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My transition to college as a deaf student

transition to college as a deaf student
I have officially made it through my first semester of college!

My transition to college as a deaf student was fairly smooth. I attend aka Northern Arizona University (NAU), where I moved into a residence hall on campus. I have two roommates and my dorm is in the middle of the campus. It’s a lively place! There are a few things to be aware of during your first week of classes including the difference in class sizes and classroom setups, noticing how you can adjust your accommodations to each environment and noticing how to settle into your dorm room with the proper accommodations.

Class Differences

My transition to college as a deaf student meant a difficult first day of class. I had three classes that day. Everything about each of these classes was completely different. The room set up, class size, and the speaker system all varied. In that one day, I went from a 100 person lecture with no microphone to a 70 person class set up in a large room with 18 tables, four people to a table and a microphone system. My last class was a 300 person lecture in a small auditorium type room with a big speaker system.

On my other school days, I had a 25 person class that was set up very much like my high school classes. This meant sitting in tables of four and no microphone system. For all of high school, I had two different setups. We either sat with our desks in rows or in pods of four facing our peers. Otherwise, every classroom was nearly identical. But then I walked into classes on my first day of college feeling completely defeated and clueless on what to do with my accommodations. 

Figuring out Accommodations

It took me a couple of weeks to figure out what accommodations to use in which classes. I found that some things were not applicable to some classes, while for others they were a necessity. Not only was I adjusting to new class set-ups, but I had all new professors who didn’t know me and taught very differently. There was the professor who spat out statistics and facts the whole class period, asked no questions, and allowed no time to meet classmates. Another professor was more like a teacher. She took the time to get to know her students and talk to them. Then there was the professor who never saw me in class as I sat in a mass of several hundred kids. These four classes couldn’t have been any more different.

I learned so much my first semester about adapting when it comes to accommodations. High school was uniform with my accommodations. I learned how to use my accommodations and advocate for myself. But with college came the learning curve of applying that advocacy on a deeper level, and becoming adaptable with the accommodations I knew. 

“…with college came the learning curve of applying that advocacy on a deeper level, and becoming adaptable with the accommodations I knew.”

Read more: 5 ways deaf students can advocate for themselves in college

Dorm Life

My classes were not the only place I had to be prepared. Starting college didn’t just mean finding accommodations for my classes, but finding accommodations for dorm life, something I knew nothing about. Several accommodations were already in place for me when I moved in. This included a system with flashing lights to alert me to fire alarms as well as the doorbell through a portable doorbell. Despite these, I found it so hard to take my implant off the first couple of weeks at school. At the time every sound, even the familiar ones, seemed important in an unfamiliar place. 

“I found it so hard to take my implant off the first couple of weeks at school.”

Unlike most of my classroom accommodations, I found that I had to train my roommates on the systems in our dorm. I showed them what they are, what they do, and explained why they are necessary. We talked in great length at the beginning of the semester about what it means for me to be deaf, when I wouldn’t hear them, and what to do to get my attention. I also answered their questions.

It really helped all of us to talk about this before we let the semester take over with classes. Just as it’s an adjustment to living with any roommate, I knew that for them, it was an equally difficult adjustment to move in with someone who is deaf. I also knew this adjustment would be harder than normal as I often sit at my desk and study without my implant on! I must admit, complete silence when studying in the dorm or on-campus in general is a newfound perk to being deaf with a cochlear implant! 

Emmy Cartwright
Author Details
Emmy is a Phonak Teen Advisory Board member and wears an Advanced Bionics Cochlear Implant and Phonak CROS.
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Emmy Cartwright
Emmy is a Phonak Teen Advisory Board member and wears an Advanced Bionics Cochlear Implant and Phonak CROS.
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