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Graduation stories - profoundly deaf student gains First Class Honours degree

27 August 2014

Jenny with her British Sign Language Interpreters

Jenny McAllister graduated with a First Class Honours degree in last month, our first profoundly deaf student to do so!

Here she tells us about her experiences at Abertay, the support she received to help her settle in, and about her plans for the future.

What’s it like being a deaf student at Abertay?

“My experience as a deaf student at Abertay has been a very positive one - from day one staff and students made all the reasonable adjustments they could for me and helped make sure I was always involved.

“Reasonable adjustments are a required part of disability legislation and vary depending on the needs of each individual student. For me, they included things like providing British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, an electronic note-taker and having extra time in exams. Both of my interpreters were at graduation with me, and it was great to have them there to celebrate with me.

“I liked that people were curious about my deafness and asked questions - they didn't just hold back – and that is the way it should be. We always ended up having a laugh!

“The Student Support services are fantastic and always look after deaf and disabled students very well, making every student equal at Abertay.”

Did you get to carry out any interesting research while you were here?

“For my Honours project, I looked into whether deaf people might make more efficient CCTV surveillance officers.

“For ages I had no idea what I wanted to do my project on but I figured I should do it on something that was interesting to me so I would feel more motivated to get it done - at the start 10,000 words to write on one single subject is very scary!

“I had always read stuff about deaf people having a visual advantage because we don't have hearing to rely on. I did research into this area and found quite a lot of mixed research that deaf people have a wider visual field in comparison to people that can hear.

“I also found a news article which reported on the Mexican police force drafting deaf officers into their CCTV control rooms and finding that the deaf officers were able to lip read and see more of the crimes happening on the footage.

“This was a big part of what motivated me to use CCTV as the material for my project and to investigate further what deaf officers in Mexico are already getting to be a part of.

“I took the research and a few ideas to Dr Ken Scott-Brown - my project supervisor - and with help from him we came up with the plans for a CCTV focused project.

“I asked deaf and hearing people to undergo a CCTV viewing detection task, which involved watching multiple screens in central and peripheral positions of the visual field and then pointing out where the crime was happening.

“I found that, overall, deaf people were more confident about their detection performance both before and after completing the task.

“In contrast, the hearing people who may have been confident they would detect a crime before they started the task, were extremely low in confidence after completing it.

“Although my results are preliminary, it is interesting to note that someone with the loss of one sense may have another sense which is enhanced, as this could be highly beneficial to society in the future.

“It was hugely motivating for me to do the project with the hope that it could be the start of more research in this area resulting in more job opportunities for deaf people in CCTV control/the police force.”

What’s next?

“Now that I’ve graduated, I plan to study for a Masters in brain sciences.

“I want to learn more about techniques to research the brain with and then do some of my own research on stroke, traumatic brain injury and possibly the 'deaf brain'.

“Ultimately I want to do more training afterwards and become a neuropsychologist. This will enable me to directly test and help people who have a variety of neurological conditions.”

Do you have any words of advice for other deaf students thinking of applying to university?

“I feel like it’s pretty normal for a deaf person to go to uni nowadays - I'm definitely not the only one. Luckily I have always had great teachers of the deaf, interpreters, deaf and hearing friends and a fantastic family supporting me though.

“I always wanted to go to university and because of these people encouraging me I never thought it wasn't possible!

“There were moments during the four years that I doubted myself - I am sure every student has thought to themselves 'I can't do this' at some point! But for a deaf person the problems are slightly different: I felt I had to try a lot harder on reading and writing, and grasping a sound understanding of a theory seemed to take twice as long as what my hearing peers in the class would take.

“I was also tired more easily because of the language barriers, and there were lots of moments I wanted to give up. Luckily everyone around me - including Disabled Student Support at Abertay - helped me to get through.

“Even a few harsher words from my dad like: 'just stop mucking about and get on with it' was all that was needed to wake me up and get me out of procrastination or self-pity mode!

“Whether you are deaf, hearing, have disabilities, don't have disabilities - there is always a way past any problems, just make sure you surround yourself with supportive people and don't give up! What’s the worst that can happen anyway?”

What was your best moment at Abertay?

“There have been so many ups and downs! My best experience was definitely picking up my degree certificate on graduation day. The whole four years studying had come down to that day so it was amazing!”

We offer a variety of Support Services for our students here at Abertay. For those who have a disability there is the Disabled Student’s Allowance. If you have a disability that impacts on your studies, you will be eligible to apply for this.

The allowance pays for any additional support that is required at university, for example a British Sign Language interpreter or an electronic note-taker. It can also provide funding towards computing facilities and assistive software.

The disability service also shares information with lecturers (with each student’s permission) of the reasonable adjustments that they can put in place in order to ensure that they are not at a disadvantage.

All recommendations for reasonable adjustments are tailored towards each individual student and their learning needs. 

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