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Deaf Student Support Program -Griffith University - Australia

Article publié le Wednesday 17 October 2007.

“For 21 years of outstanding support facilitating the access and achievement of deaf students in higher education”


-  Overview
-  Respect and support for the development of students as individuals
-  Access through Professional Interpreting and Note-taking
-  University of Choice for Deaf Students
-  References
-  Professor John Dewar, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic) Griffith University
-  Karen Lloyd, Manager, Australian Association of the Deaf

Top - Summary


The establishment of Griffith University’s Deaf Student Support Program (DSSP) in 1985 was a milestone in Australian education. Not only was it a significant development in higher education but it reflected a growing community commitment to the social values of equity of opportunity and acceptance of diversity. A deaf student recalling the great personal impact those changes had for them noted:

“ ... My very first Deaf lecturer! That was the best and most exciting moment of
my life. I would be floating on cloud nine for days after the lecture ..."

In 2007, the program continues to provide arguably the most extensive support services to deaf students in the country. A current deaf student offered this advice to deaf and hard of hearing people contemplating postsecondary study:

“Go to Griffith University and utilise all the resources and supports they offer-you probably won’t survive at another university where their support [service] doesn’t understand the difficulties of being hearing impaired”.

The pioneers who established DSSP were ahead of their time in recognizing that in education, deafness should not be regarded as a medical matter or an indicator of disability but a social and communication way of life. The pathway to academic achievement for deaf students is through the provision of appropriate communication tools and support. For 22 years DSSP has been providing interpreting, note-taking, technological and tutorial services and a deaf student network that have become a benchmark for deaf education in Australia.

Barriers have always confronted deaf people in their aspirations for academic and professional achievement. People born deaf have historically had a “bad press”. A typical view till the Renaissance was expressed by Lucretius (c. 83AD).

To teach the deaf no art could ever reach
No wit inspire them nor no wisdom teach

It was not until the sixteenth century in Spain that any attempts were made to educate deaf children and the first school for the deaf was not opened in Paris till 1764. Schools for the deaf proliferated in many countries over the next 250 years and the first schools for the deaf in Australia opened in 1861. These schools focused on preparing boys for trades and girls for factory and domestic work. Formal education at high school level did not begin until the 1970s. Even then deaf students aspiring to higher education were few and their way difficult. The few who entered universities had little or no support and even had to pay for their own sign language interpreters.

In 1985 Emeritus Professor Des Power, who had been involved in research and training in education of the deaf for many years, advocated successfully for the admission of deaf students into the Mt Gravatt College of Advanced Education teacher training program. Deaf people and educators of the deaf had long desired opportunities for deaf people to become teachers of the deaf. The National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology and California State University Northridge, which Professor Power had visited, provided models of supportive programs for deaf students within regular universities. The Mt Gravatt College of Advanced Education had been involved in training hearing teachers of the deaf for years. It established the DSSP and admitted the first group of deaf students in 1985, continuing with an annual intake thereafter. Deaf graduates of the program are now teaching in all Australian states and several overseas countries.

When it was first established the DSSP had a focus on making the breakthrough to preparing/supporting deaf students to become teachers of the deaf themselves. Dr. Breda Carty, Griffith’s first deaf PhD graduate, teacher of the deaf, deaf historian, and Lecturer at Renwick College, a postgraduate centre for studies in education of children with sensory disabilities, contemplated the beginnings of her career in deaf education at the 21 years celebration of DSSP last year:

“Most people said to me ‘a deaf person becoming a teacher of the deaf, we’ve never heard of that. It’s a stupid idea, just forget about it’. Time and time again I heard that. But there was one person - Des Power ... He was the only person who said ‘a deaf person becoming a teacher - what a great idea. I’ve been supporting that idea for a very long time. I’d like to see it happen’. He was the only one who said that. I’ve always remembered that.” In contrast to the history of deaf education in Australia prior to the 1970’s, one which did not promote academic education, Breda Carty’s story highlights the vision and powerful influence of encouragement and support of the kind provided by DSSP. Now the DSSP supports, on average, 40 deaf students in a broad range of disciplines every year. Upon amalgamation of the Brisbane College of Advanced Education Mt Gravatt campus with Griffith University in 1989 the support service was extended to all six campuses and all disciplines and programs of study across the University. Deaf students have now graduated from a broad range of programs including law, science, humanities, social sciences, visual arts, human services, health sciences, communication, multimedia, information technology, and hotel management. Several students have obtained graduate degrees and the first deaf PhD graduated in 2004.

The impact of these 22 years of fostering recognition and acceptance of the talents and contributions of deaf students and particularly deaf teachers in Queensland was highlighted recently when a deaf trainee teacher made a presentation on Arabic culture to a class of hearing primary school students. The deaf teacher appeared for the whole lesson in an Arabian costume with concealing headdress, and signed his way through the presentation, which was voice interpreted by a woman interpreter - an unusual class for a number of reasons. The students identified their deaf teacher, but not because he was signing. Their only comment was: “We knew that was really Mr Peters - we recognised his socks!”

Top - Summary

Respect and support for the development of students as individuals

The DSSP has consistently been ahead of its time in the provision of services for deaf students. While research continues to cite functional, environmental and attitudinal barriers faced by deaf students and a high rate of non-completion of degree programs among this population, the support services provided by DSSP meant that Griffith has achieved very high retention rates for deaf students from the beginning.

“Everyone was very supportive of me ... without Des Power and Gwen Spradbrow, the interpreting support, note-taking support, tutorials and words of encouragement, I would not have survived.”

A 1995 study on the impact of the program showed that 82% of deaf students who had entered the program between 1989 and 1992 had graduated by the end of 1994. A 2005 study, surveying a considerably larger group of students, showed that the completion rates for deaf students who used the DSSP services was 76% compared with 65% for deaf students who did not use the service. The 76% completion rate exceeds the overall Griffith University completion rate of 71%..

The DSSP now supports about 40 students a year with a range of services including sign language interpreting, manual and laptop note-taking, classroom transcription, tutorial support, a newsletter, guidance for teaching staff on inclusive classroom practice, guidance for students on using support services, student orientation, liaison with Examinations and Timetabling officers, liaison with Education Queensland regarding school practice placements, liaison regarding learning environments, audio loops and provision of FM transmitters, liaison with the International Student Office, Legal Services and Graduate Recruitment, and with the Alumni Office. In addition, the DSSP provides outreach to deaf students in primary and secondary schools to provide information on transition to university.

Further recognition of the quality of services provided by DSSP is evident in the extension of these services to other Universities in Queensland. Since 1994, DSSP has provided interpreting services for deaf students at the University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and the Australian Catholic University. In addition, deaf students from these institutions are invited to attend the special orientation sessions provided for deaf students at Griffith each year.

Top - Summary

Access through Professional Interpreting and Note-taking

One of the strengths of DSSP has been its research-based approach to support provision and regular evaluation of its services. At the time of amalgamation with Griffith University in 1989, the DSSP program underwent a review and acted on an evaluation by the Commonwealth Government Rehabilitation Service to enhance its interpreting services. Now, all interpreters with the service are professionals with qualifications from the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI). While the Disability Discrimination Act (1993) became a driver for the broader provision of interpreting services in postsecondary education, few universities actively sought and acted on feedback from students about the difficulties they faced in the classroom.

“In lectures I found it fairly challenging to write my own notes, watch the interpreter and a video being shown to the audience at the same time.” DSSP provided both interpreters and note-takers from its earliest days. Prior to 1993 note-takers were recruited from volunteers within the classes attended by deaf students. This system produced notes of great variation in quality and comprehensiveness. Recognising this, in 1993 funds were obtained from the national Higher Education Equity Grant to institute a more professional notetaking system at the University, not just for deaf students but for all students with disabilities. The note-taking service subsequently developed by Michelle Stevens from DSSP involved careful and selective recruiting, meticulous training and regular evaluation. Today it is the benchmark for peer-notetaking systems throughout the country and students prefer notes from DSSP trained peer note-takers to literal transcriptions of entire lectures.

Evidence that even with interpreting and note-taking support, deaf and hard of hearing university students receive less information from lectures and tutorials than their hearing peers (Marschark, Sapere, Convertino & Seewagen, 2005) and (Napier & Barker, 2004) has prompted DSSP to explore emerging technologies that may be of further assistance. Word-for-word transcription on laptops by transcribers sitting beside students who are deaf and who cannot use hearing aids or sign language has meant that these students can also participate fully in class. More recently trials are underway with the Australian Caption Centre to provide real-time captions remotely to students in class using specialised technology and remote transcribers.

Top - Summary

University of Choice for Deaf Students

Powerful evidence coming from First Year Experience research (Krause, Hartley, James & McInness, 2005) indicates that empathetic guidance, advising and support for all students commencing their studies at university are crucial for success. Further, this research has identified “at risk” groups amongst commencing students including students from minority and disadvantaged groups. Classroom participation and a sense of academic and social integration are acknowledged as important for the academic success of all post secondary students (Tinto, 1993). The 2005 study of the DSSP and its impact confirmed that, of students utilising the service, 36% had a mild hearing loss, 32% a moderate loss and 32% a profound loss. All of these students fall into the “at risk” group. A large study in the USA (Foster, Long, & Snell, 1999) found that while deaf students receiving supports indicated similar levels of classroom engagement and communication, outside the classroom they did not feel as much a part of the university community as their hearing peers.

In this context the achievements of deaf students supported by DSSP is remarkable. Success of the DSSP can be measured not only by statistical data such as completion rates. Students reported that they found DSSP supports made their personal and social lives much more satisfying:

“My year at Griffith was my favourite because of the support provided to me (FM, note-taking, interpreting and social-emotional support). I didn’t spend so much time trying to catch up on what I missed and so had spare time to actually relax and not be so tired. I also made more friends and was not so lonely. For once, I actually felt like I was intelligent rather than not very bright and having to study so much harder to understand what others understood with ease.”

While there are numerous special educational settings at the primary and secondary levels for deaf students, the prevailing educational philosophy for educating deaf students in Australia is one of inclusion. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the DSSP has been its having paved the way for deaf people to participate and be successful in the mainstream. In a 2006 study of DSSP students were asked the reason for their choosing to study at Griffith. Respondents overwhelmingly indicated that the major reason for their choice was the availability of their chosen course of study. 21% reported that Griffith University’s comprehensive ‘support services for deaf students’ was the reason for their choice. It has been noted that when DSSP service began at Mt Gravatt CAE, most deaf students enrolled in programs to become teachers of the deaf. At the time of the 2005 survey, 27 of the 72 individuals who completed it reported having studied education or special education at diploma, bachelor’s or master’s levels. At least 20 other programs of study were reported by the remaining respondents (Punch, Hyde & Power, in press).

The vision of the DSSP was to dissolve barriers and foster the early development of role models so that deaf students could aspire to professional studies - firstly in deaf education, and then more broadly. The regular enrolment of around 40 deaf students each year, annual contracts with other Universities for support services for their deaf students and a growing group of highly successful alumni are the fulfillment of this vision. Deaf students summed up the importance of DSSP’s service eloquently in reflections on their fondest memories of their time at Griffith ...

“Meeting other Deaf people - not feeling so isolated about being Deaf. It was the first time in my schooling that I had support. Having other Deaf and hearing impaired students in the same course, ‘I wasn’t the only one’”... ”Friendship with many people in all areas in the uni, either deaf or hearing, [was great]. Being able to broaden my network of deaf people after growing up in an entirely hearing world during my school years”... “I enjoyed my days as a fulltime student. Uni was the first place where all my educational needs were met. I was disappointed when my uni days came to an end. It really was an excellent place of learning. Uni life is something that every young person should have the opportunity to experience.”

Top - Summary


-  Foster, S., Long, G., & Snell, K. (1999). Inclusive instruction and learning for deaf students in postsecondary education. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4, 225-235.

-  Hyde, M., Punch, R., Power, D., Hartley, J., Brennan, L., & Neale, J. (submitted). The experiences of deaf and hard of hearing students at a Queensland university: 1985-2005. HERDSA Journal.

-  Krause, K., Hartley, R., James, R., & McInnis, C. (2005). The First Year Experience in Australian Universities: Findings from a decade of national studies. Canberra: DEST.

-  Marschark, M., Sapere, P., Convertino, C., & Seewagen,R. (2005). Access to postsecondary education through sign language interpreting. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 10, 38-50.

-  Napier, J., & Barker, R. (2004). Accessing university education: Perceptions, preferences, and expectations for interpreting by deaf students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 9, 228-238.

-  Punch, R., Hyde, M., & Power, D. (in press). Career and workplace experiences of Australian university students and graduates who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education.

-  Stinson, M., & Walter, G. (1997). Improving retention for deaf and hard of hearing students: What the research tells us. Journal of the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association, 30, 14-23.

-  Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Top - Summary

Professor John Dewar, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic) Griffith University

Since its inception, Griffith University has had, as one of its distinctive educational and social priorities, a particular commitment to supporting diversity, justice and equity among all its members. Policies and practices for staff recruitment and student access ensure a University-wide determination that no discrimination on the basis of gender, race, nationality, sexual preference or other indicators of diversity should prevent any individual from fully participating in and contributing to Griffith’s dynamic and creative learning community.

In this respect, we are particularly proud of several of the University’s equity endeavours. Last year, an Australian Indigenous staff member received awards from the Carrick Institute [1].

This year I am delighted to provide a reference for Griffith’s Deaf Student Support Program, DSSP, our unit that provides a broad range of access services for deaf and hard of hearing students in the form of interpreting, note-taking, tutorial support and access to campus networks. Griffith is very pleased indeed to nominate for an award, a program that has contributed to remarkable achievements in both retention and graduate success for a group of students for most of whom, a mere 20 years ago, University education was a pipe dream.

Last year, I had the enormous pleasure of attending the ‘coming of age’ celebration for DSSP - 21 years of service to deaf students. It was a joyous occasion attended by a large and remarkably close-knit group of staff, ex-students, and members of the deaf community. The talent, energy, and creativity of those associated with DSSP was captured in a wonderful DVD, ‘Signs of Success’, which featured a history of the program, testimonies from students and graduates, and demonstrations of access systems and tools. What was perhaps most uplifting was the range of professions and activities in which these deaf students have become engaged upon their successful graduation. The group included teachers, a Deputy Principal, scientists, several professional actors, practising lawyers, a university lecturer and historian, business graduates, leisure industry professionals and more.

The status of this program as the best of its type in Australian universities and the fact that it has been sustained successfully for over 21 years is clearly attributable to the fact that DSSP understood very early one of the key concerns for universities today - the seminal importance of student-centredness and the development of strategies for supporting the individual learning needs of a particularly diverse student group. Furthermore, the program has grounded its support services in sound research. This aspect of the Program’s work has benefited from ongoing collaboration with Griffith’s Centre for Applied Studies in Deafness.

The success of the DSSP and its sustained contribution to providing access and supports for deaf students in higher education was recognised in its achievement of an Innovation Across the University Award in the 2006 Griffith Awards for Excellence in Teaching. I commend the work of the DSSP and wish the staff every success in their endeavour to achieve national recognition for this important work.

Top - Summary

Karen Lloyd, Manager, Australian Association of the Deaf

On behalf of the Australian Association of the Deaf I am delighted to have the opportunity to recommend to you the work of Griffith University’s Deaf Student Support Program (DSSP).

Griffith has been a torch bearer in the provision of pathways for deaf people to fulfill their aspirations for university study and professional careers. Deaf people have traditionally had difficulty both in gaining entry to university and achieving academic success because of a lack of support services such as interpreting, note-taking, technology and aids and because there was no recognition of the isolation they faced as students.

The work of DSSP has been seminal in providing deaf people with the access and support they need to succeed at university. It was the first such program to be established and has maintained its extensive support now for over 21 years. It is widely recognised as being the leading such program in Australia-a fact attested by the large number of deaf graduates of Griffith University working in a wide variety of professional fields.

The DSSP is held in very high regard by the deaf people of Australia. We strongly commend it for its outstanding contribution to providing quality educational services for deaf students.

Australian websites :

-  Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Promoting and advancing learning and teaching in Australian higher education.
-  An Australian National Government Centre for the enhancement of university teaching and learning.

[1] Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Promoting and advancing learning and teaching in Australian higher education.

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