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DEMOS Project

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

Lee Davis

Name :
Lee Davis
Course :
Media and Performance
Year of study :
Level of study :
UCAS Disability code :
3 - deaf or hearing impaired


Just start by explaining your route into university. Did you come from 6th form college or did you come from further education?

I came from further education. I started about 4 years ago, doing a First Diploma in Performing Arts at the Chetham Hill at the Abraham Moss Centre and I did that for a year. I did apply to go straight away to university, but I had no qualifications so they sent me on this course. Now I'm glad to say that I've got two certificates at home to prove that I've done two levels of the course to get myself into University. When I first started doing the first diploma I found it a bit scary for me, so it was kind of new so I needed to understand what I was letting myself in for. I was going in and I was ready for it and I was going to go for it and I started going to do that when I was 23, before I dropped out and became ill. I was only there for a short period of time and then I became ill.

Then I managed to get myself better again and then I went back to college and finished off what I started. So, I did that for a full year and they didn't find out until later that I needed some support. When that happened I forgot to notify the Deaf Support Team that I was doing this course. So, later that year I did get the support of a note taker - I couldn't get anything else, so I made do with a note taker and I did OK with it. Then I got a place at the Arden in Northenden, doing a City College Certificate, to do with the National Diploma in Performing Arts and I still kept the same note taker and they sorted out everything that I needed in the way of support and things - speech therapy and I think that's the only two that I did get.

When you were ill, is that what caused your hearing problem.

No, I was born partially deaf, but I was out due to a kidney because I had renal failure. So, now I am OK because I got a kidney transplant. So, I went to Northenden to do it for two years and it got a bit boring for me because we were doing what I had learned in one year, but there was some new stuff that I had never done before and I was OK and I was going to go for it. Then finally now I am at the university to study an HND in Media Performance, which is a totally different thing from the Performing Arts.

Are you on the first year of that?

Yes. I'm kind of going along from my first Diploma then a National Diploma and now a Higher National Diploma. I'm quite happy with it and I'm quite proud of the achievement that I have made.

How did you find out about Salford University?

When I was at the Arden in Northenden doing the National Diploma, I was in my second year when I decided were do I go from there. I thought that I had done my further education and thought I would go for higher education and see if I can get some luck and try my hand there. If I do decide to go on and get the HND I stand a chance of getting better jobs. Mostly nowadays if you get a job without any qualification or a National Diploma, the best job you will get will be on the shop floor. With an HND you could get a job either on the shop floor or chargehand or supervisor. But I am hoping to go on to a degree at the end of that two-year course. I am hoping to stick with the industry.

Do they do a degree in Media and so on?

Yes, they do.

They do something like Media Studies at Manchester Metropolitan, I think. What was it about Salford that attracted you? Is it because City College has strong links with this course?

I think Salford has struggled to try to be recognised. It's not linked to UMIST or Manchester Met., but it's like it's got it's own base and they are on their own and they have been for so many years. They have come a long way and seem to have done tremendously well, as far as I am concerned.

You like their course though.

Yes I do.

For instance, you might have wanted to go to Nottingham or Liverpool or ...

The reason I went for Salford is because it was more the practical work that I wanted to do with less academic. While I'm there I can learn to build on and improve me academic side before I do a degree. Any university, if they offer you a degree, not HND, you always find that I'll come across as an academic - especially in HND as well. But with this course I am sure to come up with what I wanted to do, anyway.

Did you go to a mainstream school?

From the age of 9 yes.

How did you do at school?

I can go back a bit further because I started out going to boarding school for four years, and then when I went into mainstream I had to learn the same stuff again, from the beginning as what I learned at boarding school. So I really didn't, to my own opinion, I didn't have as good an education as I wanted. Sending me to a boarding school without.. - my opinion again, but it was the wrong idea for me. But it was the only option that they had because in the early 70s most special units closed down because in Tameside they didn't have enough money. So I ended up going to the boarding school. So I went to the mainstream and learned the same again, but I started to teach myself outside school by learning about life and picked myself up. I didn't get very far with what I needed but I learned about the outside world but not what I needed to learn inside school. Things like my English. So this is the reason why I decided to go back to college and go on to university and get the qualifications. I didn't do my GCSE because I left earlier because I had the choice. When I had the illness and when I was on dialysis, I thought that there was no way I was going back to my old job because I hated it. So I seized the opportunity to go to college and get some qualifications. I've always wanted to become an actor, even though it's hard to get in. But I do stand a chance of a prospect. It's hard to get into the hearing world but it may not be so difficult in the deaf society, where they are always looking for people like myself.

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Did you audition?

Yes I did. But even so, when I went for my interview to get into university I was still being watchful that they had to take into consideration that I should get the same treatment as the other people. They weren't giving anything easy away for me. So that was a hard task. But even so I was aware of the possibility that I might not get in - but, to my surprise, I have got in. I try to go on a BA Media Performance, but I knew I did badly because I wasn't prepared. So I ended up doing an HND, but I'm happy.

Did you disclose on the application form? Were you worried at that stage that they might say, 'We can't have this guy on the course, throw that application away.

No. I was happy because I was more prepared and I have had some help and I knew exactly where I was going and what I was aiming for. I was never afraid. At some point I did doubt myself and my abilities, but I kept going forward. One particular tutor, called Jeanine Lockwood told me to go to Salford because it would be the best thing for me, and do the HND. So, here I am and doing exactly what I wanted to do.

How did you find out about the Equalities Office here?

They put it on the form and I read it in the prospectus as well. I had no problems with finding them. They were quite useful. It would have been more appropriate if there had been a bit more information. Going into detail. They only give a brief outline and it would have been easier in more detail. They did mention about dyslexia, but again not enough detail. I read it in the prospectus and filled in the application form and they sent me more leaflets and more information.

Did you come in to have a talk with them before you came on the course?

Yes I did. Even when I went for the audition, they asked if I had sorted out the report. The only downfall that there was, and I know that they have to deal with a lot of people, my DSAs test was a bit late because I had already started. So, everything I am getting through, like money, is a bit late for me. So I have had to struggle on my own to do the essays and fit it. I seem to be happy with the way things are going at the moment.

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On the course

What's your course called again?

Media and Performance.

Explain to us what that is.

Well, firstly, media is based on getting to know the camera and how the camera works. So if you wanted to become a performer as an actor, and you are acting in front of the camera, you need to know why the camera has been there and why it is taking so long before shooting the film or TV series. And you need to get the knowledge and the background. It's also a good advantage to explore other areas of work other than just being an actor, so it can also lead you into becoming a director if you wanted to be. It's a great opportunity to do that, you don't have to go on HND directing course because you can then learn about probably only one thing and it goes into detail, whereas in HND in Media Performance you learn the practical sorts of things and you get your hands dirty. Once you have learned how to use a camera, you go on to the editing suite. There are two different cameras, digital and analogue. The analogue is which two monitoring screens and one machine. You slip the tape in and you work from two machines. With digital, you work from the computer, which is straightforward. I've only just started learning how to use the digital computer in the editing suite. It is a little bit complex but the more time I spend on it the more I will get used to it. That's the basic outline of the media part, but it also goes into lighting and sound and other things which you call the production side of it. But the performance side is basically training you to be an actor or a singer or a dancer.

Which do you do? Are you mainly acting?

Yes, just acting. One of my weaknesses in being partially deaf is that I'm not a very good singer. I'd like to stress that more clearly actually, I like singing but singing isn't one of my strongest ... I don't want to be a solo artist.

So you are not going to go on Pop Stars?

No. You might hear me on the radio doing comical work or something.

What sorts of support do you need in the learning environment - or don't you need any?

At the moment, they need to be aware about deaf people. Especially in the course I'm on, they need to be aware anyway. At the moment the course co-ordinator is really, really helpful. When he received the report he gave everything to the tutor, so that they know. Then I introduced myself and told them the same things and they are aware and became more helpful. I've had no problem with any of the teachers in the past, so up to now I am quite happy with their support which is given to me and their patience. After all, it depends on how hard you are prepared to work to receive what you want to get. Bearing in mind, I'm not just like any other deaf person. It is better to be graded equal to anybody else, but in certain areas like me being partially deaf, or my deafness it is difficult for me when I can't sing and when I can't hear whether I am in tune. That will be a bit hard so the teachers will need to be more aware, especially when I go for an interview - so that they are more understanding in what they are asking. It is on the UCAS form in the small print but it is much easier if they know in advance. They have been very supportive.

There must be a lot of technical equipment like sound recording equipment. Has any of that caused difficulties?

There will be some difficulties, again, but they must be aware and some teachers don't tend to look at the person who needs to be looked at. When I have a note taker it is important for me to concentrate on the teacher then I know what I they're getting at. The note taker should be clear in their writing and get the full notes of what the lesson is about.

Does the note taker come with you for the whole day? How does teaching take place on your course - is it lectures ...?

For example there was a lecture this morning but it was a practical, so there was really no need for him to be there. But I kept him there in case there were some notes. In the other lecture there is nothing but a lecture - no practical and so it is good for him to be there. One thing Access Summit has offered to do is have a mini-disk and a microphone. Then I can take him in, do the practical and then I can record it and take it home and listen to it and then I am more prepared.

Are there any problems with headphones?

Do you mean in the theatre, no, no problem at all. As long as I can put it in the right place. I can get some special ones for me to wear and to plug in. I can get a loop (loud background noise here) that you wear round your neck ... the only disadvantage of it is that I have to keep switching it back on to M to hear in the auditorium. But I know the auditorium is fitted with the T-loop so you can actually hear what's going on.

You mentioned about 'deaf awareness', people won't know what that is. Can you just explain a bit about it?

Basically it is broad to equip teachers who have no experience of teaching deaf students. To make them be aware that a deaf person is usually a sign-language user or a deaf person like myself who can speak. It's to be aware that the deaf person is constantly watching you and even if that person should be taking notes, he will not be taking notes but will be constantly watching you all the time. There's an old saying that deaf people prefer watching by visual. They also teach them about not standing in front of a window and the basics of sign language. You don't have to be perfect in sign language but they give you a basic so that if you decide to take it up it becomes really useful.

Do you sign at all?

I can sign a little, but in my case I can understand a deaf student who can sign to me. I still need to keep it up and keep going if I am going to be in the industry.

So lecturers on your course, they haven't had a deaf awareness session or anything?

No. But It is much easier if they have the deaf awareness before the course starts. At least, even if it is only one or two weeks. There is a special training course and they need to know how to deal with deaf people and then they get told the requirment of needs a few weeks when they will get the report. Apart from that, deaf awareness is more valuable than everything else. At least they know what to expect. If a person doesn't know anything about deaf people then the deaf person will get frustrated and they will walk out of the room and fail the course. I don't like to see any deaf person go that way. It's nice if they have a deaf person there to show a demonstration while they are teaching to give them information. You can't expect all the teachers to go on the training course, but if you can get a co-ordinator to go, to overseas the course, then that would be great.

Is there a disability co-ordinator among the staff you have been assigned to, or do you have a personal tutor at all?

I just have one personal tutor throughout the course.

Is it a he or a she?

It is a he.

Is he all right?

He's fine. He's been the most supportive person I've come across at the moment, because I have explained myself and introduced myself to him and even though the report I had was late, he did say to me that if I do have any problems I should go straight to him I don't need to book a tutorial to go and see him and he will sort things out for me. Actually, we did that last week. I was having some difficulty on the course, but that's been sorted out now. I spoke to him last night and he explained what is going to happen, so I am quite happy with the way things are going.

Essays, written work. Have you had any extra help for English at all?

At the moment I am trying to negotiate when that is going to happen, but I have had some study skills from through the University, which every new student always gets taught. In my case, I already know that I am going to need some help, anyway. So, again, the assessor at Access Summit is already aware and is being more helpful, and the teacher who teaches study skills has been more helpful, but not exactly to the point of understanding. They need to be aware, I'm not just talking about me as a deaf person, or any deaf people, but other deaf people who happen to have dyslexia and they need that support.

Just explain; because people are not aware, why English is a difficulty for you?

Doing English is a bit hard with the grammar and structuring the essay, and putting your thoughts on paper and making sure you are getting the work done and getting somebody to proof read it for you. If you don't know any of this it will be a waste of paper. But it is helpful for the deaf person or anybody knowing that taking up study skills will help, but you still need that help, anyway. Whether you are doing the degree or diploma, you are still going to need it. It is the hardest things on the course to get through. It is all right if you can do the practical, which is 60%, and the academic is 40% and you need to get past that. In other courses you need to get, like, 75% to achieve the mark. Apart from that, it is helpful to have the study skills to teach you what the university is looking for, because different colleges have different ways of structuring how they read it. They give a booklet out and teach you how to do the essays. They always do provide extra support when you need it.

What about other students - how do they react on the course?

In the past, I've come across some difficult students - very awkward and when I introduce myself they get scared and it takes time, and I know it will be scary for them. Up to now, with the group I am with on the course I am very happy. They are being more supportive to me and they are being very helpful. It is easy for a deaf person or a dyslexic person to feel out of place. You need to fit in and settle in and be happy. At the moment I feel happy. Usually I make the effort to fit in because the group won't make the effort - you have to meet them half way. You get some students who will do that. My mum and dad always tell me that you will always get one person in a group that you work with who is a complete idiot and will make a prat out of you and take the Mickey out of you. You've just got to go beyond that and for it and make a living the best way that you can.

Has that occurred yet?

Yes, but I managed to deal with it. They weren't particularly getting at me, they were getting at the course, because the guy didn't want to do the HND, he wanted to do the BA and the course says do the HND and then move on to the BA. Up to now it hasn't happened. Basically, he's getting to realise that he's got to work with me, anyway, and no matter what you do in life you have to work with people who are deaf. So he can't really be awkward, so he's got to be able to compromise. Up to now I've compromised quite a lot.

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Just explain the assessment procedures on your course, because it is probably quite different, isn't it, from your average course? What do you get assessed on?

It's not really been any different. It is different when you are being assessed in the BA. You get one big exam but you still get assessed individually. In the HND you don't get any exams - you might get a little one, but you are being assessed right through the whole two years. You are graded according to different criteria. There is a fail, a referral, a pass, a merit distinction, sorry there's five. It is slightly different, anyway, from different diplomas. They look for, for example in singing you need to be in time, be able to perform clearly and pitch the tune at the right level. As a deaf person I can't do any of that. It would be a complete disaster.

This is really interesting because it is a situation where you get an assessment criteria for a course and one bit of it you can't do. So how have you got round that?

I'm still being assessed for my singing, because I still need to complete it. They are going to assess me on a slightly lower criteria - on a slightly lower Diploma - I think that is what they are going to do. They are giving me a different song for me to do that is in my my vocal range and I have to sing it. What they have also decided to do, after I complete this semester, and I go on to the second semester, they are going to put me on a different module to compensate for my singing. In the first year you have to do two voice-works and two movements works. One's called movement and the other is called dancing. In voice-work its voice and speech and singing. In the second year I will be doing voice and speech again but on a one-to-one basis. I will be fitted in with the degree lesson. And we only do that for one semester until I go on the second year. Malcolm Machin said I won't lose the full semester and both of them will carry on and I will still get a full credit.

So you still pass the course, but there is one element of it that you can't complete, but you compensate by doing another bit?

When she turned round and told me that if I don't get my tune right she will fail me and it hit me really bad and I was terrified of wasting four years having to come along to university and then hit that point blank and be told that if I can't do that right then I'm going to fail. I can fail and do the year again, but I'm going to hit the same wall all over again. So, lucky for me having to notify the head tutor and saying we had to get it sorted, and the Equalities Office. It is also in good favour that the Access Summit put it in the report because it gives them an idea.

There is really a negotiation then.

At the moment I am only getting the feedback, so negotiation will be next week and Tuesday, for the singing and how well I am going to do. I still have to see Malcolm to see how I am going to go on from there.

It is unusual, isn't it?

It is unusual for this to happen because any teacher doesn't want to see a student try their best to get into university and then fail.

You can do the acting bit and all the camera work and the sound production, so why should you have to do the singing?

You have to do the singing because it is not about being a pop star; it's about being able to sing on stage.

But you could go for an acting career without having to sing on stage, possibly.

But you still need it. Sometimes when you go for an audition they give you a song and you need to be prepared to sing at the audition. If I went for an audition they will say, 'He can't sing, we'll give him a speaking part.' So they'll give me a speaking part and I can do that. But if they didn't know that I had not done the singing, even though I passed, but they were notified that I can't sing, even though I did it. I would be more prepared for the teachers so that when I come to finish, they will have a portfolio on me and they will pass it on to an agency and they will have to fill in all the details.

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Career Aspirations

Looking at your career, you've got that ambition, what do you think the barriers are for you? You've touched on some of them already. What do you think the media is like in terms of disability access?

To be honest, I have no idea what the future is going to lead me to, but I do see myself as dealing with a lot of money and having a production company of my own, one day. What really inspires me is Mel Gibson - he's got his own film company in America and I'm hoping to set one up in this country.

The only other ambition is one that is very hard to get and achieve and it is being able to hearing people to recognise deaf people in the movies. There are very few. Most deaf people who have been interviewed in the past are directors and making films, but only for the Deaf Society. I am hoping to try and make a difference and try to make deaf directors to work with hearing people and merging it together so you've got more flexibility and it's more open. Most actors, nowadays, who are not deaf, have taken up learning sign language for say children's programmes, but I really want to see more deaf programmes merging with the hearing in the media side of it - in the mainstream. At the moment it is very hard to achieve it. Most hearing people will not understand and will say, 'Why show this programme?' The reason why it is because it's more important that deaf people watch hearing programmes today, with subtitles. They want to see something different and want something changing. Take for example a soap opera surrounding the everyday life of deaf people. Nobody's done it yet, but I would like to see it happen and merge it in with a few hearing, mingling them together. The more hearing people today that watch the programme, the more they will be able to understand what it's like. When they go to work they will be able to talk to a deaf person, saying, 'I'm not very good at sign language, but I've been watching this programme.' The deaf person might be able to understand. He may think he is winding him up and taking the Mickey, but deaf people tend to want to be noted and be fitted in. Nowadays the only way we can do that is through the media and that is the best way of getting people communicating.

Do you think there are any barriers and prejudices to getting into media?

There will be barriers and prejudice, but, as I know through my time, I don't take prejudice too seriously. I look at it and go past it and can prove anybody wrong and I can get to it. I've had one guy who was prejudiced (and I'm not going to say his name), he did a recess on 'Political Correctness' and he did it on me, not realising that he was being prejudiced. He didn't like me at all, and I'm OK with that, I'll take it on, but when you mention someone else in a group as a whole that you don't like me at all, then that's being prejudice and bringing in political correctness. Political correctness works both ways. You can be right and you can be wrong and he was in the wrong. So I've dealt with it and did the course and got through the course. The only thing that got back at him was that I am at university and he is at home or working, and I have got somewhere and I am getting somewhere now. I will face prejudice wherever I go. I will always get it, and I'll probably mostly get it from the auditions. But, if I keep on going, then one of them is going to say, 'Yes, OK you can go on the show.' Then we'll see what happens.

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Three tips for lecturers

If you could give lecturers three tips which would make your life easier, what would they be?

Be more vocally clear. Prepare to accept whatever a deaf person answers whether it's right or on a different track, or whether it is a spot on answer.

Can I just go back to that? Is that because you might misinterpret something?

Yes, the person might know what the question means and he may know what the answer is, but he may give the answer but not in the way it should have been said. The deaf person might not be totally clear. Not only that, but the deaf person can get nervous when they are answering a question. Thirdly, be more understanding about the pressures on any deaf student, or dyslexic student. Deaf people do get frustrated, especially in lectures or practicals - that's where it hits them big time, because you've got all the students messing around with you and you are trying to concentrate and do the character and they are messing around. So, you really want to make sure that the other students are made aware as well. I can't say you should teach normal students about deaf awareness, but it's better if they could have a leaflet when they start the course, mentioning about deaf awareness and saying stuff about deaf awareness. It's all right to display it on the wall, but who is going to read it. But if you send a leaflet out, then someone will read it. If you want some more information, there are two ways - they can go on a course or give them a booklet, and that will sort them out - the same would go for the teachers as well.

Is there anything else that we haven't covered that you might want to tell me that could be put in information to staff.

Have more tutorials for the deaf student - that's one of the crucial things. Possibly making the assignment brief clearer as well. Even if the students may know what it means, the deaf student might be sat there puzzling as to what is going on and what the objective is. Otherwise he will come back to you, very late, asking all kinds of questions that the tutor might not want to answer, or hasn't got time to answer. So it would be easier if the teacher who is teaching any deaf student, one or two, it's good advice for them to have an assignment sheet aside for that particular student to read. Even though it might have the same objective, it should be explained more clearly.

I think that's probably good for all students, do you think?

Yes, in fairness, yes.

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