Being a deafblind university student

A smiling woman stands outside by trees
Ellen Watson

As my first year at university draws to a close it’s time to reflect on my year.

As with everything there have been highs and lows, as I have grappled with the extra barriers that come with being a deafblind student.

I am studying History and Politics at the University of Sheffield. Situated 145 miles from home in the rural countryside, Sheffield seemed daunting at first. But with time, great support and the help of my gorgeous guide dog the past year came to be one of the best of my life. I have made lifelong friends, perfected the art of downing a tequila shot and achieved more than I ever thought I could academically. On the whole it’s been a brilliant experience and I cannot wait to go back in September.

However there have been times when it’s not all been plain sailing. The university system is very different to that of schools and colleges. All funding is allocated through the Disabled Student Allowance and the support provided is very segmented – i.e. one portion of the money may be used for a note taker, another for a library support worker.

Neither individual is allowed to cross over to the other’s role and so the support, as a whole is not particularly joined-up. After having full time support from two brilliant teaching assistants at school, I found this pretty hard to get my head round. Also, due to the nature of my course I am only actually in university for six hours a week; the rest of the work is to be completed independently. This means that aside from a couple of hours a week of library support I have had to be self-sufficient for all my other work.

I had been given lots of assistive technology to achieve this, but found it very difficult at first and missed the constant human contact I had got used.  But with time I got to grips with this new way of working. The peer support of my lovely housemates made it a lot easier and with hard work I came out of the year with grades I am proud of, in spite of the challenges.

With the help of great tutors, and the Usher Service from Sense, I am finally beginning to get the standard of support I deserve. After pushing Disability Services I now have one support worker who will fulfill all of the roles I need. With this in place I am now feeling much more positive about my support in the years to come.

I’m sure many of you can relate to whirlwind of emotions you experience when you move away from home for the first time. There is a mixture of excitement and apprehension for anyone, and the added complication of deafblindness can make it even more nerve racking. But anyone reading this who is thinking about taking that big step I say ‘go for it!’ It’s not always easy and at times we have to fight for what we deserve. But the end result usually makes it all worth it!


Inspirational campaigner, and Sense’s ‘young person of the year’, Ellen Watson, spoke at our recent event on ‘Policy and Disability’ at the Conservative Party Conference. The talk coincided with the launch of our employment report: ‘Realising aspirations for all’.

Ellen Watson

Author: Ellen Watson

Ellen is supported by Sense, and has Usher syndrome.

6 thoughts on “Being a deafblind university student”

  1. You didn’t tell Granny you were Sense ‘Young Person of the Year’ but then I knew that anyway. You are my young person of the century

  2. Beautifully written and Ellen is only just 21. I feel really proud that I am good friend to her Mum Amanda, who is an equally amazing individual. Its always a pleasure to walk Skip (Ellen’s guidedog) and the support he provides is invaluable to Ellen. Thank you Sense.

  3. What a fantastic, determined inspirational person you are, Ellen. You have hopefully completed your most difficult year and now everything is in place for you to continue your university career, I wish you the very best of luck with your studies. I look forward to seeing the photos of your graduation xx

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