Case Study – Computing and Auditory Difficulties

Case Study A describes a student undertaking a Modern Apprenticeship. Case Study B examines the experience of a stduent studying for a BSc (Hons) degree in Information Engineering with Business.

Case Study A: This case study is taken from:Quality and Performance Improvement Dissemination and Department for Education and Employment, October 1999. Modern Apprenticeships and People with Disabilities

Case Study B: This case study is taken from the DART project website (information accessed and extracted September 2008)


Case Study A

Sector: Information Technology
Gender: Female
Age: 20
Region: North West
Employer: Charitable voluntary organisation providing services to the deaf community
Disability: Profoundly deaf
Adjustment: Forward planning; focus on job requirements; multi-agency support; awareness of equal opportunities issues with respect to selection; mentor and tutor learning sign language; note-taker and interpreters available; access to minicom and video phones; provision of mobile phone with minicom facility


Education Prior to MA

Karen attended a mainstream school with a unit for the hearing impaired before going onto to college to complete GNVQs (intermediate and advanced) in Information Technology.

Speech therapy from a young age has helped Karen to speak clearly and she has excellent lip-reading skills, as well as being able to use sign language. She communicates well with hearing people in most situations and Karen’s friends use her as an interpreter when they are out.

While at college she had the help of a full-time note-taker because she can’t take notes while she is lip-reading and she misses what is said if she cannot see the speaker’s face, for example when the tutor is writing on the blackboard.

Careers Advice

Karen did think about going to University but was more interested in finding a job and getting work experience. She felt she had had enough of full-time study and found out about Modern Apprenticeships in a review meeting with her special needs careers adviser. Together with Karen’s mum, they discussed the type of work that would suit Karen and the possible implications of her disability. They also talked about equipment that might be useful, such as a minicom for telephone work. Careers guidance, together with advice from family members, helped Karen with her decision to pursue a career in IT through the MA route.

The local careers service and the Jobcentre have been able to advise Karen about the help that is available for people with hearing impairments and she has passed this information on to friends who would also benefit.

Employer Context

When a vacancy arose, the employer – an organisation that provides support services to the deaf – assessed the job role and recognised that it could be carried out by a deaf employee. A large proportion of the organisation’s employees are deaf and many of the hearing staff can communicate in sign language. Existing resources within the organisation, for example minicom, video telephones and in-house interpreters, combined with a positive culture of support within the organisation, led to the decision that it was important to recruit a deaf individual to fill the vacancy.


The employer actively set out to identify a young deaf person with the IT skills necessary for the job. The employer identified young people who were due to leave college and sought recommendations from their local careers service and colleges regarding potential applicants. The job was not advertised formally and Karen obtained the information about the vacancy from a friend. Positive recommendations from the Careers service and a very positive report from the college suggested that Karen was the best person for the job and she was invited for interview.

Focus on job requirements

The focus of the selection process was on determining whether Karen would be able to function effectively within the organisation and whether she had the technical ability to carry out the job. The selection interview was conducted ‘slightly more sensitively’ than it might have been with a hearing individual. The employer is aware that there is a tendency for deaf people to reply somewhat abruptly and be less forthcoming in discussions of wider issues and the job. The assessment of technical ability was based on Karen’s college report which clearly indicated her achievements in relation to IT.

Karen was confirmed as being ideal for the job and the employer began exploring the Modern Apprenticeship options with two local TECs. It quickly became clear that one of the TECs was hesitant to take on the potential expense of Karen’s training while the other was happy to work with the employer to develop a training package that would benefit all involved.


The TEC contact is one of a team of human resource advisers involved in helping to place young people in employment and supporting transition and development within the MA. Through discussions with the employer and with Karen, the TEC adviser identified a training provider that was well placed to deliver appropriate training and accompanied Karen on an introductory visit to ensure that she felt comfortable with the choice.

Karen’s employer was very keen to ensure that the training was right for Karen and that she would not have to repeat ground she had already covered at college. The TEC adviser was closely involved in the development of a NVQ framework that would compliment existing skills and support Karen’s developing within her job role.

The employer was angered when the training provider reported that Karen had failed an aptitude test and felt she was unsuited to pursue computer programming options. It was felt likely that the test instructions had not been adequately explained and the employer feels the provider was trying to manipulate the training for their own purposes. The employer is keen to ensure the training is of a high quality and has worked closely with the TEC adviser in identifying and negotiation the best training package for Karen.

The MA and Adjustments

Forward Planning

Time and effort spent in planning the MA and identifying sources of support prior to Karen’s start has helped to ensure that she has been able to perform effectively from the outset. The TEC adviser reports that the high level of initial investment, particularly in negotiating training arrangements, has proved more effective than trying to make adjustments at a later date.


A mentor was appointed for Karen at work. He has had to learn to make sure Karen is looking at him before he speaks to her and that he remains facing her while he is talking. Otherwise her mentor reports that he never thinks about Karen’s deafness as her speech and lip-reading are so good that there are no real communication barriers. He is currently learning sign language. Existing facilities, including minicom and a newly installed video telephone system, have also limited the need for communications support within the work place.

Karen sometimes needs an interpreter for meetings and her boss made sure he was available to interpret, if necessary, while she settled in and gained confidence in meetings. An interpreter (in-house) is available, if booked in advance. The Disability Service Team have helped to arrange communications support (e.g. interpreters) for Karen that is funded jointly by the employer. The TEC is in the process of arranging access to a note-taker to support Karen whilst at the training provider, if this is required. The TEC is clear that, despite the potential cost (£18-£30 per hour), all apprentices are entitled to the support they need for their training to be successful.

Training Delivery

Karen’s training is mostly conducted in small groups or on a one-to-one basis and she has found that she doesn’t really need the help of note-takers or interpreters. The training provider is helpful, supplying Karen with notes in handout form. Karen’s tutors also asked her for information about sign language courses and have now begun to learn to sign with the support of TEC funding.

Minor misunderstandings have occurred; for example, the training provider had not expected Karen to bring an interpreter for a session for which they were short of space, and the interpreter was asked to leave. The provider has no previous experience of working with deaf trainees but has demonstrated they are keen to extend their skills in this area.

The MA

Karen is progressing well in her work and training and her confidence has grown as she has become involved in a range of tasks. Her job covers all aspects of the development of the organisation’s IT systems and resources, including building computers, installing software, developing software applications, installing video links and training others in the use of hardware and software. In addition to technical skills, communication skills, with both deaf and hearing groups, is an important requirement of the job.


Karen’s employer and her workplace mentor continue to monitor her progress. In a recent incident, Karen’s car broke down while travelling between her employer sites and she was required to knock on someone’s door to ask them to phone for vehicle recovery. The Disability Service Team at the Employment Service has since agreed to supply her with a special mobile phone which has the facility to communicate via minicom.

Karen’s employer realises that she does not want to be singled out for special attention, but is keen to ensure that she has all the communications support she requires. Karen herself feels that she has access to all the support she needs and is enjoying the experience of being at work.

Future Plans

Karen is currently planning a career in IT. she enjoys problem solving and finds it easy to work with computers. She has not yet decided whether she will continue with her current employer when she completes her initial two-year contract but her employer has made it clear that the choice is hers.

Many of the organisation’s senior members of staff are home grown, sometimes from volunteers, and development within the organisation will be encouraged. If Karen decides to pursue a career in IT, the organisation will only be able to offer limited progression and her employer recognises that many better paid opportunities will be open to her. There is, however, flexibility for her to progress into other areas of the organisation if she expresses an interest and chooses to stay.

Points of Interest

The key points to emerge from this case study are:

  • Identify the skills and abilities required in the job and assess candidates against those requirements.
  • Selection and assessment processes can unintentionally discriminate against young people with disabilities.
  • Forward planning and prior preparation will help the young person perform effectively from the start and can save time and effort in dealing with problems at a later date.
  • Every apprentice should be entitled to the particular support they require in order for them to succeed in their work and training. The cost of meeting support needs can often be shared.
  • Careful selection of provider can overcome the need for classroom assistants and interpreters.


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.

Work Placement

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

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