Freshers week is a challenging time for any student. You might be worried that certain difficulties will be accentuated by your hearing loss. This is a very reasonable concern but, while it is definitely important to think about your deafness in the context of starting university, please do not worry – any barriers can definitely be overcome with the right understanding, support, and equipment.

I am currently going into my final year studying History at Durham University. I have achieved a First in my second year and have enjoyed my whole university experience so far. I am involved with a lot from sports to extra-curriculars alongside my degree and social life and I do not let my deafness hold me back in anything I do.

I really enjoyed my Freshers experience, but I think I was lucky. It is important to remember that Freshers is challenging and if you are finding it difficult you are definitely not the odd one out. Everyone has their own concerns and challenges and university only gets better over time! You meet more people, make your long-term friends, and get to know your city a lot better. It is important to make the most of Freshers but do not treat it as the be-all and end-all and do not let it define your university experience.

What were my concerns before going to university?

I do not remember being overly nervous before university, but any nerves are only natural. All aspects of university can be intimidating, from moving away from home to making friends, and starting independent study. If you have decided that you want to go to university, however, and secured your offer then you are already well on your way. You’ve done the hard bit and the most important thing is to enjoy yourself. Be confident and it will go well but don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need. Confidence isn’t the same as jumping in blindly!

I wasn’t too worried about the impact that my hearing loss would have on being a student beyond a slight concern about how I would be able to cope in lectures as well as noisy social situations. I was confident, however, in the support I had arranged and the equipment that was provided. I had done my research and spoken to a variety of people – it was time just to jump in.

What accommodations has my university made?

I found the disability services team at my university really accessible and, whilst I don’t necessarily use all of it, I have been provided with a lot of options.

My main piece of equipment that I use to hear in lectures and seminars is my Roger Pen. It connects directly to my implants with a small (barely noticeable) plug in and is controlled via the nucleus app on my phone. It has 3 settings enabling me to choose between having the lecturer wear the pen around his neck, me using the pen to point at the person I wish to hear (it has a very large range!) and the final setting which enables me to place it in the middle of the table in a group setting to hear all contributors. It’s a great piece of kit and I don’t miss anything in lectures.

The other accommodation that I make use of is a notetaker. This is great as it means I can focus primarily on listening to my lecturer and still come out with a few pages of typed notes (although I do always take a pen and paper to lectures so I can jot down a few notes/ideas myself). For anyone who is worried about standing out if they have a note taker don’t worry! I’ve found that they are very happy to sit at the back of the lecture hall / seminar room and subtly take notes (it also helps just to get in touch with the lecturer to let them know they’ll be there). In that regard I have found all of my lecturers and seminar leaders incredibly accommodating and willing to help in any way they can. You just have to be very clear in what you need.

I also have the option of a Speech to Text Transcript but, with the Roger Pen and notetaker combo, I don’t feel the need for this. Other accommodations have been special library services, extensions on book loans, using a computer in exams, and the option for private tuition when needed (just to reinforce certain elements that might have been missed in lectures and seminars). There is lots out there (some stuff I might have missed) so make sure to talk to others who have gone through university and find out what they have used and please feel free to reach out to me!

What difficulties do I face? Do I find it hard to hear in classes and lectures? What have I done to help this?

With the two main adjustments I’ve mentioned above I really don’t struggle in lectures / seminars. If I do miss something, I don’t panic but quickly jot down what I think I missed and then ask either my friends or the lecturer at the end to clarify. They are very happy to do so!

The key thing is making sure you know what you need and being able to communicate clearly to the relevant people. Don’t be afraid to ask as people are so willing to help and if you don’t ask you definitely won’t get.

Do you think university online will provide additional challenges?

Yes, there will definitely be challenges with online lectures & seminars. Zoom burnout is definitely a real thing and it’s a certainly a burden on top of the regular burnout some might experience from listening through Cochlear Implants or hearing aids for the whole of a busy day. I’ve only had one week of online classes but I have completed an online internship which was similar in terms of the challenges. The key thing, however, is the same as I mentioned above – don’t be afraid to ask for what you need and remember that the situation is challenging for everyone. People will understand and respect you for being confident and clear in asking for support.

I’ve actually had a very positive online experience so far, however. There are some advantages, the main one being that I’ve been able to plug-in directly to my lecture or seminar. Using the Roger Pen or my Mini Mic 2+ I have found that I am able to hear incredibly clearly. It is sometimes difficult when people speak over each other but to be honest this rarely happens as everyone is very careful.

Are there any other environments in which it is hard to hear?

Social situations can always be a concern for those hard of hearing but I wouldn’t say there is anything particular to the university experience that is challenging. It’s hard for anyone to hear in a club or a noisy pub and sometimes, thanks to background noise removal settings on my implant, I seem to hear better than my friends. Additionally, being able to lip read in a club is a massive advantage!

In normal day-to-day life, if I’m having a conversation with a friend and I’m finding it difficult to hear I’ll just ask my friend if we can move. I’m very open about my disability and implants so my friends all understand and are happy to accommodate as well as ask questions which is great!

Have you found it easy to make friends? Has your hearing loss had an impact (positive or negative) on your social life?

My hearing loss has not had an impact on my social life whatsoever. I’ve got great friendship groups across various bits of the university and they are all very understanding (as well as interested) when it comes to my hearing loss.

What is the best thing about university so far?

It has to be the people element. It’s been great meeting such a diverse group of people and making a bunch of truly long-term friends from all over the country.

Final (and biggest) piece of advice.

It’s so important just to jump in to university life and embrace it. You’ll get what you put in and don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations. People are so understanding and the university itself will be more than willing to get you everything you need no matter how small.