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What higher education providers can do to ensure remote learning and assessment is accessible to deaf students

Published Date: 27 May 2020
Photo: Remote learning for deaf students presents new barriers

The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a significant impact on our daily lives. This is particularly true for many university students who are faced with having to access their learning entirely from their own home.

For deaf students the move to remote learning and assessment is presenting new barriers which include:

  • Struggling to access lectures or seminars because it is much more difficult to lipread lecturers and fellow students on a computer screen
  • Some deaf students rely on good quality listening conditions. However, the quality of sound can sometimes be poor on platforms such as Zoom
  • Many deaf students rely on communication support such as sign language interpreters or electronic notetakers funded through Disabled Students Allowances. It cannot always be guaranteed that this support is available remotely
  • Watching a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter on a screen or following a live transcript can require more concentration that usual meaning deaf students can quickly become tired
  • New methods of assessment may not take into account barriers access arrangements normally accessed by some deaf students (e.g. additional time)

The good news is that there are steps higher education providers can take to help make sure deaf students are not disadvantaged. Here are some ways to make remote learning more inclusive:

  1. Staff can subtitle their lectures. Sometimes, the platform being used to host videos does not make this straight-forward. If this the case, can staff upload video materials to YouTube, where automatic transcription is available? Automatic transcription is far from perfect, but it is possible for lecturers to scan the transcript and check for any errors. It makes a big difference.
  2. When a student has a BSL interpreter or palantypist (someone who types out everything that is said) booked for lectures or classes, it’s crucial that this support is used more flexibly. An interpreter could be given access to the online lectures and then record themselves providing an interpretation, meaning the student could then watch the interpreted recording. Notetakers and palantypists could also access lectures remotely and then provide their transcripts/notes.
  3. Some students may not have communication support through Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) because they did not feel they needed in normal circumstances. However, it is possible for students to make a late application for Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs), which can cover the cost of booking a palantypist or BSL interpreter. It may be reasonable for HE providers to cover the cost of booking communication support until the application is completed.
  4. For tutorials, HE staff could talk to their students through text conversations rather than relying on video or phone. This might be a bit slower than a voice conversation, but it is perfectly reasonable to ask for. Equally, providers can explore different platforms like Google Meets (which has Google’s AI transcription service embedded into it) or Zoom which allows a deaf person to easily focus on a BSL interpreter during a conference call.
  5. Where exams and assessments are moved to online formats, providers must make sure the same access arrangements (e.g. extra time, modified papers, etc.) are still available.

Not all deaf students will have the same access requirements as each other. It’s vital that support providers and lecturers involved in educating deaf students communicate with them to find out how to meet their learning needs and makes time to review how any arrangements are working for them.

General guidance on supporting deaf students can be found here: www.ndcs.org.uk/documents-and-resources/supporting-the-achievement-of-deaf-young-people-in-higher-education-for-higher-education-staff/

Providers and students can also contact the National Deaf Children’s Society’s helpline for further advice and guidance: www.ndcs.org.uk/helpline