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Almost half of deaf students start university without support

Published Date: 19 Jun 2019
  • New report reveals 46% of deaf students who need support at university were still waiting for it when their course began.
  • Of those, over half waited more than two months for it to be put in place.
  • Deaf student Habiba Bernier: “I was turning up to lectures half-understanding what was being said, which made me feel I didn't belong there.”
  • The National Deaf Children’s Society has called on the Government and universities to “stop resting on their laurels and start delivering for deaf students.”
  • The report is based on 134 deaf students’ experiences at university.

Almost half of deaf students who need support at university are still waiting for it when their course begins, a new report suggests.

The figures, published as part of a research project by the National Deaf Children’s Society, show that 46% of deaf university students who get additional support said they did not receive it in time for the start of their course.

Of those, more than half (59%) experienced delays of more than two months and over a quarter (28%) waited six months or more.

Support for deaf students varies depending on an individual’s needs, but it can include a notetaker, specialist tutor or British Sign Language Interpreter. Technology might include a radio aid or streamer, which transmit a lecturer’s voice to the deaf student’s hearing aids or cochlear implant.

The report also revealed problems with the support itself. Just over half of the students (53%) said their support was always available, while one in six (16%) said it rarely or never was. More than half (51%) also said that they didn’t receive enough information about the support or equipment they could access.

In response, the National Deaf Children’s Society said universities and the Government needed to step up and investigate the delays immediately, whilst ensuring that all potential deaf students received information and advice on the support available to them.

The charity has also raised fears that changes made in 2016 to the Disabled Students’ Allowance, a Government-funded grant for disabled students to cover their support costs, is compounding the problem.

The changes included new conditions and compulsory fees for freelance support workers, which the charity says had led to a shortage of people working in the profession. The charity is urging the Government to subside training to attract new support workers and says this is vital to meet the needs of deaf students.

Martin McLean, Policy Advisor at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said:

“It’s disgraceful to see that almost half of deaf students who need support do not get it in time. Universities and the Government urgently need to sort out this appalling situation, stop resting on their laurels and start delivering for every deaf student.

“This has to start with immediately investigating these delays and ensuring that information is widely available for all deaf students. If the Government also introduced subsidised training to boost the number of specialist support workers, deaf students could then spend their time focusing on their studies instead of worrying about whether their support will even arrive.

“Deaf students are just as capable as their hearing peers, but currently they are being held back during one of the most important periods of their lives. This cannot continue.”

Case study

Habiba Bernier is severely to profoundly deaf. She is from London and currently attends the University of Essex in Colchester.

In her first year, Habiba was allocated a specialist notetaker, but because travel costs weren’t covered and notetakers found it easier to get work in London, the university couldn’t find one for her entire first year.

“I felt let down and slightly lost. I was turning up to lectures half-understanding what was being said, which made me feel I didn't belong there.

“I had no lecture notes to revise from and was relying on vague PowerPoint presentations and the textbook, which according to my lecturers has 'too much information', but I did my best.

“I was going to change universities to be based in London where there was more of a guarantee I would have a specialist notetaker. It was only then that my university stepped up and found a notetaker for me if I was to change my course.

“Though it wasn’t a specialist, it’s been very effective. I was gobsmacked by how much I had missed in lectures.”

Habiba says that if students aren’t getting the support they need, they should tell the university directly.

“Get in touch with the disability office at the university and make it known what the problem is and be clear about what’s needed.

“They can help email all your lecturers to ensure they know there is a deaf student without support. Some even go out of their way to provide more support, like additional notes on lectures and such.”

“Education providers need to publish and advertise notetaking jobs to fellow students in the university as it’s an easy way to earn money and can increase awareness for those who might not have met a deaf person before.”