Welcome to The Hear Me Out! [CC] Podcast, an audio show (with transcripts included) where we listen to stories from fascinating individuals in and around the d/Deaf community and from your host, yours truly, Ahmed Khalifa.
It’s one thing to have your needs met when in school. It’s a completely different task when it comes to looking for that same support when going to college or university.
Annie Tulkin from Accessible College helps to smooth that transition for disabled students, and in this episode, we specifically focus on deaf students journey, the difficulty that could arise when they don’t have access to certain services that can help to smooth that process.
But that the transition is not always a smooth one and the consequences can be very difficult for any students let alone those who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing.
You can listen to the podcast interview below, or you can read the transripts by scrolling down:
Announcer: This is the Hear Me Out [CC] podcast, a place to hear stories from the deaf and hard of hearing people, and from your host, Ahmed Khalifa.
Ahmed: Not a problem, but thank you again. I really appreciate it. It’s something that I was very curious about.
When you sent that Tweet, and I’m going to talk about that Tweet in this episode, it got me curious because it brought back memories of my experiences in two different universities in England, and it’s mixed experiences, but I haven’t really thought about it until I saw your Tweet and it’s like, “Oh yeah. That’s a good point.”
For me personally, I wasn’t very open about it, maybe that is why I didn’t have the facilities and service that I maybe should have thought about. And that’s why I thought, “Okay, let’s talk to Annie.”
Ahmed: And it’s interesting, because I did some research about you, read about what you’ve been doing with accessible college.
As I understand, you provide the college transition support for students with physical disabilities and health conditions, to help them to not just get into the college, but also to navigate through that college experience.
Ahmed: So, I’m curious, what does that involve on a day-to-day basis, and also why is that important to you?
Annie: Yeah. That’s a big question.
So, I started out … I’ve been working in the disability field for over 10 years, and part of that time I was working as the associate director at the academic resource centre at Georgetown University, which is a large, private, Jesuit Catholic University in Washington, DC. Famously, Bill Clinton went to school there.
And a lot of other diplomats and foreign service folks. It’s kind of known for its foreign service, school of foreign service.
And so I was working there with students with physical disabilities, health conditions, undergraduates, graduate school, medical school, and also doing academic support for the general student body.
So it was there where I really started to see a lot of students coming in to the university setting without really a good understanding of what they would need to be successful in that transition, how to self-advocate, what types of accommodations to ask for in the university setting.
And here in the States, the laws change from when the student is in high school or secondary school to college.
So, when they become an adult, they go from one set of laws to the Americans With Disabilities Act, to the ADA.
And so the ADA requires that students and in a workplace setting, that people request reasonable accommodations.
So, it’s a little bit different. The services and supports that you may have had in a secondary school or in a primary school might be different from what you receive in the university setting here in the States.
And so I worked with a lot of students to help them figure out what would be the best types of accommodations to help them succeed and to level the playing field.
Because, we always say that accommodations aren’t extra support. They just help level the playing field amongst all students on a college campus or in a workplace setting.
So, that’s what got me started with Accessible College, because I realised there was a real gap there.
For a lot of the students I was working with, their parents had taken care of things for most of their lives, and so they hadn’t really developed those self-advocacy skills or the skills to be able to talk about what their needs are.
Also, they weren’t super comfortable talking about what they might need and asking for something when they need it.
I think that’s part of … part of that is a developmental issue. You know, like teenagers maybe aren’t as forward in thinking about, “What do I need, and how can I advocate for myself?” They’re more like, “Oh, I’ll just figure it out. I’ll get to it when I get to it.”
So, that’s something that I work with students on. So, typically for my business now, for Accessible College, usually it’s a parent who will reach out to me, or if I’m working with an older student, because sometimes I work with students who are going to graduate school and starting to think about things they might need, or people who have acquired a disability later on in life.
So maybe they started university and then something occurred or something came up and now they’re starting to deal with that diagnosis and need someone to help them figure out what supports might be available to them or what should they be looking for.
So, I work with people to figure out kind of baseline where are they at now, what types of accommodations maybe have they had in the past, what are their functional limitations. And by functional limitations, it’s like how does their condition impact them day-to-day.
So, I walk through each part of their day with them, whether it’s in their home or thinking about how their medications might affect them, or how having a hearing impairment or being deaf might impact them in an academic setting, and starting to think through all of those pieces with them so that they can come up with a list of accommodations that they’re going to request so that when they go in to have those conversations with the disability support personnel at the university they actually have kind of a layout of the things that they want to talk about.
So, that makes it a little bit easier, and that helps the student kind of take control of the situation and be a little bit more prepared for what things might come up in that conversation.
Does that give you kind of a good overview?
Ahmed: Definitely. There’s so many things I was like, “Yup, I agree with.”
You know, confidence is a big one. It took me 30 years to become really, really open about it, so I was not open in high school and university. No. And so I can understand that part.
My parents, yes, they were involved and they tried to do the best they can, but then I was partly in denial and just rejecting things. I gained confidence, and I just wanted to be “normal.” It’s just that you want to go through university without any problems or hassles or that kind of stuff.
But, sometimes you can’t do that yourself, because then without realising it, if you do that, you go backward in a way and you just don’t appreciate enough the facilities that could be available to you, that could have made your life a lot easier.
And I think for some people the most obvious thing that people think about is if you are in a wheelchair, preferably you are maybe in a ground floor flat and apartment, and then maybe if it’s not, there should be a lift, a working lift.
I guess it’s kind of a simple, basic thing that people assume, but they don’t think about the variety of other disabilities and things like that, and that’s why obviously in this podcast and what I do, I talk more about the deafness side, and talk about deaf awareness side of things.
That is why that Tweet, which I’m going to quote to what you said.
“I feel like housing on college campuses for deaf and hard of hearing students is under discussed. Students can ask for visual alarms that triggers and an emergency evacuation protocol too. Not all campus police departments use text. They are behind the curve.”
It made me think a lot. I kind of agree with that. Look at the US. I’m talking about the UK, my experience. That was maybe, that time at university, 10 years ago is when I left my Master’s degree.
Could you explain what kind of experiences have you faced when it comes to deaf and hard of hearing students coming to you about requirements or accommodation needs?
What kind of things do they tend to request, and what kind of things have you faced in terms of challenges to help them to become comfortable in their college experience?
Annie: Yeah, so typically with a student who’s deaf or hard of hearing, the academic accommodations are kind of easy to think about, right? Like they might need a note taker, or they might need CART, so the real-time transcriptions, or an interpreter.
So, those are kind of the usual, typical academic accommodations, and that’s easy, right?
So everybody knows about that stuff. But what a lot of people don’t think about is if a student is moving away to college and they’re going to be living on campus, there’s a whole bunch of other accommodations and things that they might need, right?
So, the housing piece is something that usually isn’t thought about until the student is in the situation, and until there’s the first fire alarm and someone realises, “Hey, there’s no visual alarm in this student’s room.” And everybody gets mad at the student, thinking “Why didn’t they come out? If it was a real emergency, it would have been a problem,” all these things.
So, one of the things that when I was working at Georgetown University, was making sure that students who were deaf or hard of hearing, even if you’re taking off your cochlear implant or you’re taking out your hearing aid at night, which a lot of people do because it’s not super comfortable to sleep with, then thinking through, “Okay, let’s practise. Let’s see. Can you hear the fire alarm frequency? Would that wake you up out of bed? What if you have your covers pulled over your head because your roommate was working late and they had lights on?” So maybe then a bed shaker is a better thing.
So, a lot of students don’t know that if they need those things, they need to be proactive in requesting them, because typically people on the university side aren’t going to be volunteering those types of accommodations, and you might think, “It’s 2019, of course there’s going to be visual alarms everywhere.”
But, the UK is a great example of this. There’s lots of old buildings, and a lot of college campuses here in the States too, it’s just old buildings. So, they’re not always all updated or there may be a couple rooms that have the visual alarms, but not every room.
So, the visual alarm is kind of an easy one. The bed shaker is something that it goes underneath the student’s mattress, and so it listens to the frequency of the alarm and it shakes the bed.
The students I worked with had really funny stories about bed shakers, because sometimes if they would vacuum, the bed shaker would start going off.
They were like, “It can be a little glitchy, a little tricky to use,” but I was like, “Okay, but if the building is burning down and you’re asleep, this technology exists for a reason.”
So, those are kind of two things that we don’t often talk about when we’re talking about accommodations. And then the other piece of that is that a lot of college campuses have campus safety or campus police officers, and the way that most people connect with them is by calling them if there’s an issue, right?
So, where a lot of universities are moving towards using campus safety apps, there’s an app where you can do video chat or even now text with the campus security officers or the campus police.
But, that’s not always the case. I mean, some schools don’t have that type of service, so you’d still have to call and it’s incumbent on the student to say, “You know what? Calling just isn’t going to work for me. I need to be able to text someone if there’s an issue.”
And the school should be willing to work that out with the student because quite frankly, it’s litigious. The student could then sue the university if they weren’t able to access the campus security guard or the campus police because it was not accessible to them.
So, on both sides, the student needs to be proactive in asking for it, and the campus needs to be proactive in providing it. Also, text, it’s great for everybody.
If there’s a situation where I didn’t want to call someone, but I wanted to communicate something, if I needed to be quiet, if there was some sort of an emergency that was like a shelter in place emergency, then I’d want to be able to communicate with the outside world and with the campus police officers. So, text could be a good option for that as well.
So, it has a universal design aspect to it. But, not all universities are forward thinking about these things, and so it really is student pressure that gets universities to act, right?
So, it’s like if the students are requesting these things and putting pressure on the universities to do them, then typically the universities will make those accommodations and will change.
Ahmed: You make a good point. It’s about students need to be proactive, and that is my problem, that in the past I was never ever proactive about things.
If you’re not proactive, how are they supposed to know? So, it’s difficult for me to complain about, “Oh, they haven’t provided with this,” but if you haven’t said it to them, you can’t really assume that they can read your mind or even worse, you shouldn’t let them assume and then it would be the wrong thing that they have provided.
For example, I don’t use sign language. I’m learning British Sign Language, but they would probably assume, “Let’s just give him an interpreter anyway.” And that’s the assumption that people make, and that’s not going to work.
So, you’re right. As a student, they have to be proactive about it.
Annie: Yeah, and what you just described, that exact scenario of someone saying, “Oh, this person’s saying that they’re deaf. They must need a sign language interpreter,” is a common thing that happens all the time, and what I always encourage people to do is talk to the student.
Ask the student what they need, which seems very logical, but people, you know this first hand, people tend to see that or hear that and say, “Oh my God, we have to do this and we don’t want it to look like we’re not going to be supportive or accommodating to this person, so we’re going to go the extra, extra mile to provide them with this,” as opposed to just connecting with you and saying, “What are your needs?”
Annie: The other piece, going back to that academic accommodation piece, so I’ve worked with a lot of students in the past who’ve used FM systems, right?
So, it would hook into their hearing aid, and then the professor would have to wear a microphone, or a lapel mic so that the student could hear the lecture and that is a pretty tricky dynamic for some professors, and for some students, to navigate too because if you’re not super comfortable saying, “Hey professor, can you just wear this lapel pin?”
And the technology, quite frankly, has really advanced. There are ones you can wear on a necklace and things are super small. It used to be really clunky and not really aesthetically pleasing.
But now, things are a little bit more advanced, but you have to be comfortable as a student bringing that to the professor each time, having them put it on, having a conversation about “This is what I need and there might be some fine tuning that has to happen so that I can hear you well. But, we’ll check in after each class.”
But, if you’re not comfortable talking to a professor, and quite frankly, professors can be intimidating people. You’re in a large lecture hall. They’re busy and there’s a lot of things going on.
So, for students to learn those self-advocacy skills and to be comfortable saying, “This is me, and this is what I need and I want to get the best grade in your class, so let’s go forward,” can be kind of hard.
That FM system conversation can be challenging for students to have. There were a couple students I remember who were like, “I don’t want to ask them to wear this.”
So, that’s another thing that would come up a lot.
Ahmed: I agree. No, if a professor is … maybe if you read their body language and it’s quite closed, you can’t really approach them, then of course you don’t want to say, “Oh, could you wear this big, clunky, weird looking thing that you’ve never seen before, and I promise you everything will be okay,” ask them to wear that, just to help you out.
I find that difficult, because I’ve used only several times in private school and that was 20 years ago.
Technology was a lot different, and the system that they had, that my teacher put on, I mean it’s one of these chunky mobile phone style device.
You clip it on your belt, and it’s just chunky and clunky and the quality is not great. I didn’t feel comfortable attracting attention on the professor, because then it attracted attention on me and it just … yeah, everyone has their own need, and I think that’s exactly what you said is correct. You have to ask a student.
You can’t just give everything under the sun possible to that one student because they require every single thing because they don’t. I guess there are consequences of that, isn’t it?
It’s actually the question. I mean, what are the consequences of college education institutions, whoever they are, what are the consequences where students were not accommodated with? What happened to them? What are the downside of all of this happening?
Annie: Yeah, I mean statistically we know that here in the US students with disabilities, and that’s kind of like all types of disabilities, whether it’s hearing impairment, deafness, physical disability, mental health, learning difference, all of those things are kind of encapsulated in the term disability for this purpose.
But, we know that those students drop out at a much higher rate. So, there’s a lot of research being done about that too, to figure out why is that the case? Is it a preparation issue? Is it because the students didn’t feel supported once they were on campus?
So, there’s a lot of contributing factors to that. Also, some students have health issues that kind of occur and come up and they take time off and then they come back and they go back and forth or whatever the scenario is.
But I would say that for a lot of students, if you don’t feel supported in that learning environment, you might choose to not continue on with school if it’s super complicated, or if you’re not getting the accommodations that you need to be successful.
So, that’s sort of my, with Accessible College, what I do is I work with people to hopefully help them ensure that they have a smooth transition and then I also meet with people once they’re in school to do kind of coaching and checking in like, “How is this going? What’s working? What’s not working? Are there things that you would fine tune?”
Because a lot of times, people don’t … students don’t take the time to think about that. “Is this working? Is this not working? How could I ask for something else, and if I was going to ask for something else, what would I be asking for?”
And sometimes it’s good to have just like a thought partner. And if you have, like in the US, most universities have a disability support office, sometimes called accessibility services or access services or disability support services. UK it’s usually something similar. There’s at least a person at the institution who’s supposed to coordinate accommodations for people.
So sometimes students will get lucky and that person on the other side of the desk will be a really good collaborator and open partner. But other times, that person is really relying on the student and the student’s documentation to inform what things are going to approve for accommodations.
So, if you’re not saying, “These are my needs and this is who I am,” you’re not going to get anything. You’re not going to get any further with that person.
So, it really does put the onus on the student, which can be really challenging for a lot of students, to kind of figure out exactly what their needs are and how to ask for those things.
So, that’s complicated.
Ahmed: And what about in the situations where, let’s just say, the students did everything they can. They provided as much information as possible and they come to you. All the communications were great.
What about from the college side, or anybody else’s side, what kind of challenges have you faced from them where maybe they made things a bit more difficult, or maybe they had barriers in front and it could have been done in different ways, quicker? What were some of the common challenges that you faced when communicating with the college?
Yeah, so one thing that comes up a lot, specifically for deaf students who require sign language interpreters, the way that the laws work in the United States is that the university is responsible for providing accommodations for academics, right
College life is more than just the classroom, especially if you’re living on campus. So, let’s say the university invites a guest speaker in, or has a band that comes to play and you require a sign language interpreter. The university technically is not required to provide the accommodation for that programme.
Now, the caveat here being that a lot of universities are moving towards having a general fund for things like this, for accommodations and resources, because they believe that it’s important for students to have access to all aspects of university life, but there are some schools that will say, “There’s just no money for an interpreter for that event.”
Now hopefully you have people in the disability support office and people who are higher up in the university hierarchy who are willing to advocate on your behalf, because quite frankly, personally I feel like no one should be denied access to an event when they’re a student. They should have the same access that everybody else has and I think part of the way things work here in the states and probably the UK too, is everything’s about litigation.
So, if someone has sued over this issue, then that’s how the issue gets moved forward to make sure that everybody has equal access. So, this is an area where there hasn’t been like a tonne of lawsuits and maybe a few settlements, but that’s kind of what informs the way the universities are thinking about how they’re accommodating people.
My hope is that they’ll just move forward and create general funds so that students who need interpreters, or CART even, the real-time captioning, can have that. Another kind of interesting challenge that came up for me when I was working in a university is I had a deaf student who had a cochlear implant, and she was a linguistics major and she was taking an Italian class.
So, for all her other classes, she had an American sign language interpreter and she could hear and she could voice herself. But, for this class, we had to find … we couldn’t find an ASL interpreter who also knew Italian, and so we had to get a CART. We got a CART person who was actually in Italy, who would listen in to the class and would live caption the class, which was fascinating.
Thinking about … I kept thinking, “Wow, how does your brain even process all of these different things that are being input?” But, it was a really interesting method, and it worked. It worked pretty well most of the time for that student.
But, I think that was an interesting challenge for us to figure out how do we provide the best accommodations in this setting with what we can access, and how can she, as the student, make sure that she’s getting what she needs to be successful? So that was a really interesting situation.
Ahmed: I’ve never heard of that. That is amazing. Wow.
Annie: There are two languages that she actually did that for. I think it was Italian and Portuguese too that she also needed that for.
Ahmed: I mean, I wonder because last week, at a time of recording, I did a video. I put it on YouTube first of all saying, “Give interpreters a break. They’re working hard. It’s a hard work what they’re doing, and also, appreciate what they do,” because that’s a great example. It’s hard in Portuguese and English using the CART technology. Wow, it just made me think that there are ways to get around it. There are solutions and at times, technology is very useful for that.
Annie: But, you also need that though partner. So, if it’s that person in the disability support office, or if it’s a person like me, to think through, “Okay, this is the unique situation that you have. This is where you want to go and what you want to do. You want to study Portuguese and you’re deaf, you have a cochlear implant. How do we do this?”
So, sitting there and having that person, who you can talk to about “Okay, this is what I’ve done in the past. I wasn’t able to get all the little nuances of the words and so I’d like to try this.”
That can be really helpful just to figure it out.
The other thing that I was thinking about, I jotted down a few things before we started this conversation, one really big obstacle that I think a lot of hearing impaired and deaf students encounter is going on a tour of the campus, like when they’re starting to look at schools, and thinking through “What do I need to make this tour accessible to me?”
Because, most tours in the United States, you start in the admission’s office and they show you a video, right? So right off the bat, you might be at a deficit if the video isn’t captioned. So, there’s potential obstacle number one.
Then if you’re visiting a large university, the tour might have 20 or 30 people on it and you’re walking around the campus, and if that person’s not using a microphone, an amplification system, you might not be able to hear what they’re saying. If you’re in the back of the group or whatever, then you’re missing out right away.
So, there’s just some obstacles that are kind of thrown into the mix right from the beginning.
One thing I always do with a lot of the students I work with, whether it’s students who are deaf or hearing impaired or have a medical condition or have a physical disability, is have them contact the admissions office first to figure out, “Okay, I have a hearing impairment, are you showing videos? If yes, are they captioned? I need them to be captioned or I need the script of what the person’s saying.”
At least that, so that you can read along.
And then thinking through, “Is the person using a microphone? If I bring an FM system, can they also clip that on so that I can hear it as well?”
So, thinking through some of those pieces, you know, I’ve had students too who are hearing impaired and then have multiple health conditions too, so if stamina is an issue, then are there breaks allowed during the tour or can you set up a separate tour where you can take breaks?
Or if you know that the tour is going to be like three hours long and you need your medications, thinking through, “Okay, I’m going to bring my medication. I’m going to have my water bottle,” or whatever the things are.
But, that’s some of the stuff that I help students and families kind of figure out and navigate so that when they go to that school, they have the best experience.
The other thing to recognise is that if you don’t get the experience what you’re looking for when you’re going on a college tour, maybe that’s not the place that’s going to be the most accommodating for you.
It could be another good way to figure out if that’s the environment that you want to choose when you’re heading off to college.
So, it’s something to think about.
Ahmed: so then, if that college is not suitable for whatever reason that could be, what advice do you have then for them to be as accommodating as possible, to make it easy for deaf students and to make it the best experience they can for the students? What can they do to make it better? What advice do you have for them to make it as best of an experience as possible for deaf students?
Annie: Yeah, I mean, I think schools should be thinking about universal design across the board, and by universal design, it’s thinking about who might need access to this information and how might they be accessing it?
Whether it’s somebody who is deaf and hard of hearing or visually impaired or has a physical disability or whatever, so that you’re providing all of those modalities.
So, the videos are a great thing. Just caption all your videos. It’s not rocket science. You know, you can do it through YouTube for free now. Things have kind of just evolved. That’s a basic, low hanging fruit, right? Videos should be captioned, end of discussion, done.
Ahmed: I’m with that. I vote for that as well. Yup.
Annie: I mean, that’s easy. If you can’t even do that, then you’re kind of like, “what am I doing here?” That tells me that people just don’t value everyone’s needs, and it could be like not even a deaf or hard of hearing student. There might be a parent who can’t hear as well.
And if you’re talking about a group, a group setting, if you have a large group number one, use a microphone. Always use a microphone. It drives me crazy when people will say things like, “I’ll use my teacher voice.” Or “I’ll project really loudly so that everybody can hear me.”
You’re like, “No, just use the microphone.” We should just standardise using the microphone. It’s not a big deal. We have microphones. Let’s use the microphones.
So, that’s another easy piece.
Another kind of thing that is related to campus tours is that sometimes the tour guides are left … they have to shout and they’re walking backwards. So, they’re looking at the people who are taking the tour.
They’re walking backwards and they’re shouting. It’s like, “Just use a mic and a hook on amplification system.”
I mean, there’s so much technology now to help figure that out, and on the student’s standpoint, if you have a need and you need to be able to hook into the FM system or use that, ask for it.
But, my biggest advice to universities is just to think through, I mean, there are check lists too, like programmatic check lists that exist so that people can think through what are some different accessibility needs that people might have, and check off the boxes.
We’re captioning the videos. We’re providing this. We can do X, Y, Z things upon request, and just make it easy and make sure that people know that they can request those things if they need it.
That’s another thing that I always do with students is I go to the university’s website and I see is there, on the admissions page, when you’re reserving a tour, is there an accessibility statement, something that says, “If you need an accommodation, please contact X, Y, Z person.”
That’s basic. That’s basic.
And then it makes it easy so you’re not calling around, trying to figure out how do I do this? It says that university has put a priority on making their tours and their campus accessible to people, and that speaks volumes to people who need those accommodations.
Ahmed: Yeah, of course. As you said, it saves them time. It saves all the back and forth and email and phone calls and all these things. The students, they win. Universities, they win. I mean, I don’t really see why those basic things are not done.
But, unfortunately, we live in a world where many videos are not captioned, and you go to YouTube and it’s just full of either no caption or terrible caption and it’s the world that we live in.
That’s why that’s one of many, many things I’m an advocate about, is to caption the videos. It’s so easy. It’s so simple. There are free ways of doing it. There are cheap ways of doing it. There are so many technologies that can help you. I could just go on forever. I mean, it gets me all riled up, you know?
Annie: I mean, deaf people have been really instrumental in so much of the assistive technology that we all benefit from today, like text messaging is a fabulous example, right?
So, it’s like those things are important to everyone now, and it’s just been life changing for so many people to have access to text, right?
So, I think we’re moving towards some of these things, just becoming part of how we all operate.
I know in the states, there’s a lot of conversation about web accessibility and making websites accessible for all people, specifically around people who are blind or visually impaired, but also just thinking about the captioning thing.
I think it was huge that YouTube allowed the captioning, even though it’s not perfect and it doesn’t pick up on everybody’s accents and the way we say words differently, but it’s a start, right?
Ahmed: It’s a start.
Annie: So, it will get better, just like … I don’t know if you’ve ever used or seen Dragon Naturally Speaking. A lot of blind students use that to write papers, and these older versions of Dragon were really, really terrible and complicated. But now, it’s like we all have speech to text software and text to speech built into our computers and into our phones. That’s amazing. So, it can only get better, I feel like. It’s just a matter of time.
Ahmed: I think it’s a start. It’s what you said is spot on, because I don’t want people to be using that and then that’s it, because with these things, with the caption technology and the speech to text and vice versa, you still have to manually edit when you get in there to do the job there as well, because you can’t just depend on technology to do everything for you. It’s there to assist you.
And then after that, I would say, after technology gets better, you may have to do it less.
But still, I think for long-term, you have to manually get involved. Edit the caption because you’re right, you can’t pick up all the accents. I’ve got weird accents. I still don’t know where my accent’s from, and I just can see when I get auto caption and I can see that it’s not picking up everything I say. I edit. I just edit it. I just type it in. It’s easy as that.
But, as you said, captions, easy. I mean, this is a whole other conversation. We could go on forever about that.
So then, I feel like I can go on for hours, but if I can ask one more question and we’ve talked about what can the educational institution, the universities, what can they do to make things better?
So then, can you also provide advice for the deaf students and parents out there? What can they also do to make the process a lot smoother for them, so that they can also have the best experience of their lives when they go to college?
Annie: Yeah. I think this is … so, this might be geared more towards parents, and a little bit towards the students too, but starting to let your student take on life responsibilities like making their own appointments or speaking for themselves when they’re in a meeting about their educational needs. Starting to do that stuff gradually in the high school or secondary school setting so that the student gains that confidence and becomes a better self-advocate.
A lot of times, parents command the conversation and at least in the states, there are laws that prevent parents from communicating with the university because the student has matriculated into the institution and so the students are typically over 18 as well.
So, the parents no long have access to communicate with the university, or to see the student’s grades and things like that. So, the student really needs to be able to speak for themselves.
So, starting small and figuring out what are some ways that you can have your teenager start to do things independently, maybe still in a managed situation, but talking to the doctor themselves about what they’re experiencing or what their needs are, or sitting down if they’re having a problem in their high school class and they want to talk to their teacher about it, talking through with them, maybe role playing, like “Okay, I’ll be the teacher. You be you. Tell me what the issue is and we’ll talk through it.”
So that when they go and talk to the teacher, they kind of have a sense of what the questions might be or what the issues might be.
So, I think finding small ways to empower your student so that as they get older they have built up some of these skills, because at least in the states it’s a huge issue that parents are kind of doing a lot of things for their students.
So, it’s a huge problem because when students then are living independently, they lack independent living skills, right?
So, finding those small ways to empower your students can be really, really helpful.
Ahmed: It makes sense. I know that … well, we both know that parents have good intentions.
So, of course they want the best for their children and they feel like if they take over part of their life, it makes it easier for them, but in the long term, it’s not necessarily going to work things out.
So, it makes sense, and I think I do sometimes feel that I wish I had spoken up earlier about many, many things in previous jobs, previous educational experiences, whatever it is, and I wish I had done that.
But, for whatever reason it didn’t happen to me. Maybe I wasn’t empowered enough. Maybe I just have been in denial my entire life. I don’t know.
But, I hope this will help to just get the message out there, to help some students and parents to realise that just because you’re going to university it doesn’t mean that you will have a lesser experience than everyone else, and I think that’s something that’s quite important for me.
I’ve been to two different universities, two different degrees, very different experiences, and I can understand why for some people it’s exciting.
But I can also understand why it’s very scary, and if you’re deaf, it’s potentially even more scary.
Ahmed: Especially when you’re going there in the big, bad world. You’re going by yourself. It’s scary.
Annie: Yeah, for sure.
And I think what you just said is totally right too, and that’s a conversation to have with your student, and to be thinking about ahead of going.
If we’re all acknowledging that this could be a really tricky transition for someone, let’s open up the doors and have a conversation about ways in which it might be challenging or scary, and then start to figure out do we have to just lean into that discomfort, or are there things that we can do or tools that we can have in our toolbox to help kind of mitigate any of those challenges that a student might face.
And those are uncomfortable conversations, especially for a teenager. And so that’s kind of where I do a lot of work too, of leaning into those uncomfortable conversations and just saying, “I’ve seen this happen with other students, and let’s just talk about it. Let’s put it all out on the table now so that it’s there and we can name it, and then we can start to unpack what are the issues.”
So that could be really helpful for students.
Ahmed: Well, if people want to open up a conversation with yourself, want to talk about anything like that, where is the best place for them to connect with you online and contact you? What’s the best way for them to do that?
Annie: Yeah, probably through my website, which is www.accessiblecollege.com, and you can probably put a link up in the interview as well.
So, there’s lots of ways to engage with me, and if you get on my website you can find all of those things there.
Ahmed: Of course, I will definitely link to them because I think it’s important. I think it’s a very useful thing to talk about, be open about.
I think there are a lot of things to talk about, and as you say, it’s not just for deaf or hard of hearing students, but so many different sectors of disabilities, health conditions and whatever it is. It’s such a big, big topic.
So, I just want to thank you for that, thank you for your time and sharing your wisdom and knowledge and all these things.
It made me think a lot about my previous experience, but I hope it does help other students, wherever they are around the world, to feel like you’re not alone. You can have a good experience.
So, it’s just about the best you can, be open. So I just want to thank you for that.
Annie: Absolutely. It was my pleasure. And thank you for your time too, and I really enjoyed this conversation.
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