Deaf studies

A degree in deaf studies means learning a new language, exploring social needs, functions and responses and addressing people from all walks of life. Martin Atherton guides us through this highly specialised course

As someone who took a deaf studies degree and who now works as a member of the deaf studies team at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), I know what it is like on both sides of the desk.

What's it all about then?

It's all about deaf people and teaches things anybody who wants to work with deaf people need to know.

The problem is that not many people know about deaf studies or what it involves. You can't study for a GCSE in deaf studies, and college courses are only just starting to be available. This means that almost everyone who starts deaf studies begins from virtually the same place ­ knowing nothing! This isn't a problem, as the course aims to teach everything students need to know if they want to work with deaf people.

Who can take a deaf studies degree?

Just about anyone, both deaf and hearing. There is certainly no age limit: I was 38 when I began my degree but you can start at 18 or 80! Obviously, you will need to demonstrate your ability to handle the academic work with A levels or equivalent qualifications, but you also need to show your willingness to be open-minded about what you will learn. Many hearing people want to work for deaf people; we teach people how to work with deaf people, a big difference.

We concentrate on deaf people as a cultural group with its own language, not as people who have something missing or who are not "normal". In order to do this, students learn first what it means to be deaf in a hearing world. Learning sign language is compulsory on the course. For those who can already sign when they arrive, we give them the opportunity to improve their skills, right up to interpreter level, either as part of their degree or as post-graduate students.

Other subjects covered on the course include:

  • Changing images of deafness
  • Deafness and social policy
  • Issues in sign language interpreting
  • Deaf history
  • Deaf community and culture
  • Sign linguistics

There is also the opportunity to undertake work placements, both in Britain and abroad, in which students work closely with deaf organisations to further their knowledge and skills.

Where do you end up?

There are many jobs that deaf studies can lead into, although I must stress that having a deaf studies degree is not in itself a qualification for certain types of work. For example, if you want to become a teacher of the deaf or a social worker with deaf people, you would still need further professional qualifications. With or without specific qualifications, you can work in a great number of jobs relating to deafness. Graduates from UCLan are currently working as lecturers in deaf studies courses (me!); as researchers involved in projects with deaf people; as social workers; communication support workers in schools, colleges and universities; sign language interpreters; working in residential homes and for organisations who provide information and support for deaf people; as teachers of the deaf; running support services for deaf students in colleges and schools ­ in fact, in just about any type of work that involves contact with deaf people.

A deaf studies degree gives you a knowledge of deaf people that you can take with you into your working life, and deaf studies degrees from UCLan are highly valued by employers. This is shown by the fact that several of our students have been offered jobs in their final year of study, even before they knew what level of degree they were going to be awarded. Over 90 per cent of deaf studies graduates at UCLan have found work or gone on to further study in the first year after graduating.

How can I find out more?

If you think you might be interested in taking a deaf studies degree but don't know anything about deafness or deaf people, this isn't a problem. Why not contact your local deaf club or one of the national deaf organisations and ask if there is any voluntary work you could be involved in? You can find details in your phone book or from websites such as the Royal National Institute for Deaf People ( www.rnid.org.uk), the British Deaf Association ( www.bda.org.uk) or the National Deaf Children's Society ( www.ndcs.org.uk).

You can get more information about Deaf studies degrees from UCLan ( www.uclan. ac.uk; 01772 201201). Other universities, including Bristol and Wolverhampton, offer courses. Details from UCAS: www.ucas.com.

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