Education25th August 2014

Let’s get social: Preparing for University

Even if you are Deaf, it's important to get stuck into Fresher's Week at University

by Natasha Hirst, Photographer and Deaf Life Writer

Walking into the kitchen of my shared flat in halls one morning, I met the first of my new flatmates, unpacking her crockery.  Remembering advice from my family to “just tell people you are deaf straight away”, I blurted out, “Hi. I’m deaf.”  We looked at each other for a moment and she replied, “Hi. I’m Joanna.”

The reality of being isolated in mainstream schooling meant that I arrived at University with terrible social skills, very little self-confidence and an utter naivety about how the world works. I struggled to involve myself in social environments and I didn’t know any other deaf people. I didn’t belong to the hearing world or the Deaf world. I felt like a total misfit.

Suddenly, I was surrounded by people from incredibly different backgrounds, in social and academic situations I’d never experienced before. I finally met people who ‘got’ me, included me and became the friends that I will have alongside me for the rest of my life.

This wasn’t without its challenges.  I had to get to grips with new accents, coping with noise, dealing with obstructive people, making friends and living independently.

Top tips for meeting those challenges head-on:

  1. Keep a sense of humour about things. Learn to laugh at yourself, rather than feeling humiliated and embarrassed by those inevitable mistakes and misunderstandings.  It will make you more approachable for other people too.
  2. Know that you are who you are and that is just fine. Don’t waste your life wishing that things were different, make the best of what you do have.  Being different can make you a target in school.  At University, being different helps you stand out and you will find other people who like you for who you are, so be yourself and be proud of that.
  3. Forgive ignorance and help to educate. People are generally quite interested in deafness but you will get a bunch of ridiculous questions and comments along the way. Help people to understand how you experience life, you’ll make some great connections in the process.
  4. People who give you grief for being deaf are not worth your time. The world is full of people who try to undermine us, unfortunately. Just let them jog on. If they are obstructing your access to education or social activities, get support from an advisor or Student Rep.
  5. Keep pen and paper handy. When all else fails, write it down or type it into your phone.

If you use BSL or other communication support, you may find yourself especially isolated in social environments and extra-curricular activities, because the Disabled Students’ Allowance doesn’t cover these situations. If you don’t already receive disability benefits, it may be worth thinking about applying. This could fund support for activities you do that are not course related.

Things to do:

  1. Go to the Freshers’ Fayre. You will find out about clubs, societies, sports groups, volunteering activities and a huge range of services for students.  This is a great opportunity to start activities you’ve never done before, and meet new people with similar interests to you. Just go for it!
  2. Go to induction or welcome events at your Department. This will help you to get your bearings and start to meet lecturers and people on your course.  Find a way of introducing yourself to people that you are comfortable with.
  3. Get involved with the Students’ Union. Your union is much more than a cheap bar! Find out who your Disabled Students’ Officer is and what campaigns they are running.  You could meet other deaf and disabled students who understand the access issues and barriers you are dealing with.  They may have solutions you haven’t thought of.
  4. Go to the socials. Social environments frightened the life out of me but I knew I had to get through it. Keep yourself safe though and don’t feel pressured into drinking; “I can’t lipread if I drink too much” kept people off my back quite well.
  5. Remember that you get out what you put in. I cannot say enough about the opportunities that University life will offer you. Whether your interests are in volunteering, campaigning, sports or the arts, there is so much that you can get involved with.  Not only will you have fun and meet like-minded people, but you will develop those all-important ‘transferable skills’ that will help you to get a good job at the end of your course.

I often felt that as a deaf person I had to be three times better than my hearing peers just to be seen to be equal.  It’s the same trying to prove yourself in the world of work. I was capable of so much more than I realised, but I only discovered that by getting out there and having a go. I built up my skills, which increased my confidence and ultimately, I discovered myself.  Going to university will set the foundations for the rest of your life, make the most of it.

Useful links:
Disability Rights UK Guide to Higher Education <>
Disabled Students’ Allowance (England) <>
Disabled Students’ Allowance (Wales) via the Student Finance Wales website <>
National Union of Students <>
Disability Benefits <>

Article by Natasha Hirst, Photographer and Deaf Life Writer

posted in Community / Education

25th August 2014