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I am deaf-blind and I decided to go to college last year. I went to see them in the spring to tell them I thought I might come to that college. In the summer I went traveling across Canada, my parents did my telephone registration and I arrived back in time for the start of school.
Entering my first class, I was shocked that there was no interpreter or other services ready. I went to see the disability coordinator and was really upset things were not ready. The coordinator was surprised to see me as he said that I had never confirmed I was coming, the registrar’s office had not been notified that a student with a disability was registering and the college was not aware a student who was deaf-blind was enrolled. Thus, I lost out on several weeks of classes while services were setup. I was lucky, I was in an urban college that had more resources available than a rural college and services could be found.
Colleges, wherever they are, sometimes do not have readily available personnel or equipment, and students need to withdraw. It is really important not only to give advance notice, but also to confirm you are coming to the college as soon as you are registered. As well, you need to be clear about your needs and which supports would work best for you so that your college experience is successful.
First Year Experience
Deafblindness for me was an unknown word when I entered college. I had no special training or information that let me know that I was deaf-blind. I knew that I suffered from the loss of one eye, but how that affects everything, my stamina, where to sit, the size of signing and print materials I needed were things that everyone was unaware of.
My interpreters were used to working with deaf students and thought I was rude when, because of my eyestrain, I looked away. As well, some of my signs were different from other student’s, so people thought I was less literate than I was. The college never explained to me or the interpreters about how being deaf-blind would change how I got and gave information and the first few years were very frustrating for me. Luckily, one of the interpreters from my high school also worked at the college and through her others began to know more about me.
It was hard for me because if I told people about my disability, then other students who were deaf thought I was too different and there were no deaf-blind role models. I think I lost a lot of self-confidence and friends because I did not know how to explain who I was.
I am still in college and find it difficult to work at the same speed as the deaf students. I am still lumped in with them and even turn taking with deaf rules is hard for me as I can not see everyone and do not know who is talking. The interpreter needs to know more about the student’s preferences and needs and the college needs to understand that being deaf and deaf-blind are two different things.
An Adult Student in College
I was a student at Gallaudet University (the university for the deaf) and received support services there. At that time I had some residual vision and hearing. The services I received were very valuable in helping me to successfully graduate with a BA and an MA.
In the classrooms I had one to one interpreters, notetakers, readers or large print books. Some of my textbooks were transcribed into Braille and there were CCTVs that I used on campus. For taking tests I used the CCTV and an intervenor accompanied me to the room so I would know where to go and what was happening around me. Galluadet was a wonderful place for me because everyone could communicate with me.
Since graduation I have been a freelance consultant on deaf-blindness. For mobility I use a guide dog that is trained to guide me visually and because I can voice, he listens to my commands. I need to have orientation if I want to go places, but once I have training I am independent. I am married and can maintain my house as a team member.
A Journey to Educational Success
I have first hand knowledge that being deaf-blind and attending a college can be an isolating experience. I have spent the last ten years in post secondary education. I attended college from 1989 to 1995, then transferred to university to complete my Bachelor of Arts degree.
When I first decided to go to college, counselors told me that post-secondary would be too hard for me, that I would not be able to complete it. They also predicted that I would not survive the workload, papers and research. I think I took care of that prediction in grand fashion. Continuing for ten years is testimony enough. There were many times that I felt overwhelmed and wanted to quit. This was probably due to not having any real supports that were connected to my deaf-blindness. This being the case, I had to struggle, get low grades and just barely pass. However, after a hiatus, I returned to scholastic pursuits with reckless abound.
Entering university, I realized “Hey, I can do better than this”. I realized that my college years were difficult because there was no acknowledgment of my dual disability and I was given the same supports as the students who were deaf. These supports were inadequate for my visual impairment. The college did not understand what it was like to be me!
Since that semester, I have been focusing my attention on attaining the highest degree of work possible. Through experience I have learned to work more closely with my team, and take advantage of the available supports, including my tutors! I have also slowed things down and I often only take one course at a time. My GPA has increased tremendously from taking this route.
Now I am excited, as I am officially graduated from University! I have a Bachelors of Arts, with a major in Psychology and a minor in Learning Disabilities. I am considering going back to school to get my Masters! There is nothing stopping me!
I am looking forward to a wonderful career as an activist for deaf-blind persons, locally, nationally and internationally.
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