Case Study A give a description of a year’s work placement undertaken by a student with hearing difficulties on a BA Business Studies programme. Case Study B examines the experience of a stduent studying for a BSc (Hons) degree in Information Engineering with Business.
Case Study A: This information has been extracted from Skill – the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities
http://skillcms.ds2620.dedicated.turbodns.co.uk/page.aspx?p=267&c=169 (information accessed and extracted May 2008)
Case Study B: This case study is taken from the DART project website http://dart.lboro.ac.uk/SHAMIRA.htm (information accessed and extracted September 2008)
Case Study A
My name is Bertram Li Mow Ching and I did my work experience at the Home Office.
I am studying for a BA in business studies at the University of Middlesex. I had left it until after my January exams to find a placement, so pressure made me take the first placement available to me. I ended up working at the Criminal Justice Joint Planning Unit (CJJPU), a department in the Home Office for a year. I was nervous about the interview, mainly because I had never been to one before, but also because I was not sure how I would cope. Nevertheless, with advance warning the interview panel did accommodate me quite well with my radio aid.
Soon after I was chosen, my immediate employers did raise questions about how to support me but it wasn’t until I started work at the beginning of August 2001 that things were put into place. The two other students and myself were the first placement students the CJJPU had ever taken, so this was a new experience for them as much as it was for me – I had never worked full-time before. Because of the particular organisational nature of the Home Office, getting a textphone installed and working took three months. We also organised some deaf awareness sessions that were enjoyable as much as they were informative. Meetings were also an issue; I had new NHS digital aids, so I needed new receiver shoes for my radio aid and communication support. This was all provided for by an Access to Work (AtW) grant.
Just over a month into the job, I performed a PR coup that resulted in a windfall for the whole team. As part of a drive to increase communication amongst the unit I had to give a presentation on our team’s work. Word went to the top, and the whole team received a bonus from the director.
My favourite project came in late November. Initially I wasn’t very receptive to the idea of working on the Criminal Justice System’s bids for money from the Treasury for the 2002 Spending Review, as I perceived that it meant accounting of some sort. However, it turned out to be a database project – I was to design and maintain a database for all departmental bids throughout the CJS, and to present the required information to ministers and officials in a series of reports. I suggested using an Access database, but I knew very little about Access. Armed with an Access bible, I gave myself a working knowledge of the programme. This enabled me do what was required in the very tight timetable provided. It was a brilliant challenge and I was pleased to be part of it.
It was not all plain sailing throughout, though. Midway, I moved departments for a while. The head of unit at the new department was not receptive to my communication support needs (despite having 100% funding from the Access to Work scheme) or to the suggestion that his unit should undergo deaf awareness training just as my first unit had. Eventually we had limited awareness training for those that were interested, and I did manage to have my usual palantypist for meetings.
Being one of the few members of staff in the Home Office with a hearing disability, I helped contribute to the first ever set of specific disability awareness guides. This guide came out at the formal launch of the Home Office Disability Support Network in February 2002, chaired by Phil Friend, an inspiring man who I had the honour of meeting at a later conference.
When opportunity presented itself, I became an equality advisor for one of the Home Office directorates. I did this partly out of concern about the lack of disability awareness at middle management level. My response to this was to organise a pilot disability awareness training session for that directorate. It was hoped that it would pave the way for further disability awareness training sessions throughout the directorate. It was very successful and enjoyed by all who attended.
I think the best thing that happened to me was to have a wonderful line manager who is very diverse, funny, interesting and a great person. He supported me throughout and was very encouraging. Being treated as any other member of staff, and not just a student trainee, gave me confidence. I really hated leaving the CJJPU and the Home Office, because I had such a good time, learnt so much and made a lot of friends. I still meet up with them from time to time. It was a brilliant year out from university, judged a success by everyone.
Case Study B
This case study examines the experience of Shamira who is close to the end of the final year of a BSc (Hons) degree in Information Engineering with Business in the School of Engineering at a city-based campus
NOTE: This student wishes her identity to remain confidential. Shamira is her chosen pseudonym.
Shamira has had a hearing impairment from birth / early infancy resulting in a reduction of 50% of hearing in her right ear, in which she wears a hearing aid, and 80% of hearing in her left ear. This makes communication difficult, particularly in an environment where there is a significant level of background noise, such as when a number of people are all talking at once, although she has sufficient hearing to have been able to develop perfect speech.
Her Course Leader has spoken very highly of the determined way in which she approached her work and became a prominent member of her group. He was very keen to recommend her as a possible subject for this study. Shamira is a gentle person with a warm, cheerful and outgoing personality who exudes enthusiasm for the things she likes, but she is very sensitive about her disability, preferring to conceal it when in company. This has a bearing on the way she has reacted to certain types of support.
The Student’s Experience
Shamira has experienced a number of barriers in learning and teaching situations. The following highlight some relevant experiences:
In her first year Shamira accepted the services of a note taker and received copies of slides at the start of lectures. This had been assessed as the best way to address her needs, but she was conscious that this made her disability obvious and, as a result, felt intimidated to the point where she began to lose her self confidence. Later, the University implemented an online learning system throughout the University. This provided printed notes and copies of power point slides which could be downloaded by any of the students on the course in advance of lectures. This proved much more suitable for Shamira’s needs as she could receive this material in advance without in any way drawing attention to her disability.
Shamira found that she could cope most easily in lectures and tutorials if she sat at the front, and was eventually able to successfully dispense with her note taker by the time of her final year, but oral questions and discussions remained a problem, particularly when several people talked at the same time.
The use of videos in lectures or tutorials also presented a problem because she was only able to receive a transcript of the video commentary at some time after the video was shown. She advised that subtitles to the video itself would have been much more helpful.
Group Work / Presentations
The difficulty that Shamira experienced with class discussions during lectures also had an impact upon her experience of small group working, and when making presentations requiring group discussions or question and answer sessions. In these circumstances Shamira felt diffident about taking a leading role in case she would not be able to hear sufficiently to grasp all that was said, thereby drawing attention to her disability.
Assessment / Examinations
Assessment papers were pre-checked for overtly complicated ‘carrier’ language, and Shamira was scheduled to take exams in a separate room with only a few students, all of whom had disabilities of various kinds. She was allowed extra time in her exams and did find this of some assistance. She was particularly appreciative of the University’s Disability Support Team in the Student Services section for the efforts made on her behalf.
Shamira has successfully completed a placement year in which her only difficulty was when messages were transmitted by a public address system, which she was unable to hear sufficiently to discern its content.
Research work in the library or online, working alone on assignments to strict deadlines presented no particular difficulty; neither did laboratory work, except where a significant level of background noise was unavoidable – such as in a machine tool laboratory.
Impact on Learning and Academic Progress
The major impact of Shamira’s hearing impairment has been difficulty with verbal communication. Academically, she has been very successful in developing strategies to mitigate its effects in formal situations such as lectures, but in small group situations she has felt self conscious and isolated. This has also affected her personal relationships to a degree where she prefers to associate with a small group of close friends who understand her disability and are sensitive to her needs rather than larger, more loose relationships and group activities. This is especially the case where group interactions take place in noisy environments. Shamira prefers to conceal her disability, which has probably resulted in her missing out on some of the social pleasures of being an undergraduate.
Whilst on her course, Shamira was offered extra tutorial support in the form of two research students, but unfortunately this proved unsuccessful. Being a gentle person, she (reasonably) expects to be treated gently and with consideration herself, but perceived her supporters as somewhat overbearing and aggressive which was counter-productive. She spoke strongly that support personnel should receive at least minimal training in working with people, and felt that this support could have been very useful with a more sensitive approach.
This Case Study highlights a number of issues. In particular, it highlights the critical importance of being sensitive to the needs and wishes of the student. Of a more specific nature one might recommend that the following actions, where possible, might be appropriate:
- The provision of basic induction training for members of the course team who are likely to come in contact with the student.
- Regular checking that the student has received any verbal instructions.
- Action to minimise isolation in formal sessions.
- Awareness of difficulties in small group work – other students reminded to maintain orderly discussion, only one person to talk at a time.
- The provision of lecture notes, slides etc. in advance of lectures, through an online facility