Sorry, can you repeat that?
The Employability and Skills team is interested in hearing student voices! We put a call out on our CCCU Careers and Disability Facebook group, asking students to share their experiences, both in life and in the workplace. Here, Alicia Beels speaks opening about how having invisible disabilities affects her day to day, and suggestions for others who may be in the same position.
So, I am a deaf, mature student with dyslexia, and I fall into the very unhelpful category of “invisible disabilities”. I say unhelpful because appearances can be very deceptive.
My hearing loss is classed as severe/profound, which means not completely deaf but almost. When I meet people I have the joy (not) of explaining my needs every time because I am not your stereotypical deaf person. I speak as my main method of communication – my speech is always commented on when revealing my disability as I sound ‘normal’ – I can’t really sign and the only physical thing I have that indicates to my disability is the fact I wear two hearing aids, and they can’t be seen unless my hair is tied back.
How does this affect me as a student? Well the areas of greatest impact are situations that involve lots of people like group debates. I can’t always hear everyone and often the students are spread out so I have a hard time lip reading everyone and keeping up with the debate. Group work is always a struggle especially if I am working with someone new, because unfamiliar accents or speech patterns are a recipe for miscommunication incidents. Workshop sessions where the lecturer is walking through new software, as I lip read all the time the second I look away from the lecturer and at what I am doing, I have already fallen behind but I tend to get them to repeat it till I have understood it. Subtitles to many are annoying and I have heard students moan about them but to me they are a god send, again it is amazing how often the lecturer will forget to put them on or they are unavailable. It just means I have to find a version of the clip with captions and watch it again in my own time. Luckily I have a note taker who is aware of these problems so she does her best to take notes as quickly as possible for me to read or relay to me what has been said, without her I would probably have quit ages ago.
My deafness also impacts me socially as I have mentioned above about unfamiliar accents and speech patterns, which means often I have been labelled as rude and anti-social. This is why I have very few friends because it makes me feel very vulnerable to explain it every time I meet someone new.
To other students that struggle in lectures, DO NOT suffer in silence. There are people that can and will help, I learnt this when there was a delay in my own support. The only other thing is try not to be shy about talking about your disability with other people, the more people that have a greater awareness has got to be a good thing. I find that people ask me questions about my deafness and I would rather that they got an accurate response for the sake of other deaf people they may come into contact with.
I had a very therapeutic experience regarding my disability during semester one of my first year. One of my module projects was a blog about me, I was using the blog as reflective exercise, a way to explore how I felt about being deaf, how I have been moulded by various experiences and how they have affected my personality. This exercise really helped me to put my disability into perspective, release some demons and increased my confidence.
With regards to employment, it can be very difficult and unfortunately, I have suffered discrimination. When I started at University I signed up with Unitemps and it really was the best decision I made. At first, I was really unsure but the placements I have got within the University have been really positive, and willing to make any adjustments I need. I am just amazed at the high level of flexibility I have been shown by my co-workers.
While my deafness can make things challenging, the support I have received at University has been great. I don’t like to complain about it and sometimes it is just a fact of life that I will struggle but I wouldn’t trade my University experience for anything.