seems unfair."

Another student commented:

"There was a support service, but that was really for dyslexic people. I feel that in X university, the support for dyslexic people was good, but [there was] nothing for deaf people. The disabled counsellor was experienced in dyslexia, but not with deaf students. That means the support is variable for disabled people. Dyslexia gets a lot of support, but deaf people get very little support. There was one Disability Officer for 600 students."

The larger number of dyslexic students may mean that there is more awareness of this within HEIs: members of the teaching staff are much more likely to have dyslexic students in their classes than deaf students. Thus they are probably generally more aware of the issues involved.

Sometimes the student’s own attitude towards being deaf may influence their approach to specific access provision. They may wish to be ‘independent’ and show that they do not need ‘help’:

"I’ve been determined to not let my deafness affect me. The university, whilst aware of my disability, have never told me what support is available and I have not asked! A fellow student, who is mildly hearing impaired, says I am entitled to ‘lots of free stuff’ and maybe even a grant, but I have not pursued this as I feel it would seem like I was doing it for the ‘free stuff’ now that I know about it."

In response to the question, ‘Was this support easy to access?’ this same student commented:

"I’ve been too proud to look into anything. I suppose my answer would be ‘no’ because the Uni have never told me."

This student seems determined not to be seen as ‘exploiting’ his deafness:

"When enrolling into university I told them that I was hearing impaired on my matriculation form. I have never been told about any support. I know that it would be easy enough to find out myself and I’m sure they’d be helpful, but since being told that I would be entitled to ‘lots of free stuff’ it feels like if I turned up asking for help now that it would appear as if I was only there to take what I could get."

Evidence from both staff and students suggested that there was often a delay in the initial assessment process with a consequent delay in the organisation of access arrangements. However, some students did report that the access requirements were available very early and were in place by the time of arrival:

"I had a teacher of the deaf who helped me when I was at school and she helped me to get started — things like filling out the hearing equipment forms and the SAAS funds that I didn’t understand about! Then when I got the offer, the Special Needs Service needed to talk to me about what things do I need etc. It is a great help if students can go to university to talk about the help they need and get the feel of the lecture rooms to see if they are comfortable with it — and people as well."

One difficulty is that the systems currently require some type of self-notification. An individual who may still be coming to terms with a hearing loss and who is, in any case, unfamiliar with what strategies might enable or improve access can easily find themselves lost:

"I attended and arranged a meeting myself halfway through the second year of my course. Even though on my application form I stated I had a disability. I am considering going back but don’t want the same experience."

Sometimes individuals felt that they obtained a particularly high level of support from specific members of staff. They also felt more confident when they thought someone had specialist knowledge relating to deafness:

"I am a deaf student at X University. I have very good support from the Disability Allowance as well as from the Welfare Officer. She has good contacts with somebody in the Welfare department up at the University of Y so I think that she is really clued up on what is needed for deaf students here. She is a very resourceful person being able to organise a notetaker and extra time for exams. She always asks me if there is anything that can be improved for deaf students as well as testing out machinery intended for other students."

The need to work harder

A number of deaf students commented that they had to work harder than their peers to achieve the same goals. Often they felt university staff underestimated what was involved for the deaf student:

"And then if I don’t get anything and I don’t quite catch it, I tend to worry and I think, I wonder if it’s really important. So I’m home and I’m reading it up again, I’m typing it up, I’m writing it up, just to try and get it into my mind, what it could be. I’m also at home worrying about what it could be but I really put in a lot of effort."

Another student said:

"I feel there’s a lot of work, you know what I mean, and I feel the need to prove myself in a way. You know, I have the drive behind me. I have to show that I’m just as good as everyone else, you know what I mean? I wouldn’t want anyone to think ‘Oh, she can’t cope and she’s not coping because she’s deaf’, as opposed to ‘she’s not coping because she’s got two children’, you know …"

Students also felt that sometimes they had to spend additional time dealing with access provision: “there were so many things to focus on: my studies, problems with interpreters and notetakers. It was just really difficult to keep up my concentration”. And:

"I feel strongly that the University should have provided the support. I should just have been focussing on my studies. It’s the university who should find interpreters for deaf people."

This student had what he perceived to be a lot of difficulty with obtaining appropriate interpreting support. He clearly knew his own access needs. However, it seems that he was left to negotiate and organise his own interpreting provision.

One student describes the crucial importance of having someone she can share her experiences with. Without this friend she suggests:

"I think that I would probably feel tempted to quit because it’s just difficult to really let other people know what your weaknesses are, where you need help; but not help, understanding might be a better way of putting it, you know. But it’s quite difficult to open yourself up that way, you know?"

Indeed a number of students mentioned the temptation to give up:

"I might be in a lecture, and a student will ask a question, I won’t hear that question and the lecturer might reply and they’ll all start writing everything down and I think ‘I wonder what they’re writing down?’ and I think ‘If I can’t even cope with a question, should I be here?’ But on the whole, I’m pretty secure that I should be here and I’m really, really sure that I should be here."

Others were determined to keep going but found it very demanding:

"It’s tough and lots of hard work. You need a lot of support from friends and family too! I think its safe for me to say that I am glad I am finishing this year because we all know that we have to work harder than the hearing people and get tired easily and don’t really go out much — it is hard time for student to maintain the standard of work and having good time too."

Tutorial and seminar groups

It was common for students to find the tutorial and seminar parts of a course the most challenging - even those who perceived the support as good, as the following accounts illustrate:

"It’s difficult, because when I was in group discussions with hearing people, it was really difficult — but if I was with deaf people, that would be fine. With hearing people, I had problems. If I’d known the questions beforehand, before we actually started, that would have helped. I wanted to know the English words first and then I could have prepared and then I could have got into the discussion, by having done preparation.

I should also say about tutorials, that I can’t take part in discussion, because I don’t keep up with what’s going on. We have lectures and tutorials and, in the tutorials, if someone says, ‘What do you think?’ and they pick on me, I’ll be, like, ‘I don’t know — I didn’t hear what you were talking about’, or whatever. It’s making them aware of that as well.

Sometimes when I do go to seminars, I do find it quite difficult to hear people, maybe not the speaker, but if there’s a question and answer thing at the end and I can’t see their faces, if they’re sitting in front of me, I can’t follow it. And that does get frustrating. I might want to ask a question and I’m thinking, maybe this has already been discussed, and it will look like I wasn’t paying attention or that I was just stupid or something. And that does get frustrating.

I lost all hearing in my left ear as a result of an accident just over two years ago. Whilst I feel I cope relatively well, I would say I’m still adjusting to the mentality that goes with being hearing impaired. I’m not used to asking for help and as a result don’t, as I’m not comfortable with admitting that I may struggle sometimes. I try to just deal with it myself (sit at the front of lectures, on the right side of the room etc.) but do struggle in certain seminars where we sit in circles as I miss one half of the room in discussions. However I have not said anything as this would mean the class could no longer sit in a circle and I don’t want to disrupt the whole format of a class."

One student mentioned feeling claustrophobic in these sessions:

"The other thing that is a problem for me is that in seminars and lectures I get quite claustrophobic so, because of my hearing, I should sit at the front, but I can’t. I’m unable to — it panics me. So I have to sit at the back … it’s the worst place I could possibly sit, but it’s the only place I can sit to feel comfortable."

It appears from the student interviews that the problems within seminar situations are often seen as inevitable, both by students and staff. Thus a student who was clearly assertive and proactive in her approach to support (“I’ve definitely become more assertive at university. Everyone’s noticed that”) nevertheless seemed to accept strategies that allowed her to contribute only minimally and certainly did not enable her to be fully participative.

"… usually they gave ten per cent of the marks for participation in tutorials and you have to do a presentation. So, they would just mark it on my presentation and not look at the participation. I kept going anyway. But this year, one of the classes was just discussion, that’s all it was, and I was like ‘Oh No’, but I had a notetaker there who typed. And, because she did typing for me and, because I had text back-up, I had pretty much the whole transcript. She’d type it and I’d get it later. I pretty much just sat there … I spoke to my lecturer and he was a really, really nice lecturer. I said to him, ‘I’m not sure how I’m going to manage in this’ (There were quite a lot of people there with posh accents – I didn’t say that to him) ‘but I find it quite difficult if I don’t get what they are saying’ … He said, ‘Just turn up; if you’re here every week you’ll get 100% for attendance’. Also, he changed it so that we all had to hand in one hundred words each week so, rather than what we’d say, it was what we wrote. I found that really helpful.

[Q: So he adapted the way he did the teaching in order to include you in what was going on?]

Yes, he said ‘just turn up — I don’t expect you to say anything’."

This student felt positive in that the lecturer had adapted the situation to suit her. However, she was clearly not involved in a discussion as such. Given the role of discussion, exchange and dialogue within HE, this would seem to be a major drawback. This student did see speech to text as being a useful mechanism within groups, but also felt that the inevitable time lag meant that she still could not participate on an equal footing.

The social experience of deaf students

Some deaf students have a very positive social experience within HE. However, the overwhelming sense from the students’ own accounts is one of complete avoidance of involvement in university social life, or of finding it a difficult and unrewarding experience to attempt to participate:

"Well socially for deaf students, its tough. I only have two close friends but I also talk to other classmates, I still feel left out and it is really difficult to speak and listen in groups. And when it was presentations time, I feared that no-one could understand me, but I had my friend to speak out for me which is lots of help — so basically the students should hang around with the people they can rely on but not too much of help because I realised that they doing their own work!"


"I sometimes feel a bit isolated because I do not appear disabled and people assume that all is fine when it’s not. I have problems understanding in crowded areas so do not attend many social functions."

Sometimes students themselves can analyse where the problem lies:

"God, last year (first year) was an absolute nightmare. I had nobody to talk to, I had to keep travelling down to England to see my old school friends if I wanted to be with friends. It was such a HUGE change from my previous situation (being at a deaf boarding school) — the loneliness was terrible … Second year I chose a different living arrangement (shared flats in halls of residence) and met some nice people and it’s just hundreds of times better! I do blame the living arrangements in first year — it was a catered hall of residence, and we were all just in rooms of our own — no grouping of rooms at all — like a hotel if you like, so no one ever ‘needed’ to interact with me, I was at the end of a corridor too.

University staff might have assumed that halls of residence would have been ideal, but in this case the type of residence hindered rather than helped. However, this student was able to take positive advantage of the new situation.

Social environments can be too noisy for deaf students, particularly those who wear hearing aids. The situation may be different for those BSL users who do not wear hearing aids. However, almost all of those who wore hearing aids complained that their social lives were negatively affected by noise:

"Ok. I am a very sociable person so that helps, but I never go clubbing or to loud bars as I just can’t hear anyone. Unfortunately my lip reading skills are minimal."

"I find socialising a little bit tricky anyway; in particular, in **** with people and I can’t hear enough to go into it, I’ll keep back from it. So I tend not to socialise — not to socialise very much here and I really stick with my own group and I don’t really mix very well."

"I think it’s very difficult for a deaf person to socialise in any circumstance. I doesn’t matter whether it’s university, shopping, anything."

"I’m with a load of people … so I find it difficult to find people to go out with and who know how to handle my hearing problem. And if I just could hear well, if I could understand everything people could tell me, I’d be much more, I’d be able to have more friends."

One interview was conducted jointly with two students from the same University. One of these was an undergraduate student in their second year; the other was a postgraduate student who had already completed a first degree and a Masters and was working on a PhD. At the end of the interview, the undergraduate commented:

"I actually thought I was the only person in [this] University with a hearing impairment because I thought I couldn’t see anyone."

Surprisingly, the postgraduate student had also felt the same. It was clear that simply having had the opportunity to chat together about common challenges was really appreciated by both students.

In some cases, the type of support was seen as contributing negatively to the student operating as part of the group. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, ‘SpeedTexting’ (electronic notetaking) was seen by one student as particularly damaging socially:

"The support I had in first year was SpeedTexting — I feel this is another factor to blame. This required my full attention at all times — it effectively isolated me from the rest of the class in lectures. This year it’s notetaking—but the damage is done—I have little or no relations with my colleagues."

It seems from the rest of the discussion that this was because the SpeedText operator was always beside the student and the student felt that he could not look away from the laptop — therefore he missed participating in the dynamics of the class. This was also sometimes true for manual notetaking:

"I didn’t get to know many people on my course because I had a notetaker for the first two years, so there was always me and the notetaker and I didn’t get the chance to talk to other people. Therefore, most of my friends are from my halls or other activities I joined."

Another student had a similar experience in relation to interpreting support:

"Socially is actually poor. I have the feeling the other students avoid me because I am with an interpreter at breaks."

A number of students who were primarily accessing through English and who wore hearing aids found some of the social environments favoured by hearing people too difficult and demanding:

"In terms of social life I feel that the student's union does not cater towards deaf or hard of hearing students in the terms that all the events organised are mostly DJ nights where there are no lights to see other people plus it's too noisy to hear anyone. So I never go out to the union. I only go out somewhere quiet like to a restaurant or the cinema with friends."

"I am always hoping my friends will go somewhere quiet, but they think that quiet means no atmosphere. They like noisy places …"

However, some older students had acquired more confidence and had found that hearing peers were also more ready to avoid noisy situations:

"It’s nice now that I’m a postgraduate, because I’m older now and a lot of my friends are quite a lot older, so we do really just want to go somewhere to talk and we’ve kind of outgrown the … you know, somewhere that’s really loud. Even my friends who can hear properly can’t hear each other, you can’t get a seat, and it’s really no fun anymore. But before if they wanted to go somewhere really loud, if they wanted to see jazz playing and we’d be sitting watching it and I’d just end up trying to show how it took so long to understand what was going on and then just giving up and just spend like a couple of hours just sitting there thinking well ‘There’s no point in me being here really’ and that really gets you down … You want to have a good time and you really want to make the effort but it’s just too difficult."

On the other hand, deaf students can feel that their choices make them appear anti-social:

"Yeah, the people on my course, they are similar. They like to go out to noisy places and I don’t like that anymore. I did that in first year and I can’t be bothered with that, I want to move on. It makes me look anti-social."

For some, university life is no different from other types of experience:

"I cope with it as I’m not used to it being any different. I sometimes can’t hear people that well which is a bit infuriating!”

For others, university has been a truly positive social experience:

"It has so far been no problem. I have made many friends and have people who help me when I need it. I go socialising with them at weekends also."

A number of deaf students who saw themselves primarily as members of the Deaf community had their social lives outside of the university. They did not see this as a problem: their preference was to mix with deaf peers.

Unfortunately, the number of students who commented negatively on the social experience of universities was greater than might have been expected. Almost all of the students who were returning for higher-level degrees tended to socialise outside of the university, with family and friends and, in some cases, deaf friends. However, one PhD student who was in a relatively small department was fully socially integrated into the group. The contrast between the deaf young person within a large mass of students in a lecture hall and an individual in a smaller more nurturing environment was sometimes very marked. This was shown particularly in the joint interview mentioned above.

Issues of identity

Many interviewees, both staff and students, raised the problem of students themselves having to disclose their deafness. Some individuals clearly were ambivalent about this:

"I never know whether to put it down as an actual disability because although I have an aid, I very rarely use it but then I am reminded every day that I do have a really bad hearing loss and I never know whether it’s classed as a disability or not."

Some students continue to struggle with the feeling of being different or standing out from the crowd. This can be particularly difficult for those with an acquired hearing loss. One student explained that she only discovered that she had a hearing loss about two years previously and she found it difficult to wear a hearing aid, both because of difficulties in becoming accustomed to the aid and because of its perceived social consequences.

"I do have a hearing aid, but I never wear it because it’s the third one I’ve had and I don’t know about yourself10, I don’t know if it took you a long time to get used to wearing it, but I find it more of a hindrance than a help."

Another student comments:

"I have to wear … at least one hearing aid in my right ear, … for a long time I didn’t wear a hearing aid this year. I thought there was no point. I don’t hear, I hear very little. Then I got two digital ones and I feel I don’t like them still, but it balances the hearing, so it’s better. Now we have to have them, but I don’t like them because they’re so big. I think everyone can see them."

It can be very difficult for students to separate out the efficiency of the aid and the perceived attitudes of others to the aid:

"What we were saying about people noticing them is that I never noticed people wearing them until my first one and then I noticed a lot of people wearing them and I, yeah, I was conscious about wearing it and I have long hair — I can hide it as well … But if I’d worn it in this ear and my hair was down, my hair would like crackle against it, it would really annoy. Even if my hair was tied up it would make a noise. You can only wear them if you have very short hair. But then I noticed a lot of other people wearing them and now I really notice people wearing them and I don’t think they look really horrendous and big, but I’ve noticed a lot of young people now wearing them as well whereas before I was completely oblivious to that. I’d never really noticed."

On the other hand, there were examples of deaf people having a strong deaf identity. One student described his future in terms of three options:

" … to enter Deaf politics to promote more rights for deaf people; to become a teacher of the deaf — probably in Modern Studies; or to work in a government institution. I want to push for Deaf people — to improve Deaf people’s lives, their access to education, things like that."

It is worth noting that the extract above is from a written response. The use of the capital ‘D’ ‘Deaf’ convention demonstrates an awareness of Deaf political issues.

Clearly, students gain support from knowing that there are others like themselves. There was a tendency to feel more confident when there were several deaf students together. However, this situation, which did occur in some FE colleges, was rare within HE. This research itself alerted several deaf students to the fact that there were other deaf people in the same HEI and sometimes gave them the opportunity to meet each other.

Sometimes deaf students bring with them ambivalent attitudes towards deafness which go back to their childhood. One deaf student describes her experience of having to wear a ‘phonic ear’: the experience clearly stayed with her:

"It was really awful. It was terrible. I didn’t want it and I wore it to keep my teacher happy and my parents happy, but it made me even more different. Everyone could tell by looking at me ‘Oh! She’s deaf” and I feel that I became ‘the girl who is deaf’ … I wasn’t a very confident child anyway, but any confidence that I had, it took away and in third year I’m like, ‘No, I’m not wearing it any longer. You can take it, I don’t want it’. But I wish I’d done it earlier. I don’t think the phonic ear helped me."

As this student explained, although the device did indeed help her to hear the teacher, it cut her off from her peers:

"It meant that I heard the teacher but I couldn’t hear the children. And you know and I know that children learn from other children and we need to talk and you know. I’m sure they’re a good idea but I think they need to be improved upon because if you cut the child off from their peers even more, I think …"

At times there is a tension in the person’s own attitude to being deaf: wanting both to be accepted as a deaf person and at the same time treated as though they were not deaf:

"When I was younger, I knew a lady who was very deaf and would sign, and all she ever did was cleaning and her husband, you know, he cleaned too, and I grew up with a very negative image that I didn’t want to do that. ’When I grow up, I’m going to be a cleaner?’ You know, you don’t want to give children that."

Interestingly, one deaf person who wore a hearing aid and used English as her first language also felt somewhat uncomfortable approaching other deaf people:

"I don’t know any deaf people; I don’t know any of them. And I think well, what should I do? Should I check how deaf they are before I speak to them? So, I mean, I know how they’re feeling."

Thus, this student was unable to find support from other deaf people: she had not mixed with deaf people prior to attending university and did not have a deaf support network.

Some students were comfortable — and indeed proud — of the ‘deaf’ label, but others just wanted to be seen as the same as everyone else:

"They’re all quite eager to help me but I think, because it’s hidden, people forget. They forget through the lectures and then we might be asked questions in a lecture all around the room, and then it would be my turn and I’d think ‘Is it my turn now?’ But one lecturer apologised too — he come over and he said ‘I’m so sorry about it, I just forget’. And I think, in a way, it’s a compliment too, that he forgets, because I think they see me as I am rather than a deaf person."

Despite the ambivalent feelings of some students towards their deafness, the deaf student group as whole showed incredible determination to succeed:

"I’ve always been quite an ambitious person and didn’t want to let my deafness stop me doing things like everybody else can do. I wanted to work independently as a student."

The questions of whether current access strategies within HE enable deaf students to work independently and to make the most of their university experience are explored further in the following chapters. This chapter has given a hint of the reality of university life for many deaf students. The picture is not totally bleak, but there is a strong sense that many deaf students are succeeding ‘against the odds’. The following chapters focus on some of the specific access issues and suggest possible solutions. These are based primarily on the contributions of students and staff, but also take into account experiences of students and staff in other HEIs in the UK.

Key points

  • Students’ perceptions of the level and quality of support may not accord with those of access and support staff.
  • Comments from students suggest that levels of access and support vary across institutions, and this is a factor for students deciding where to study.
  • Both awareness and attitudes are variable among staff, according to students. Lack of awareness, and the need for self-notification, may cause delays in the organisation of access arrangements.
  • A number of students felt that they needed to work harder than peers to achieve the same goals.
  • Students report that group tutorials and seminars are most challenging, accepting as ‘inevitable’ that it is difficult to devise effective access and support strategies for those situations.
  • Although some deaf students in the sample report a positive social experience at their HE institution, the majority find social participation difficult and unrewarding.
  • As expected, some students are uncomfortable being identified as deaf by way of the high visibility of access and support arranged for them, while others accept it as part of a Deaf identity.


10.1 The experiences and perspectives of deaf students and exstudents should play a key role in developing policy and practice in providing access to HE for deaf students.

10.2 Deaf people remain an under-represented group within the student body and amongst academic staff and support staff. Action plans should include explicit targets with respect to the inclusion of deaf people. There should be a major initiative to involve deaf people in all aspects of provision, including as advisors.

10.3 Deaf role models should be employed so that deaf students can learn from others: for example within student services as liaison workers with deaf students. A network of support to new students from former students should be facilitated by the proposed Centre for Linguistic Access.