Not all d/Deaf students are the same, indeed generalization is dangerous as to their needs and capabilities. As one deaf geography student wrote, "…the needs of each deaf or hard-of-hearing individual will inevitably be different and those who are organising and participating in field trips should be made aware of exactly what those needs are." So the onus is on staff to find out what the students' abilities and needs are, particularly because fieldwork will present unfamiliar situations to d/Deaf students for which they may not have worked out coping mechanisms.
Students may not know what is expected of them and may be unwilling to ask for help. "...I have to admit that I was quite reluctant initially to discuss any needs I had within the department as regards to fieldwork. This may seem strange because I'm sure that most lecturers would do anything to help, but I wasn't keen on being treated any differently than others doing the same fieldwork and I wasn't sure that there would be much in the way of helping me anyway."
As bad as staff who are unaware of the needs of d/Deaf students are staff who think they know all about d/Deafness. " ... there is nothing worse than dealing with people who have very little idea or who have preconceived notions about what should be done to help deaf or hard-of-hearing students to participate fully and equally...".
Perhaps the best way round this impasse is to ensure that staff actively seek out d/Deaf students well before the fieldwork starts and talk to them about what is going to happen and check that they are happy with this. If they are not, discuss ways around the situation. The aim is a negotiated and mutually acceptable way of ensuring the fullest possible participation while avoiding d/Deaf students seemingly being singled out for special treatment.
So what aspects of fieldwork do d/Deaf students find particularly problematic? Group work is one tricky area. In a lecture theatre there is one professional speaker who stands more or less in one place (though they may talk to the blackboard or out the window!). In group work people talk from all round the room - the flip side of student participation is not knowing where to look to lip read, particularly if several people are talking at the same time in a heated debate. Students' many regional accents and their different lip-shapes make life difficult for lip-readers. "There also seemed to be an epidemic of turning around and facing the other way when they [staff] were pointing at or showing me something, so that meant I couldn't read their lips".
And the best single thing we can do to help d/Deaf students? Perhaps it is "…having written information on the field trips, especially the instructions on actually carrying out the work was great because I knew what I was doing and I wasn't panicking about having missed vital information". "All details of the fieldwork should be given to the student in a written form before the field visit so that queries can be sorted out."
A close second in valuable advice from d/Deaf students themselves would be for departmental staff (don't leave it to a disabilities support unit) to seek out the d/Deaf students, explain activities, negotiate actions and generally check that the student is comfortable with the work and following what is going on. After all, you and your colleagues will have been teaching these d/Deaf students for some time before the fieldwork starts so "…staff should […] have already been made aware, or made themselves aware, of how they should communicate with the student according to the student's needs."
Page updated 14 December 2001
GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock
© Geography Discipline Network/authors, 2001
ISBN: 1 86174 116 2