Navigating hearing impairments at UCKAR

by Jessica Freedman

[Caption: Pictured are two behind the ear hearing aids. Both are silver in colour and have thin, clear tubes going to the earmolds. The earmold on the left is blue in colour and the earmold on the right is red in colour. This is to distinguish the hearing aid for the left ear from the hearing aid for the right ear. The background is a grey carrying case. Some people with partial hearing wear hearing aids. However, not all hearing aids are behind the ear hearing aids. Some hearing aids are completely in the canal, some are in the canal, and some are invisible in the canal. There are also body worn hearing aids. Whether or not someone wears a hearing aid and the type of hearing aid they wear depends on their own individual needs.]

Approximately 10% of South Africans experience hearing loss. That’s one in ten people! Despite this, hearing impairments, and disabilities in general, are not often spoken about outside of places like support groups and doctor’s offices. This makes it difficult for people with hearing impairments to feel comfortable speaking about their disabilities. The lack of conversation around hearing impairments also makes it harder to find and access assistance and information.


Even though it’s not common knowledge, there are ways of accessing assistance at the University Currently Known as Rhodes (UCKAR) for someone who has a hearing impairment. Of course, hearing impairments are often invisible disabilities and this makes accessing help harder if you do not wish to disclose your disability.


About the accommodations that UCKAR offers to students with hearing impairments, the chairperson of Enable Society, Lebogang Kibane, says:


“At present the University does not have any assistive devices available for students with partial hearing. Additionally, each student with partial hearing has a unique set of needs so there is no blanket approach to providing them with support. As such, support/accommodations function at an ad hoc basis (whether this is the best option remains to be debated). Students with partial hearing are entitled to receiving lecture slides/material prior to the lecture period to ensure that they are better able to follow the lectures. They should also be given first preference to seating in the lecture venue. In most cases these accommodations are made available to the student by individual lecturers or the department as a whole, but if both are reluctant the student may also speak to the Division of Student Affairs (DSA).”


“If your department is made aware of your unique needs it is their responsibility to make these options available to you. If the department is reluctant to provide these to you the issue is then raised with the Division of Student Affairs and they are more likely to ensure you get the support you need.”


Obviously, there is more to university than just academics. People with hearing impairments also have friends and go into social settings. However, these social settings often contain a lot of background noise.


The presence of loud background noise makes it harder for someone with partial hearing to focus on the sound they want to focus on. So, it’s harder for someone with hearing impairments to pay attention to someone speaking to them at, say, a party.


Lebogang Kibane has some advice for students who struggle in these situations:

“We are often not in control of all of the elements around us, which may make it difficult to reduce barriers caused by our impairment. What we are in control, however, of are our interactions with those close to us. Making those around you aware of your needs is a good way of mitigating social distress caused by an impairment. If your friends, colleagues or classmates are aware, for instance, that your hearing is better on your left side they are more likely to make the effort to stay on that side or if they are aware that it’s easier for you to lip read than to strain to hear they may make the effort to sit in front of you.”


While this information can apply to many people, no two people with hearing impairments are the same. It is always important to understand your own needs and the needs of those around you. Every person is an individual and has unique needs.


As Lebogang Kibane says:


“Awareness! Students, able-bodied or living with an impairment, are generally unaware of realities outside of their own. This is not to say we are ignorant, I suppose as a species we are hardwired to be generally more concerned with navigating our own realities that we often forget that those around us live and navigate entirely different parameters. I think it is important for us to remind each other to look beyond our own realities and realize that someone may be unfairly, but maybe unintentionally, disabled by our actions and our language. Creating awareness around issues of impairment and disability is the best way to foster a culture of understanding and acceptance.”

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