Students with hearing impairment at a South African university: Self-identity and disclosure

BELL, Diane
CARL, Arend
SWART, Estelle

Publication Date 

2016
9 pp

Background: A growing number of students with hearing loss are being granted access to higher education in South Africa due to the adoption of inclusive educational policies. However, available statistics indicate that participation by students with hearing impairments in higher education remains low and research suggests that support provisioning for those who do gain access is inadequate.


Objectives:  This article aims to illustrate that the assumed self-identity of students with hearing impairment influences their choice to disclose their disability. The choice not to disclose their hearing loss prevents them from accessing the necessary reasonable accommodations and this in turn may affect their eventual educational success.


Method: Reported here is a qualitative descriptive case study at a South African university. Purposive sampling methods were employed. Data were gathered from in-depth interviews with seven students with hearing impairment ranging from moderate to profound, using spoken language. Constructivist grounded theory was used as an approach to the process of generating and transforming the data, as well as the construction of theory.


Findings: All the student participants identified as having a hearing rather than a D/deaf identity cultural paradigm and viewed themselves as ‘normal’. Linked to this was their unwillingness to disclose their hearing impairment and thus access support.


Conclusion: It is crucially important for academic, support and administrative staff to be aware of both the assumed ‘hearing’ identity and therefore subsequent non-disclosure practices of students with a hearing impairment using the oral method of communication. Universities need to put measures in place to encourage students to voluntarily disclose their hearing impairment in order to provide more targeted teaching and learning support. This could lead to improved educational outcomes for students.

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