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DEMOS Project

Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness
[Resources] : Student Interviews


Name :
Helen Nuttall
Course :
B Ed. - Primary
Year of study :
Level of study :
UCAS Disability code :
3 - deaf or hard of hearing


Can you remember back to before you applied? Did you get a prospectus? How did you learn about (university's name) and that kind of thing?

I got a prospecus because I looked through the UCAS guide to find a course that I wanted and then I just got a prospectus.

Did you write off for them?


Can you remember specifically about support services? Was there any information about support in the university in the information that you got?

There was a brief thing about the Learning Support Group.

Then did you get information from anywhere else? Were you at an FE college? Did they know anything about the situation in university?

They told me about (name of Access Centre).

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What did you do then? What was the next step after you had learned about the universities and so on?

I had interviews at all of them.

Why did you choose (university's name)?

Because of the course.

What happened in the interviews? Did you discuss support at all?

No, they were group interviews.

So, on that day, did you get chance to discuss support that you might need?

I spoke to a lady called (tutor's name)?

Who is she, I don't know her?

She was a tutor.

And what did you talk about?

Just saying about how I should contact the Learning Support Department before I came.

So, you had the interview, did you discuss at all support with her?

No, she just said that I should contact Learning Support when I came.

On the UCAS form, what information did you put on there?

In the box about medical requirements I wrote down that I was deaf.

How did you feel about writing that at the application stage?

I didn't mind.

Can you remember if you got any information from the Learning Support Unit at all?

I think when I accepted my place, I got something then.

Do you remember what it was?

It was appointments and things to go to (name of Access Centre).

What did you do next? Once you'd accepted your place, what was the next step.

I had my assessment at (name of Access Centre).

Was that in the summer then, before you'd seen anybody here?

Yes. I had that first, and then I saw (name of member of staff in Learning Support Unit).

How do you feel about that whole application process?

It would have been nice to speak to more tutors when I came for my interview. I didn't get to speak to any of the tutors.

What do you think you would have discussed with them?

Teaching styles. Some teaching styles don't suit me. When I arrived, my tutors didn't seem to know.

And if you had had the chance at the application stage or the interview stage, to discuss those issues, do you think it would have made a difference?


When you came to (university's name), you must have applied for other universities, did you go and see the universities?


And how did those days go?

I spoke to the tutors there.

In all of them?

All except for one.

Was it better or worse?

Some of them made me decide I didn't want to go after speaking to the tutor. And the other one that I did like, I liked the tutors but the course wasn't the same. It was a B.Ed but it was different subjects.

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On the course

So, when you say there is a certain style of tutoring that's better for you, can you explain that to me a bit more?

Usually I can tell by talking to someone whether I will be able to learn from them. I speak to them about how they teach - do they do a lot of overheads, or just writing on the board or if they just talk. If they just talk I lose track of what's going on, but if they are writing or print things on the screen, I can follow what goes on.

What is it like here? Did you make the right choice?

Well, I didn't get to see anything about how the lecturers teach until I got here, but most of it's OK, yes.

Can you remember back to when you first got here? The first week, like the induction process and so on, were there any arrangements to help you or did you need any help?

I found the first week quite difficult because everything was in big rooms, it was like the whole year together for the first couple of weeks. Everything was in a great big room and quite difficult to follow.

When you say 'big rooms', why is that difficult for you?

It is difficult to see, the lighting is difficult.

And that's necessary because ... ?

I can't read the board if it is too far away.

So did you miss out on stuff in the first week?

I didn't like asking other people what was said. They gave us lots of written information so I just read that.

Did you get a personal tutor?

That was a nice surprise that was.

Was it just for you that, or did everybody on the course get a personal tutor?

Everybody got a personal tutor.

How has that worked?

It is a very good idea. Because I didn't know what I was getting me until I turned up for the first meeting, but she sees me every week. She speaks to my tutors for me and things like that.

What things does she talk to them about?

If I need extra notes, or if I need help with my work.

In lectures, now, how does it work, because in induction you said you were in big rooms? Presumably some of the lectures are in lecture theatres.

We don't really have lecture theatres, they are all in classrooms.

Is that OK for you, in smaller groups.


What things make it easier for you to understand, to hear what's going on?

Natural light is better. It depends where the tutor stands too. If they stand with their back to the window, then their face is in shadow. Or if they stand right next to the OHP then I can't see, but if they stand in front of it or behind it then I can.

And do they do that?

Some of them do.

What was the process for getting people on the course to know that? Has there been a process?

My PDR tutor didn't know. Although once she found out she told my other tutors that I had special needs.

And how did she find out?

I told her.

What do you feel about disclosing that issue with people on the course?

I don't mind, but it would have been easier if my PDR teacher knew before I came. Then she would have known what to expect.

And she's passed on the information to all your tutors, has she, rather than you ...

I told some of them because it was before I met her, but then she told the others for me so that I wouldn't be a surprise when I turned up.

What sorts of things would you go through a tutor with if somebody said, 'You are starting a new module next year and you need to go and speak to the tutor about things.' What sort of things would you say to them?

It would help if I had the notes before the lesson so that I could follow them. Sometimes they think that if they speak louder and if they stand closer to me then I will be able to understand them - if they stand next to me, but that's no use because then I can't read their lips. They think they are being helpful by standing next to me but it's not helpful.

Do you tape lectures?


Do you have a note taker?

No. I want to be independent.

Well that's good, as long as the tutors know what they are doing and they don't keep turning their back on you and walking around and so on. Have you had any that have said, 'I can't provide the notes, for instance?

This year only one tutor remembered to provide the notes.

What all year?

Just one tutor gave me them every week, but every other tutor forgot.

So how have you been coping?

As time went on I've got friends in my class so I borrow theirs.

So they make notes and then you borrow them. What do they think about that?

They don't mind, but it is easier if I have the notes before because it helps me follow the lesson.

If only one person's been providing the notes, is there some way we could have got the others to do it?

My PDR tutor spoke to them but they just forgot.

How do you feel about that?

I'm one in a couple of hundred though and lots of students do need it. They just forget don't they - they purposefully do.

Do you do any group work? How do you find that?

I find that quite hard, actually.


The other students don't understand that if you are sat next to them and if they all talk at once ....

You've done a piece of group work this year, have you? Tell me a bit about how that's worked, or not worked.

It didn't work. I didn't gain much because I lost where they were up to in the conversation and I thought, 'If I say anything it will be the wrong thing at the wrong time'. So I just didn't say anything.

And have you handed a piece of work in?

It was a presentation but I didn't have to stand up. I made all the overheads.

Would you like to present - stand up in front of a group?


Why not?

I just don't.

Did all the others present?

One person did and others did research and I did the overheads.

You said that in discussions you lost track of what people were saying, is there any way that could have been made better, either by the university or ...

Sometimes it was just the room. They were all classrooms and I got diverted by other people. I couldn't concentrate on the people because of the other people around.

What would be the best way of solving that problem?

I don't like saying things to them.

No, but if you didn't have to say anything - if it could be facilitated by the PDR or (name of learning support coordinator) or ... How would that make you feel?

I want to be the same as the others and it is quite difficult to be the same as them.

So, do you feel that if (name of learning support coordinator) or somebody else was doing that, then it would make you stand out?


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Do you do examinations? Are you OK with that?

We don't really have exams. We had one for numeracy.

Do you need extra time or anything like that?

I had a room on my own and I could use a dictionary.

Is that a good arrangement?


Would you not rather be in the hall with anyone else? What is the reason for you having a separate room?

So I can use a dictionary and I can ask questions if there are words I don't understand. It would be difficult with everyone else because they would all be wondering why I was using a dictionary.

Do you get a computer from the DSA?


Can you tell me in what ways that is useful?

I use the 'Can teach' website and the DfEE one a lot. It gave me lots of teaching tips and things. And on the NET website they had a thing for disabled teachers or students, and it gives you lots of handy tips for using in the classroom. That was quite helpful.

Your English language, in terms of writing, have you progressed that through school or have you had difficulties with that.

I did that through school but here I have got a tutor as well, who comes once a month.

For English support?

They help me with my assignments. What I write is correct but it is not grammatically correct.

Can you explain a bit more why you have difficulties with grammar - because people want to know, you see.

Before I used to speak I used to sign and the grammar is different, you put the subject at the beginning of the sentence. So it is quite difficult to remember when I am writing that the subject doesn't always go at the beginning of the sentence.

Did you sign from being a baby? From very early on?

From primary school.

Then you had to go to a hearing school, or a mixed school or ...?

I went to a mainstream high school so I had to learn talk all the time from signing all the time.

What was that like?

It was quite difficult when I went to high school, actually. The teachers didn't really understand I hadn't had that many visits before.

How much do you sign now?

At home.

You don't have any friends in university that sign?


What about using the library?

I use the library quite a lot but I find it quite hard work to find the things that I want.

Do you get any assistance with that?

My tutor that comes to help me with my English tutor helps me with my researchto find the things I want.

Do you get that English tutor through the DSA?


You were talking about other students, what's their attitude towards you?

Their attitudes were quite surprising, especially the ones that were in my main subject. They were saying, 'You can't be a teacher.' And they were doing Special Needs as their main subject. They said, 'You can't be a teacher.', and 'What do you want to do that for?' But most of them have been OK.

And you've made friends and so on.

Yes I have some friends.

So they are actually supporting you in terms of notes and that kind of thing.


Are any of them learning to sign?

One of my friends has learned to sign, she can tell you where she lives now.

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Do you do a placement on your course?

We've done one already.

What did you do?

Go in to school.

What did you teach?

Reception class.

How was that?

When I first went, the school didn't know until the first meeting. They weren't informed when they were to take a student, so they didn't know until the meeting. My class teacher hadn't worked with someone with an hearing impairment before and didn't know how to speak. She didn't know how to talk to me and didn't know what to tell the children.

So what did you tell the children in the end?

The school told me not to tell them because it would confuse them.

So you never said anything?

I told them that they should face people when they talk to them, but that is what they should do anyway.

So did you have any problems at all in the teaching placement?

Not with the children but with the staff.

What were the problems then?

They were quite old-fashioned, some of the staff and ask how I could teach and said that I wouldn't be able to cope in the classroom with all the children. It was quite difficult.

How did you cope? Did you have to teach on your own?


So how did you cope?

It was quite easy, actually, because you just face the children and you don't turn your back on them. As long as you position them right and they sit in the right place, then you can see all of them.

So you were hearing everything that was going on?

I couldn't hear them all but I could see what was going on. If we did group work or a thing with the whole class, I would just have a bean bag and if they weren't holding the bean bag they couldn't talk to me.

In a classroom, were you literally standing at the front and doing the proper teacher role? If they wanted to speak at the back, did you have problems hearing that, or did you hear them?

I could read their lips.

So if you directed a question at someone ...

I could see them, read their lips.

So as long as they are not all shouting a question out at the same time. So is it primary school that you are doing?


I suppose that everyone had to put their hand up and that kind of thing.

Yes. The teacher didn't like it though that I had re-arranged them all to how she normally has them. I re-arranged them because I couldn't see the people on the back row. So I had them just dotted around. She didn't like it because they weren't in line.

Did the teachers observe you teaching?


Did you pass?


Did they make any comments about that sort of thing?

Yes, she wrote it on my report.

What did you think about that?

She wrote that my classroom organisation is poor because they weren't structured. But they don't have to be sat in rows to be structured, they weren't naughty or anything.

Are you allowed to comment back on that report?

Yes. I told her at the time that's why I did it. She said that I had confused them by sitting them a different way. They thought it was exciting. They were fed up of sitting rows after a whole year.

Did you get chance to go back to the teachers and say, 'Look, it's worked, I've done it.'

She did admit at the end that it had worked but she said it had only worked because of the age of the children and if I went into an older class, it might not work. I've been to schools before and it has worked.

Do you think you'll be going to an older class?

We have to do a Key Stage II placement.

Is it at the same school?

I hope not.

Is there anything that the university could have done?

The thing was I was supposed to have pre-visits to the school. But they sent me to (name of town) and they used to take us on a university bus. But because it was so far away I couldn't get there to go to any pre-visits. But next year the PDR tutor said that she wants to be more involved. Because the tutor that they gave me is not a tutor that works at the university, she's a retired head teacher and helps them out when they do school placements I couldn't go to anybody in the university before I started my school experience because she wasn't there.

So each student has a placement tutor and yours wasn't attached to the university directly.

I couldn't go and see her before the placement.

When you are in the placement, did you get chance to talk to the placement tutor about that?

She only came once. We were there five weeks and she came one time but she had to see all the students in my school, so we didn't really get much time one-to-one. She just observed me in the classroom.

You passed and you coped with it. Do you feel a bit short-changed in that somebody should have been dealing with the issues, or ...

I remember when I had my interview and they talked about school experience and when I spoke to the lady, she said it would be OK because it will be in your report from (name of Access Centre) that you have to go and visit the school and someone from the university will speak to the school but it never happened.

What's going to happen next year, then?

This year it was that the year head sorted the placements out and I don't think she was really that aware ... she just put me in with far away group, but my PDR tutor is going to be more involved this year. She wants to check that the placement is right for me and I can go before and somebody from the university will speak to the tutors in the school.

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Three tips for lecturers

If you could give lecturers three tips on teaching better for yourself, specifically, what would they be?

Not to wander round the classroom. Not to switch the lights off then carry on talking or to repeat what they said when the lights went off have a summary. Not to talk to the board.

So the second one, about switching the lights off - when do they do that?

If it's a video or the OHP they turn the lights off and then they talk. When they put the lights back on they could give a summary of what has happened.

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Career Aspirations

The last thing is about careers and moving on from university. Do you think you need any help in that direction or are you just going to sort it out all yourself again?

I'm getting quite worried about finding a job. You have to find the right school.

In your opinion, where do you think responsibility lies for those sorts of things?

I think I would probably ask for a bit of help from everybody. I will probably ask my tutor at university if they know of any school that's quite forward thinking, but I need quite a lot of help with my interview technique.

What sort of jobs are you looking for - specifically in schools or you can teach at university?

I want to be a primary school teacher.

Would it be mainstream?

Because I'm doing Special Needs I can work in a mainstream school, Special Needs school or a mixed school.

What do you think about the equal opportunities issue there, because you're saying you need to find a school that's forward thinking.

I don't want a school like my school experience.

But there is supposed to be the Discrimination Act and the Equal Opportunities Act. Every school should be able to cope, accept you and that sort of thing.

It doesn't really happen in reality. Some schools I have been to have been really forward thinking. When I was at college I did one day a week in school. That school was really good. Even though they didn't have any children with hearing impairments they thought it was good for the children, and the other teachers were really good. They never asked me how or why. But some schools, like my school experience school, are not very accepting and they think that it's putting the children's education at risk.

Are you in touch with the Disabled Students Officer in the Student Union at all? What sort of things happen through that?

You've met (name of SUs Disabilty Officer) ? I spoke to (name of learning support coordinator) and she said if I have any problems that my tutors can't sort out then she could see me.

But you don't go to them as a social group.

I've been a couple of times.

And how do you find that?

A bit frightening actually. I don't like going to group things.

You were saying earlier on that you wanted to be like everyone else and you want to merge in, you don't want to stand out.

People notice you more - I went to the deaf centre in Preston and I've been going to the one on (name of road), and I didn't really tell anyone, but when people in the halls found out that's where I was on the night they said, 'What do you want to go and be with deaf people for?' People have these things ... they don't think that students will go to the deaf centre, they say, 'Well, they'll all be old people.' They thought I was going and sitting with grandmas every Monday night.

Is that the central focal point for deaf students down there for students as well? In Preston there are a lot of deaf students that are deaf ...

All my best friends go to Preston.

But you don't have that sense of identity of being in a student community here. Is there not enough students around do you think?

I know that on my course I am the only deaf student, and that's out of four years that are here. Apparently there are some in the Social Work, but they are mature students and I don't really get to see them around.

So your friends at Preston, are they from your old school?

From my primary school.

Is there anything else you can think of? Is there anything you want to tell me?

Some of the tutors are quite well-meaning but they really make me stand out. If we are having a class discussion, instead of saying it is easier to have a class discussion if everybody sits round the edge, they'll say it will be better for Helen to read everybody's lips if everybody sits round the edge. Really it's a good arrangement to have anyway if you have a group discussion - everybody should sit round the edge, but they make it sound like it's just for me.

Can you think of any other things?

Video. I can't hear the videos. I can't hear voice-overs. Some tutors make it really obvious say, 'I know this is no good for you.', but you just sit there. They don't explain what the whole vidoe is about before or after. They say it in front of the whole class this is no use for you.

Do they not get them captioned at all?

(Name of learning support coordinator) says that they can see about sorting that out. My tutor that gives me the notes transcribed some of the videos but she is leaving this year.

Where is she going?

She was on secondment, so she is going back to her primary school.

For next year, are you thinking of trying to go through (name of learning support coordinator) , maybe, and get that sorted out, or are you just going to spend another year not getting any notes?

Yes, well I saw (Name of learning support coordinator) for a review of the year and my assessment and she made a list of worries. I think it is quite important for any student, but particularly for a student with a disability to have a good PDR tutor. My PDR has been really good and he sees me every week. Normally you only get four PDRs a year, one a term.

Some courses don't get one.

There are not enough really. I know that when I was at college my college had a good Disability Support Department and somebody there saw me every week. So if I had come to university and just been seen once a term...

What year are you in now?


What do you think about student mentors?

I think it would be quite good to have one. I felt quite isolated when I first came because I was the only one and some of the tutors made a real big deal of me being the only one. I got quite angry. And if I hadn't been able to see the PDR tutor there would have been nobody to speak to.

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