Managing a Hearing Impairment at University
By Israa Ali, First year Business Management (BA) student at the University of Sheffield
Going to university can be a nerve-racking experience especially when you’re hearing impaired. You’re surrounded by new people in an unfamiliar setting, very different to home. You might have difficulties hearing above all the noise on campus and there are all these different accents you may encounter and have trouble understanding. However, I also saw university as an opportunity to practice my lip reading, better manage my hearing impairment and prepare for the world of work.
When I arrived at university, I arranged for support from the disability support service. Getting support does not mean you are weak and can’t get by without help. No, the support is there to help you work better with your hearing (or any disability you may have) and make life at university easier and safer.
Because I did not use a radio aid for a long time, I opted to have a note taker although it is very possible to get both together if it is more convenient for you. The note-taking service was great and helped me immensely during lectures as I could listen to lecturers and not worry about missing anything while I took notes.
Hearing in lecture theatres
At university, I found that I could hear lecturers better in big lecture theatres than in small classrooms. This is because most large halls have sound systems and a loop system (for those who use a radio aid) fitted. Also, lecturers tend to speak louder so that students sitting at the back can hear. If you are like me who relies on lip reading, then you could sit closer to the front where you will be able to see the lecturer clearer. If you use sign language you could request a sign language interpreter from the disability support service.
Another thing that I think you should be aware of is professors often upload class materials before lectures. It was really helpful for me to read the slides beforehand to get a general idea of the topic that was to be discussed in lectures. I’d highly recommend you check that your lecturers pre-upload material online when you start university and make the most of the available notes.
If like mine, your course involves group work, you may have difficulty hearing your group particularly if they are not aware that you have a hearing impairment. I told my teammates that I couldn’t hear everyone at once and asked that they take it in turns speaking; don’t feel embarrassed about making such requests and sharing information about your disability, it is better to be comfortable than to be constantly anxious during meetings.
If you own a radio aid, it might be worth using it in group meetings, placing the radio aid in the centre of the group. Another thing that may help is having visual tools. If there are study rooms on campus equipped with a TV screen or whiteboard, you could work together to write all your ideas on a laptop connected to the screen or on the board. This can help not just yourself but everyone else, as you can clearly see your ideas come together and have a document available to look back on in the future.
Group work is particularly valuable when it comes to building confidence in listening to other people. At the beginning of the year, I was not particularly confident in my hearing. I would focus too much on trying to listen and ended up missing out more. I found ways to overcome this at university and learnt how to recognise words spoken in different accents as I spoke to more people. This confidence in communication will help me in work after graduation, where I expect to be working with many different people.
Finally, 5 top tips to make the most out of university…
- Do your research; find out what support and facilities the university provides and what would be of benefit to you.
- Arrange support as soon as possible so that the disability support service can respond to your request quickly and provide adjustments to suit your specific needs.
- Don’t be afraid to be open about your hearing impairment. If you miss something in lectures ask the lecturer after class, email them or arrange a meeting. If you are uncomfortable, talk to someone! A friend, flatmate, university support, anyone you feel may be able to help and provide support.
- Use visual tools as often as you can especially when you’re working in a group. Print out lecture slides before lectures, have notes on a screen; anything that makes things easier.
- Don’t doubt yourself! Being hearing impaired might present challenges but everyone faces a challenge at some point, you just have to be confident in yourself that you can overcome any obstacles thrown your way! Most importantly, university is a brilliant experience which will enable you to discover your strengths and learn to celebrate them.