Students, staff try being ‘deaf for a day’

Students and staff participate in Queen’s Accessibility Committee’s Deaf for a Day event.
Students and staff participate in Queen’s Accessibility Committee’s Deaf for a Day event.
Credit: 
Emily Bazett-Jones

Student leaders and University administrators spent a quiet---but far from peaceful---day while participating in a Deaf for a Day event on Wednesday.

Organized by the Queen’s Accessibility Committee (QAC), the event sought to raise awareness about the university experience of students with hearing impairments.

“It was a sobering experience to navigate around,” said Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane. “There is a terrible sense of isolation … [there’s] no common noise we’re hearing, we’re in these silos individually.” The issue of campus accessibility was made tangible for participants via a simulated hearing impairment consisting of ear plugs and industrial headphones. The simulation blocked out most noise and left them with limited hearing.

Organizer Janette Parsons, the accessibility coordinator for the Office of the University Advisor on Equity, said the experience was meant to be eye-opening.

“Suddenly, you’re forced to think about communication in a way you never have before,” she said.

The day started at the Common Ground, where all participants were given the task of buying an item. From there, the group split and half were taken to a biology lecture while the others went to the Registrar’s Office to get a new student card.

“The Common Ground was dead and I could barely hear anything,” said Hillary Smith, ArtSci ’08 and incoming AMS campus activities commissioner.

Rod Morrison, Vice-Principal (Human Resources), said he didn’t end up buying the drink he had wanted.

“I have no idea what I ordered,” he said. “I think I got something that tasted like [what I ordered].”

Both Deane and Smith participated in the biology lecture held in Mackintosh-Corry Hall.

“By the end of the experience, I was hearing two people in the room effectively,” said Deane, referring to the professor and one other student, sitting in close proximity, who had asked a question.

Deane said he could see how there would be much difficulty for a hearing-impaired student to participate in class.

“The first issue [is] self-consciousness,” he said.

He added that hearing student opinions in the class was almost impossible.

Smith agreed.

“If you were in a bigger lecture, there would be no point in going,” Smith said.

Parsons added that students with hearing impairments ultimately suffer because it’s difficult for them to engage in the level of interaction that faculty desire of students.

“Faculties are being pressured to be more interactive,” she said.

Another trying experience for participants was crossing at the intersection of Union Street and University Avenue to get to the Common Ground.

“You’re at a disadvantage because you can’t hear the cars,” Deane said. “You keep your eyes on other people, [who] give you clues.”

Jenn Hirano, AMS VP (Operations) and another participant, said she was also concerned about using the crosswalks.

“Today was kind of scary, especially crossing the road,” she said.

While watching the participants attempt to buy something from the Common Ground, Parsons said she thought that the experience was irritating for them.

“[There is] a natural inclination to sit back and relax, but none of [them] did.” Morrison added that it was hard to pay attention to everything.

“You had to be more in control of your environment and speak up,” he said.

After their day, participants suggested several improvements to the University including mandatory microphone use for professors, a greater emphasis on smaller lectures and more disability awareness training for staff.

The participants also suggested installing warning tones that would accompany the crosswalk lights at University and Union to improve overall accessibility on campus.

Organizer Jannette Kobelka, ArtSci ’08, said one of the main problems with hearing impairments is that they are not visible disabilities.

“You’ll help someone in a wheelchair or with crutches … but you can’t know someone has a hearing impairment,” she said. “We wanted people to realize issues that you don’t normally see.” Hirano, who participated in a similar QAC event last year using wheelchairs, said having a hearing impairment was a different experience.

“The wheelchair [event] was different because it was something people could tell right away … it was more obvious, people could help you,” she said. “It affected you mostly when you needed to get somewhere … but this affects you always.”

QAC strives to make the University more accessible to students with disabilities.

The committee’s goal for this year is to install an additional 13 automatic doors around campus, potentially including buildings like Depuis.

QAC is also involved in a series of ongoing projects, including cutting curbs to make them more wheelchair-accessible and creating an endowment for students with disabilities.

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