5.7 Angela Ball and Colin Window: Teaching a Profoundly Deaf Student.
The first indication that a profoundly deaf student was interested in applying for the Costume Production Programme was from the Marketing Department. They forwarded an E mail to me as Programme Director and to the disability officer, from the candidate’s mother, enquiring whether the information to be given at our open day was in any other format than verbal.
At that stage my colleague Colin and I did not have our information in hard copy but felt that it could and should be. So the basic information delivered by the programme academics on the open day was written down, and each of the attendees could have a copy to take away with them - hopefully serving as a reminder of us when they were in the process of deciding whether to apply or not! Additional information was prepared for the deaf candidate - mainly the module descriptors from the student hand book - so that when she went on the tour into the student workrooms she would be able to understand what she was observing or had observed, even if she did not catch what the students were saying at the time.
The Costume Production student ambassadors were told that one of the attendees was profoundly deaf and Reception staff was also informed. .
As it turned out on the Open Day they (the candidate and her parents) made themselves known to me after the initial group chat so that we could have a conversation, on a one to one basis. We talked about the student’s preferred form of communication and it was then that I discovered that she used British Sign Language but was informed that she was a competent lip reader and was told that, if she could at any time see my face, she would be able to know exactly what was being said, whether it was pertinent to her or not (advice that is well worth remembering). We also talked about what appeared to be the more problematic methods of delivery that she might encounter on the programme. For instance, the “History of Costume” module where the majority of the information delivered in the lectures is on slides with the tutor explaining what they are looking at.
For the interview itself I rang RNID to get information about the etiquette of conducting an interview with a deaf person and discovered that we had to provide a trained BSL communication support worker (CSW) to enable the interview to be conducted in exactly the same manner as with a hearing student. Our Disability Officer was much more experienced than me in such matters and as soon as the interview date was set arranged for a CSW to be present. The interview itself was quite an experience having been briefed by the CSW moments before the interview started on how to work with an interpreter. Thankfully, we keep our interviews as informal as possible to relax the candidate as, at one stage, I discovered that there is only one generic sign for “foot” and the poor CSW who had no sewing experience got dreadfully confused by our use of the word as it could have been in any one of three places (end of the leg, control to power the machine or attachment on the machine itself). Thankfully the candidate and I knew what we meant, although I’m sure the CSW remains confused to this day!
It was during the interview that I realised that in the department (workrooms and costume store) we only had audible fire alarms no visual ones, so I contacted the relevant persons in college to see what could be done about that should the candidate decide to come. A vibrating alarm system was considered the better option which she should wear clipped to her belt. I say “should”, but often it is on the desk, in her hand bag etc as she hates having something that singles her out as ‘different’. When challenged about what she would do if there was a fire alarm ringing that she could not hear and we were evacuating the building, she simply responded –“just follow you”. Logical!
After she was offered a place on the Programme, the student and her parents came in for a meeting with the Disability Officer and I to just talk through some finer points about the college provision and what had been offered by her local authority and it was at this stage that we mapped out a vague plan for CSW hours in the class room. It was thought more appropriate to get as much help in Level 1 of the Programme as possible, especially in the more “study” based elements of the Programme, as this is when the basic information is given to the student and the rest of the Programme builds on top of that. So, along with the Disability Officer, we were able to find a level of support that seemed applicable and acceptable to all parties concerned. College even provided the monies for the short fall as the local authority has a more “academic” based university timetable in mind rather than a practical vocational one.
Before the semester started we arranged a staff development session to allow any member of staff who would be teaching the student to get an understanding of how to communicate with her. We looked at the rooms in which she would be taught and asked for advice on how to set them up so that she had the best possible position in the work room.
At this point I think that we had covered all the preparation that we could and it was just a case of seeing how it went on the day.
Just before the start of the semester we had a problem that the CSW booked to cover the first day was unavoidably not available. I was, however, able to find an ex student of the College who could sign and this more informal approach was in fact better as he was able to reassure her in a way that an “outsider“ could not. He also went with the students to social events on the day which a CSW would not do.
On the first morning of the semester I Introduced the Vice Principal to the student so that he could try to face her as often as possible during his address. From here it was a matter of reminding lecturers to put as much information on to paper as possible as this can be given to a CSW and the student in advance of the sessions so that the spellings of the more unusual words can be practiced by the signer e.g. Grotowski or company names such as Vari Light. The majority of the lecturers were fantastic in this and I was often the go-between, printing out their forthcoming lesson information and making sure it was given to the student and the relevant c CSW.
With the practical sessions both Colin and I found it useful to have a mix of written information and practical examples. Obviously our lesson delivery helps - a mix of demonstration and verbal / written with the student working alongside at the same time.
The only area that we needed to expand on was the amount of written information we usually give out at the start of the modules. As the sessions developed and students progressed at different rates we always remembered to repeat information directly to the deaf student. In fact, this constant repetition of information was also useful for the other students.
The History of Costume module proved to be less problematic than first thought - after the first session. The student asked whether we could provide her with an angle-poise light so that she could see the CSW more clearly. This was a simple solution that made the lesson delivery more accessible for her. The student keeps the light with her other equipment and can access it whenever she needs it.
Seminars were another area that we were not too sure how they were going to be delivered but, to date, she has tried two differing methods - 1) using an OHP and reading the information out whilst the audience followed and 2) signing to a CSW and having her work vocalised. Both have been successful and we are waiting to see which method the student is going to adopt for her Independent Research Project at Level 3.
When working with a deaf student you are very aware that you need to let other people know of her disability if they are to come into the workroom to address the students for any reasons i.e. before the NCDT panel came into the room I tried to tell them how to communicate with her if they were going to speak to her directly and also make them aware that if she did not look up when they came into the room, she was not being rude but she would quite simply not know they were there.
One thing that we were able to do was to give all the Costume Production Students “Deaf Awareness Training” and new students will be trained before they work with her, in Level 2 of the programme.
In my opinion much of the issue of working alongside a disability such as this is forward planning and trying to identify any particular problems before they occur. For instance:
You need to be very aware that the agency who supplies the CSWs would like up to 6 weeks’ notice. Any lesson cancelled at the last minute will still have to be paid for and money found, from a very tight budget, when the lesson is rescheduled. Obviously you cannot guess every eventuality but with planning the possibility of any occurring can be reduced.
- At the moment we are working on a method of communicating with the student whilst she is off site working on the productions, i.e. a mobile phone with a good camera for her to have with her when she is out of the college and a duplicate handset in the department.
- It should be remembered that it takes time to research the potential solutions, so do not expect answers instantly.
- It goes without saying that if we can find a solution to the potential problems related to practical work that we may face in the future then this student will be able to use them reassure any theatre organisation that she may apply to in her future career.
- Signed performances are also under the same level of discussion. To allow the student to fully appreciate the production that she is working on she needs to have the performance signed. One public production each year is already signed at College but there will need to be more.
- At all times the close links with our Disability Officer have been invaluable.
We should end by saying that there have been one or two teething problems but none, hopefully, that we have not been able to solve. It should also be said that we are aware that teaching this particular student has been made easier because of her amazing ability to lip read, quite how we would have coped if she did not have this talent it is difficult to say.