Seven years ago, I was sitting in the fifth row at a lecture hall in the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM).
It was a vast room, with rows of tables and chairs that climbed up at least 100 rows to the back of the room. These tables and chairs faced a small podium at the front.
This was my very first university lecture. I sat in the fifth row, not too close, because I didn’t want to look overeager, but not far enough that I wouldn’t be able to hear the professor.
The professor walked in carrying a brown briefcase. He took out a sheaf of notes, placed it on the podium and began to speak into the microphone.
His voice echoed throughout the lecture hall. To me, his voice bounced off tables and walls, and didn’t translate to clear speech.
At first, I thought, it’s okay, I’ll just write out the notes that he’ll put in the PowerPoint.
When he started his lecture, he didn’t put any notes on his slides. Each slide had just one heading on it.
I missed a lot in that lecture. I spent most of the time trying to decipher what the professor was saying with all the echoing that was going on.
I walked out of that class discouraged. I didn’t know what to do next.
All my high school classes were small enough that sitting in the first/second row solved the problem. The room was also small enough that there was no need to worry about echoing. Any accommodation I needed was taken care of by my itinerant teacher or by the school itself.
I didn’t think about accommodations when I enrolled in my university classes. I thought doing what I always did (sitting close to the professor) would be enough. I didn’t account for the size of the room or for the echoing.
After some research, I found out about UTM’s Accessibility Services. They offered services like note takers for each class, assistive sound devices and more.
However, the Accessibility Office needed documentation of my disability to provide me with those accommodations. It was going to take two to three weeks to get that. I remember feeling annoyed. Isn’t my cochlear implant enough proof?
I was told that once I had the proper documentation, I would be set up with an accessibility advisor who can help me decide which accommodations would be best suited for me.
I remember walking out, feeling a bit at a loss. How was I going to get through the next two to three weeks of classes?
I did the following:
I sat in the front row of each class, in the seat closest to the professor (I stopped caring about looking too over eager, I wanted to do well).
After the first class with a new professor, I booked office hour appointments with them and informed them about my hearing loss.
I made friends, swallowed my pride, and asked them for a quick glance at their notes after lectures.
All in all, that held me over pretty well until I got my documentation and accommodations in order. One thing that I learned is, there is always a way to make things work somehow. You might need help from someone, but it’s okay to ask for it – as long as you’re being honest.
If you have hearing loss and you’re starting university or college for the first time, good luck!
Here are some tips:
Before school starts:
And the last tip is – don’t forget to have fun!
University and college is meant for exploring your interests and discovering your passions. Take advantage of it!