The following case studies were taken from: IPDPS – Improving Provision for Disabled Psychology Students project, HEFCE Strand Two Project, Universities of York, Middlesex and Aston, http://www.psychology.heacademy.ac.uk/ipdps/ipdps.asp?CurrentPageID=6 (information extracted and accessed October 2006).
Deidre was 19 years of age when she first started on an introductory course in psychology, from which she progressed to a first degree in psychology and is now writing up her PhD. Psychology was her chosen subject because she was interested in the way people can differ and wanted the chance to help deaf children and adults alike. Her first language is British Sign Language, and spoken English her second. The university she studied her first degree at was not her first choice, but she settled for it because they offered her help in terms of interpreters and notetakers. Unfortunately this help was not forthcoming; instead she came across discrimination and lack of help and understanding, at both staff and institutional level: “Some of the psychology tutors at university were really discriminatory towards me; I had to prove myself an extra mile all the time”. This negativity was mirrored by the BPS, who suggested that she consider doing another degree as psychology would prove difficult.
Throughout her degree Deidre had to overcome major barriers, such as being given a communication worker who was not adequately trained for university level, and then later finding she rarely got notetakers at all, except those she found and booked for herself. Despite these problems and all the work she had in addition to her studies, the psychology tutors didn’t give her extra support or copies of notes, etc. They were also often inaccessible, as interpreters were not available. It became a struggle for her to balance everything, and at one point she nearly gave up, but didn’t want people to think “oh, she’s deaf, she can’t cope”. For the assessment she was provided with a laptop, which she found to be a great support. However, she had to do extra work on presentations and did extra accompanying essays because she found her speech was not clear enough for those who didn’t know her well, and they struggled to understand.
The main problems Deidre had to overcome were communicating without the interpreter or notetaker. This impacted on lectures, presentations, and her being able to fully participate in class. She feels that psychology lecturers should be given training in Deaf awareness to become more aware of the fact that Deaf people are just as intelligent as hearing people but need to access the curriculum in a different way by being provided with the appropriate support in terms of note-takers and interpreters.
Despite all of the problems incurred she attained a 2:1 in Psychology and continued onto postgraduate studies. Her determination and hard work has shown that deafness need not be a barrier to studying for a psychology degree or doing postgraduate research. Better support at all levels, however, would have reduced her additional workload and made her learning experience more enjoyable.
Generally Deidre finds it easier studying at postgraduate than undergraduate level, as she is more independent, and deals principally with her supervisor who has been very understanding and “open minded towards me”. However, she is still responsible for ensuring everything is equally accessible to her, and due to the high costs of interpreters had to turn down an invitation to Germany to attend a course. She suggests more funding should be made available to postgraduate students who are Deaf, to take account of these additional costs.
Tom is a single honours psychology student who is hard of hearing. To compensate for his hearing loss he wears a digital hearing aid. He chose to take a psychology degree as he was interested in using science as a tool to study the human mind – cognitive functions, development and emotions in particular. Initially he was interested in becoming a counsellor. However, once he had learned more about clinical psychology he felt that it encompassed what he liked about counselling but took it further, especially in more medical directions. Taking his undergraduate psychology degree is the first step toward clinical training.
Tom does not feel that his condition has had any impact on either his decision to study psychology or his success as a student. He feels that his impairment has had neither had an overall positive or negative impact on his studying psychology, but rather presents certain challenges and barriers that he knows he must overcome.
The most problematic aspects of studying psychology, in relation to his impairment, was that he realised that it would be difficult to take notes and listen to lecturers speak at the same time. To overcome this obstacle he asked for the assistance of a dedicated notetaker, in addition to a radio aid. He feels, however, that this may have made him a more passive learner in formal teaching sessions, so does more work outside the lecture to make sure he has taken in all the information. He has found it difficult at times to hear questions or points raised in lectures, but deals with this by asking lecturers to repeat the question, which has proved extremely beneficial
He also feels he has succeeded in part because of actions taken by his department, which has a policy of using PowerPoint and providing handouts of the PowerPoint slides. “The department’s policy of using PowerPoint during all of its lectures has been an outstanding help”. This has enabled Tom to concentrate more on the concepts talked about, rather than on the lecturer’s speaking per se; it has also made notetaking easier.
Having previously always been a participant in research, he found that a positive aspect of studying psychology was that he met a professor who specialises in cochlear implants and who got him involved in helping conduct research in the area: “Previously I have always been the recipient of such research and the chance to somehow be involved and contribute something that others may benefit from is quite exciting”.
Susan is a psychology student with considerable hearing loss, who has just completed her first year of study. She has found that coming to university, from a school where there were smaller numbers of students and more access to teachers, has been intimidating. She would like smaller classes at university and some way in which she could be updated on every module each week. She feels that more staff contact and support, and more study guidance, would help her situation.
Susan feels that her hearing loss has had an impact on her reading ability, as her reading age is lower than her chronological age. She finds that, as she is very dependent on reading for her psychology studies, she incurs a high cost. To assist students with special needs such as herself, she suggests that extra library facilities could be provided, such as the ability to take out more books than usual, and extended loan periods.
She has found that not all the rooms she has lectures in are equipped with a hearing loop system. Without this system in place, she has considerable difficulties hearing and has to rely on lip-reading 90% of the time. However, she has encountered difficulties with lecturers who speak too quietly, and would like them to be reminded to speak loudly and clearly, also not to turn away when speaking as this makes it impossible for her to lip-read. As she finds it difficult to write and follow a lecture at the same time, she often has to borrow notes from friends and do extra reading to keep up. She suggests lecturers should give out handouts in advance, containing a more detailed outline of the lecture.
Group work has also been difficult for Susan, as she often finds it difficult to know who is speaking, and to follow what other students are saying. She feels greatly disadvantaged in laboratory classes and practicals. Sadly she had to resit two exams, and she says “it’s no coincidence that these are for the two modules with practicals”. She feels that more help to overcome her barriers to successful study would be greatly beneficial.