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UNI2016: Access Denied

by Sherrie

As a bushy-tailed first year Arts student at the University of Western Sydney (now Western Sydney University), I was excited to begin this journey. I initially thought this would be an easy ride. Alas, I was in for a rude wake-up call.

To cut a long story short, the DLO failed to book interpreters for the entire semester, as they missed my email confirming my timetable. Their system wasn’t working, as the class registrations opened TWO weeks before the semester began. This didn’t leave them with sufficient time to book interpreters, as other universities would be doing the same. This happened again the next semester, but with a new DLO as she had never worked with Deaf/HoH students and she realised the system wasn’t working. With my feedback and advice, she took it upon herself to notify the Head DLO (or whatever it is called) and pushed for changes to the system.

After two semesters of teething problems, the Disability Support Centre at UWS took the plunge and changed their system. Under the new system, Deaf/HoH students were to send through their preferred timetable for the upcoming semester to their assigned DLO. The DLO then sends the timetable to the relevant faculty/school so they can manually enrol the Deaf/HoH student. Once the timetable is confirmed by the faculty, the DLO is notified and immediately books interpreters for the entire semester. This system has worked rather well since then for both the University and Deaf/HoH students. 

Now, you may be wondering why I’m telling you this.

In this day and age, universities are expected to meet the needs of their Deaf/HoH students and provide them with Auslan interpreters, trained note-takers and/or live captioning.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. It astounds me that this is still happening. In freaking 2016.

Deaf/HoH students who are going to university for the first time should not be put under stress doing extra work due to lack of accessibility to online lectures and videos uploaded onto BlackBoard/LMS/Cloud/whatever the system is called. They should not have to make noise in order to have their needs met so they can successfully complete each unit to be able to graduate later on.

I gave the Equity & Diversity unit ample time to book interpreters, and organise for videos and podcasts to be captioned and transcribed. I began Semester 1 to discover all videos and podcasts hadn’t been captioned or transcribed. It’s now Week 3 and the E&D has only admitted to their mistake and started getting all videos and podcasts captioned/transcribed. One unit has been completed, but I still don’t have access to the other two units. Today, I find out the videos I need to watch for my assessments are not captioned. I am unable to complete my weekly assessments on time because I cannot watch anything without captions. I am falling behind, and it’s causing me a lot of unnecessary stress. It’s made me feel doubtful about continuing studying to become an audiologist, but I’ve decided to continue regardless of the troubles I am experiencing this semester. I am not giving up. I am going to continue fighting for full access for myself and other Deaf/HoH students at university. ~ Sophie.

This isn’t new.

This has been happening to a couple of students for a number of years.

Most of the time, it happens to students who begin their first semester in the course they’ve enrolled in.

I first started university in Brisbane, studying Agricultural Science at the University of Queensland. Encouraged and supported by my family, I tried to be as proactive as possible, letting the university know well in advance that I intended to enrol, and that I would need to have interpreting and notetaking for all classes. When I finally did start, it was a shambles! Interpreters had only been booked the week before, as a result I had 8 different interpreters in the first week! All wonderful but a big confusion and adjustment for me to get to know a new interpreter’s signing style each lecture. Lecturers had not been made aware of how to work with interpreters, and there was no note taker provided. They arranged for another student to give notes to the disability office to type up and pass onto me. This resulted in a 4 week delay in receiving them, and I soon fell behind in classes. These stresses added to an already difficult time leaving home, moving states and adjusting to college life! After a while, I couldn’t cope and dropped out. Looking back, this experience might have been a big exacerbating factor in my fluctuating mental wellbeing. ~ Sigrid.

It’s also happening in TAFEs across Australia. They’re usually the worst culprits when it comes to providing accessibility to deaf and hard of hearing students – due to state government funding, apparently.

My academic pursuits started at TAFE around 2 years ago when I undertook Certificate III in Information Technology – Networking, and it was a big hassle to get support services to bring in an interpreter and I had to regularly go in the office before my course started to remind them that I needed an interpreter. Their initial excuses ranged from not having enough interpreters on the Sunshine Coast and interpreters not being willing to travel to Brisbane. However, that wasn’t the case. There are a number of interpreters on the Sunshine Coast, but because TAFE was only willing to pay around $20 an hour, there weren’t many takers because that was way below the normal rate an interpreter usually charges in Queensland. Eventually they finally got an interpreter, but were only willing to pay to have an interpreter in for a portion of the class which meant I had to make do without one for half of the day. At first, this arrangement wasn’t too bad because most of the instructions were already written and I’m pretty decent communicating one on one if I have questions after class. ~Anonymous.

Why are we still hearing about deaf and hard of hearing students having access issues at universities and TAFEs?

There has been quite a few positive experiences, however.

I’ve had experience at several universities and the best for support for Deaf and HoH has to be Charles Sturt University. CSU has several campuses and a fantastic online distant education program. I have completed a Grad Diploma in Psychology online through CSU. They are very flexible, and with residential schools (compulsory with some of my subjects), they provided level 3 interpreters from Sydney AND real time captioning PLUS notetakers. No questions asked, no hassle. no debate, no arguments. Disability support people are great. Transcriptions of EVERYTHING, including text websites and all lectures are fast and delivered quickly and efficiently via the Internet. Everything I needed was supplied without a problem. ~Lynn.

It’s so good to see positive stories like Lynn’s. I’ve had a similar experience at Deakin, and they’re absolutely brilliant. Deakin also endeavours to caption ALL videos for subjects a deaf & hard of hearing student is enrolled in.

We mustn’t give up, especially when we’re finally on the way to achieving our dream career. We must educate our lecturers, unit coordinators, tutors, and most importantly, our disability liaison officers to make sure that we have full access to the course we’re studying, be it on-campus and/or off-campus, and how to work with deaf & hard of hearing students and Auslan interpreters.

Don’t give up. Be a crusader.

S xo




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Nessa March 17, 2016 - 12:42 am

I think it is just outrageous that in the 21st century, we are still being treated like this. I am deafblind and am in my fourth week of uni, it’s my first year. Fresh out of high school, excited to start a new journey and broaden my experience level, but all I face is unfairness, rudeness, and horrible treatment from my note taker/Equity staff. What did I do wrong? I only have 20% of vision, and I’m an Auslan user, you’d think they could make an effort to get to know my needs, be understanding and kind. But no. I am the first deafblind person in Australia to enter university with my own ATAR score, you would think people might have a bit of feeling for how hard it was to get where I am, under my circumstances. This world never ceases to disgust me.

Sigrid Macdonald March 17, 2016 - 9:12 am

That’s great that some universities are endeavouring to caption all videos that deaf / HoH students need, but it would be much simpler if universities had a policy of captioning ALL content in the first place, it would save time and money later, and benefit all students regardless of hearing level. Getting info in various formats simultaneously can only be beneficial to learning!

Renee April 28, 2016 - 6:29 am

I’m working on a Uni assignment, and predictions about the changes we will see in the next decade in the field of eLearning. I would like to reference this article as part of my evidence for a move to designing with accessibility upfront rather then as an after thought (there will be legal changes, they will HAVE to do this at some point). Anyway, I hope as the blog author you can see my email address associated with this comment, please email me, mostly I’m looking at how to cite this article as I can only locate your first name, so if you’re ok with sharing your sirname with me via email for the citation that’d be great, otherwise I’ll cite with first name only.

Thanks so much for writing this!


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