Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

What It’s Like to Be a Deaf University Student

So from the title, you may have guessed that I am a university student that happens to be deaf. I was born with profound hearing loss in both of my ears due to unknown reasons. Clearly, I have several different experiences compared to those of my fellow classmates. I have decided to share what it is like being a deaf student concerning my lifestyle, classes and social life.

Classes:

Since I can’t hear, I would miss out on all the things that my professors say in my class if I didn’t have some accommodations. Here at my school, I have two options for getting the information presented in my classes:

  1. I use a sign language interpreter that translates what the professor says, and I watch him or her sign away and then get notes for the classes from a note-taker.
  2. Or I can get a transcriber, who types everything the professor says out loud on a computer and relays it back to me on my laptop in the classroom. It’s kind of like a unique instant messaging program!

I mainly use transcribers for my lectures and interpreters for my labs. I usually get in touch with the people at the Resources for Students with Disabilities building and all my instructors are informed at the start of the semester. So far, I have been lucky with all of my professors, as they were understanding and willing to accommodate me. However, I have had professors talk to the interpreter instead of talking to my face even though the interpreter stops to explain this to the professor. Some professors find it difficult to understand that in a professional setting, the interpreter’s role isn’t to be a third party, but rather a tool for communication.

Office hours are tough for me, though, since I have to arrange for an interpreter to match up their busy schedules just to have a clear conversation with a professor. Often, they end up being too busy and I have to come to office hours without an interpreter. When you’re stuck in this situation, you just have to be creative, so I often use my notebooks to ask questions to my professors.

Lifestyle

When your deafness makes your daily routine slightly difficult, you have to be creative. Luckily, compared to the past fifty years, modern technology has made life relatively easier for me. For example, if I have an early class in the mornings, how do I get up in time if I can’t hear the alarm clock ringing?  Well, I have this special device connected to an alarm clock that basically vibrates the bed to shake me awake! Or how about communicating with my friends? If I was alive at least fifty years ago, everyone had to use the phone at their houses or talk face to face just to get to know people. But now, there are so many options to communicate with people through technology! I text and message with my friends through my cell phone and Facebook Messenger, and I can have “video calls” with my family through FaceTime, where we can both sign to each other. I often use my cell phone to communicate everything in public settings, especially if I’m ordering a drink or asking a salesperson about the latest MAC lipstick. I think I have about 500 ‘notes’ consisting of Starbucks orders and questions about clothes & makeup on my phone alone!

I use hearing aids every day, and it really helps me out with various situations, like hearing my mom call my name, hearing the doorbell ring, or dancing to a song at a party. A lot of people may not expect this from a deaf person but I do like to listen to music! I use my hearing aids to listen to the tunes while my feet feel the beat through the floor. So yes, some deaf people like to dance to music as well! I put my hearing aids on all the day long and take them off for the night. I must admit that, it’s nice to not hear loud noises throughout all the night and have a good sleep, especially when you’re a university student living with other people!

My family all knows sign language and can easily talk with me, which I am so grateful for. Many deaf people’s families never bother to even learn sign language. I’ve heard some sad stories about the parents forcing their child to talk and end up having their children isolated from everyone else.

Social

Socializing has been always hard for me, especially if I’m shy around most people. With deafness, it makes socializing even harder. Even if I have a family who signs away with me, I’m still the only deaf person in my family and even then, I’m only one of the two current deaf students in my hometown. That observation alone can set up a huge barrier for communication. Even though I can read lips decently, I only end up understanding about 20% of what is spoken and often, I end up being lost.

While my hearing aids slightly help me in one to one conversations, I can only understand about 25% to 50% of what the person is saying. Too many times, especially in noisy and busy settings, social situations end up becoming a surreal setting where I’m Charlie Brown and everything the other people say becomes the gibberish the adults speak in the comic strip. However, it’s nice to tune out other conversations that would normally annoy a person trying to study or talk to their friends and focus on what you’re paying attention to!

Obviously, it takes more effort to even start a conversation with someone for me, and sometimes it can be exhausting and discouraging.  I often have encounters with strangers that are unaware that I can’t hear and when they realize, they usually are okay with it and try to communicate clearly.  Although several times when I have to point to my ears or write down on a paper to tell them that I can’t hear them, it ends up with either the person saying, “Oh, ok.” and then just walking off or just ignoring it and talking to my face like nothing happened. The fact that I can’t hear doesn’t mean that you can just jump to an extreme and just leave me alone or just ignore that and keep yammering away when you know I can’t understand what you’re saying! Although, it can be an advantage sometimes, like when you’re trying to avoid creepy strangers. I can just shake my head and be like “oh, sorry, I can’t hear you.” and then just dash off.

I’ve always felt nervous in group conversations because often nearly all of the people don’t know sign language and often leave me out of the conversations. Sometimes, I’m lucky enough to have a familiar friend there who knows how to sign or is willing to write on paper but too often, I end up being left out completely. Even worse, I sometimes feel bad if I have to ask a friend to ‘interpret’ because I feel like I have to rely on other people and I don’t want my friends to feel that way. 

I feel like most people have no idea how to approach or communicate with a deaf person, and they get intimidated and often leave me alone. But often, leaving me alone ends up making me feel even more isolated and lonely.  I think if people would take the time and energy just to even try to communicate with me, they would understand that my deafness doesn’t solely define me, and I am a regular student like everyone else.

But I’ve always and will always deal with those struggles all my life, and I will have to accept it. As a result, I’ve developed a good sense of humor and a positive outlook on my life. I join clubs, I go to the gym, and I go out with friends sometimes. Basically I have fun like other university students! I’m also grateful that I have some friends who are so interested in learning sign language and also understand me as a person as well. I also have people who do not know sign language as friends as well, and I get a bit creative with talking with them, such as bringing a notebook to write back and forth or typing out a conversation on my phone.

Recently, a lot of people here are super interested in learning sign language, and I always get excited when people want me to teach them sign language (even if they want me to teach them rude and dirty words!). My school offers sign language classes and I am so glad I enrolled in them because I feel at home with people who are “speaking” my language.

What I Have Learned From Being Deaf

To sum up my experiences so far, being deaf is an unique experience that can be both a blessing and a struggle in life. I know I could have a worse situation compared to what I got in life now, and I always thank my lucky stars that I’m alive and healthy. Even if I can’t hear, I’m just a regular university student who likes to have fun like other people. I just have to be resourceful to get through the hurdles created by deafness. I often think, “You know what? If other people can do it, I can do it too.”

Molly is a recent graduate from University of Victoria.
Similar Reads👯‍♀️