I was suddenly transported back in time around 12 years yesterday. Sadly, it’s not because I’m the Doctor’s new assistance. It was all due to a glance at a news story saying that 12,500 disabled students, two thirds of applicants, are still waiting for their Disabled Students Allowance. The allowance funds specialist equipment and costs of support so that disabled students are on a level playing field at university. I would guess that a large number of the people waiting are deaf, waiting for money for interpreters, notetakers, laptops, etc.
In the spring of 1998, I was putting in my application for university. There was a little box that asked if I was disabled. I ticked it. My lovely teacher of the deaf said the council would be in touch to assess my needs for university. Did my exams. Got the grades I wanted. Bought some tins of baked beans and got all packed up and ready to go to university. And then it hit me. The council never did get back to me.
I got my Mum to call them. “Oh. We didn’t notice he’d ticked that box. Sorry about that. I’m afraid it will have to be next February before we can arrange an assessment.”
In retrospect, I should have made more of a fuss to get things moving with a greater degree of urgency, and should have called on the help of the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) Helpline or a NDCS Family Officer. But I was a nervous deaf young person, about to leave home for the first time and really didn’t want to make a fuss.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can now also say that the assessment, when it finally happened, was rubbish. We had a cursory chat, and they gave me what I thought I wanted, not necessarily what I needed. I didn’t get a full and thorough assesment. I didn’t get any information on what my options were. I wasn’t told that there was such a thing called a palantypist (I probably would have thought it was a dinosaur), or given the opportunity to meet deaf role models. University staff were well-meaning but didn’t know that much about deafness. As far as I could tell, I was the first deaf person in my college in my university. I ended up being plonked in the wheelchair-accessible room in the Halls of Residence. My bathroom was larger than most people’s bedrooms.
It was after Easter when I finally got my first Disabled Student Allowance cheque. I got a good degree at the end of it all so I can’t complain too much. But looking back, how much did I miss in the first two terms? How many lectures did I go to where I didn’t have a hope in hell of being able to lipread for an hour? Too many.
And how much is this happening right now for deaf students? It’s pretty outrageous and I hope heads are rolling.
On top of the whole access to exams saga, it doesn’t feel like a good time to be a deaf student right now. Do you know of anyone having difficulties in this area? If so, leave a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.