Kirsty chooses her path
When applying for university, Kirsty (18) was determined that her deafness and the COVID-19 pandemic wouldn’t stop her from studying her dream course.
Kirsty had almost given up on receiving good news from her favourite university, when it finally confirmed she had a conditional offer to study there. After spending months preparing her application, it was reassuring to be one step closer to her goal. “It was such a relief,” she says. “It was nice to know the ball was back in my court and I could choose where to go.”
Kirsty’s deafness didn’t hold her back when she was first deciding about her options after Sixth Form. She discovered she was moderately deaf as a teenager and now wears two hearing aids. “When I was younger, I wouldn’t speak up,” she explains. “I’d just sit there while my teacher had the radio aid on wrong. Now, I don’t do that. You have to be confident.”
From the get go, her teachers and parents were supportive of her going to university.
“Throughout Sixth Form I’ve spoken up for myself when there have been issues,” she says. “I’m not going to lose that when I go to university, and that reassures me.”
Kirsty started by creating a list of universities and looking at courses related to sustainability and development. “I looked at a variety of things when selecting a university, but I'm going to university for the course, so I tried to keep that in the forefront of my mind,” she says. “I enjoyed all of my A-Levels, so the course I’ve chosen is a way of blending them.”
Another factor Kirsty considered was disability support. She did some research by speaking to older deaf friends and contacting universities. “My Teacher of the Deaf advised me to send an email to the Disability Services teams at each of the universities I was considering, asking about the different types of support they offered to see how clued up they were about deafness,” she says. “One of them didn’t reply, which didn’t fill me with confidence, but the others did with varying information.”
But she didn’t want to focus on support alone.
“There’s more to me and my experience of university than being deaf, so I didn’t want to make a decision based solely on that,” she explains.
Kirsty also attended online open days. “Some weren’t very accessible so that worried me,” she says. “I made sure I got in touch with universities about my communication needs ahead of open days and I used a transcription app on my phone during talks.”
After making her choices, Kirsty was ready to complete her application through UCAS, the online application system for university. She stated she was deaf on her form. “There’s a section where you say whether you have any disabilities, so I said I was deaf, but I’d already got in touch with the universities because I wanted it to come from me, not a box on a form,” she explains.
When writing her personal statement, Kirsty’s teachers helped. Although she linked her statement to her course, she also included activities she’s done because of her deafness. “You want it to be your words and to keep the focus on the subject, because universities want to know why you’re interested in studying it,” she says. “I didn’t explicitly say I was deaf, but I talked about things I’d done with the National Deaf Children’s Society. You shouldn’t hide it, but if it doesn’t fit, you don’t have to include it. If there’s a way to mention your deafness positively and show something unique about you, I think that’s good.”
A few months after submitting her application Kirsty received offers from all of her university choices, including her favourite, the University of Warwick. She confirmed her first and second choices and the next step involved applying for student finance. Kirsty had to complete a separate form for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), but struggled to get help with this at first. “I told my school I wanted help with my DSA application but they didn’t know much about it,” says Kirsty. “Instead, I attended an online event by the National Deaf Children’s Society and Thomas Pocklington Trust. It gave me an idea of how to prepare. I found out I could apply before confirming my university place.
"Applying for DSA early gave me confidence, I received a radio aid and microphone and I’ve now got time to figure out how my equipment works before I start."
“I also contacted the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Helpline. They advised me to find a DSA needs assessor who worked with deaf students. My assessor was deaf aware and this made the process smoother. When I talked about communication needs and technology, he got it.”
Kirsty’s looking forward to going to university and has big ambitions for her future. “I’m excited to meet new people who have had different experiences, and I can’t wait to study a course because I like the subject, not because I have to,” she says. “Eventually, I'd like to work for a non-government organisation or work in policy in the Civil Service.
“My advice to other deaf young people is don’t exclude university as an option. Your family may not have gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t! It’s also important not to feel pressured if it’s not right for you.
“Your education must be accessible. There isn’t always going to be someone asking what support you need. You have to ask for it, but that means you’ll get the right support, not what someone else thinks is best.”