University access for deaf students fail

Image courtesy of the Northern Echo

An interesting article appeared in Guardian yesterday about Rosie Watson, a deaf mature student, who took Durham University to court for breaking disability discrimination laws.

On the one hand, it’s a very inspiring story about a gutsy deaf person who refused to let the university get away with it. On the other hand, it’s appalling what she went through what she did. The Guardian also reports that disabled students at Oxford are twice as likely to drop out and that the Students Loans Company is failing to approved Disabled Students Allowances quickly enough.

It all reminded me of own experiences at university (many years ago), which I blogged about ages back. Back then I speculated whether this was a one-off experience. I’m beginning to think that it probably isn’t.

It all raises a lot of questions. Are these one-off cases or widespread problems across all universities? Why? Do deaf students know their rights? Are they making a fuss about it or are they just “coping”? Were universities having a sick day when the Disability Discrimination Act was passed? Do they think that deaf young people are so thick that they would never think of applying, or even going to university?

What are your thoughts? Do you know of any cases where deaf students have been let down at university? Be good to hear about it.


8 thoughts on “University access for deaf students fail

  1. I too was poorly accommodated for in terms of the support I needed to access lectures at University. Despite my DSA being arranged on time, including a clear assessment of my needs, the university (Oxford) had not put anything in place during my first term. The disability advisor blamed it on there being a lack of interpreters/speedtext operators available. My personal perspective was that there was little organisation or planning ahead on their behalf.

    After a few letters from myself (and my parents, I’m embarrassed to say) the cogs started to whir and I was told to audiotape my lectures which would then be sent off for transcription and returned two weeks later as a 20 page document… This didn’t work because my a)tutorial on a particular subject often took place before the transcription got back, and b) I had better things to do than read 20 pages of ramble. This ‘method’ of support carried on for over a year and slowly interpreters and speedtext operators started to arrive.

    However, I did poorly in my first year exams and was ready to drop out in my second year. I even applied to other universities asking for a transfer. It was only due to some amazing friends that I stayed on.

    It should not have to be like this though. I get the impression that universities that cater for a larger group of deaf students or run deaf studies courses (e.g. Bristol/Reading) are much more equipped. It’s a shame that deaf students have to worry about this rather than enjoying what should be a great learning and social opportunity. All it requries is a good disability advisor/key worker who listens, has the ability to maintain regular communications and plan ahead.

  2. Autistic students are also being denied financial support to attend Universities. Most do not know they procedure for applying.

  3. It used to be more common in USA, but over the years, the discrimination against the deaf students had been reduced. However, it exists in universities and colleges with a miniscule body of deaf and hoh students. At the beginning, this was a result of ignorance of the disability laws. But for too many universities, the cost of interpreters was too prohibitively high for them, so they started using different excuses.. like ignorance, problems finding interpreters, and passive resistance. Now a severe shortage of interpreters and competing against VRS companies offering better hours and benefits make it difficult to find a qualified interpreter.

    I don’t know about UK. It’s easier to attend universities with well established deaf programs. But I’m hearing stories of students being denied in these deaf mainstreamed programs, like CSUN. The reasoning.. lack of funds due to California’s severe financial shortages.

  4. I was one of those ‘deaf’ students that coped. Managed to get a BA, MA & PhD in spite of various problems. Not sure that Rosie is furthering the cause, it might frighten universities from having deaf students if we’re seen as troublemakers? I went to Durham and found the support I got from the disability advisor (late 1990s) was great, less so from the academic staff who had never had a deaf student before in my dept before, though they weren’t hostile. I think it’s a question of educating people, not threatening to sue if things don’t work out as neatly as hoped. Sometimes we have to take responsibility for ourselves and our learning.

    Also, just because I’m deaf doesn’t mean I’m only interested in deaf-related things, why should we be shoved in deaf studies programs? Also not every deaf person uses sign language and is strongly part of deaf culture.

  5. I’m studying at University right now and I know I’m not getting all the support I need. I feel like I don’t know all my rights. I am entering my 3rd year but I do feel let down in many ways and I believe my grades have suffered. Could any of you give me advice on what I should have in place? I have severe to profound hearing loss and I find it hard arranging a notetaker even though I do get DSA

  6. Same here! I’m also a deaf mature freshman from Singapore, waiting to start school in August this year. I’m entering NUS (National University of Singapore), which is considered by local standards to be a top institution alongside the other two varsities – Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU). Because I am acutely aware of my difficult situation I’m in now, I consulted my friends and disability organizations for special assistance before deciding on an option of having a note-taker, which shouldn’t be too much of a trouble.

    So I contacted my faculty regarding this. Then they arranged a meeting for us to meet and discuss. Guess what the result is in the end? One of the professors made a discriminatory suggestion – I have to source for a note-taker on my own. Isn’t the University supposed to try their best and find out? Wow, a top local university with its good standing reputation (ranked about 30th in the world university rankings) doesn’t bother to provide special assistance, let alone a simple request for a note-taker.

    They came up with various excuses: hard to find one who is familiar with technical terms, don’t know how/where to find (LAZY!), saying that note-taking is not very necessary as the information can be found on the presentation slides/printed notes, so on. That particular professor then went on to ramble about learning to be more independent (hello, I’m already 29, a fully blown adult with life experiences), “toughening myself up” to face reality and competition among my hearing peers, etc. Honestly speaking, I’m not even interested to hear these from him. He was just straying off from my point – discussing on how to work it out. Sicko!

    I was silently angry during the meeting. I just don’t understand why I have to “fight” over this legitimate and reasonable request.

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