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Brighton & Sussex Medical School

My experience with a hearing disability

BSMS > About BSMS > News > My experience with a hearing disability

My experience with a hearing disability

BSMS student Harriet Sharp discusses her experiences as a hard of hearing student and shares her latest assignment which looks at the impact of Covid-19 on the deaf community. 

Harriet has had high frequency hearing loss her entire life. Her hearing disability had rarely impacted her day-to-day life before 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic saw a sudden surge in facemasks being worn. 

Harriet says: “The use of non-transparent facemasks severely impacted my ability to interact with other people and has also hindered my mental wellbeing now that I feel more dependent on other people and technology to aid my understanding of others. With everyone in the hospital suddenly needing facemasks to protect themselves, I was aware very early on that being a student in the hospital setting would be challenging given I would be unable to understand what doctors and other healthcare staff were teaching me.” 

Harriet had just completed Year 3 at BSMS, which enabled her to take a year out to study a Masters’ degree, known as intercalating. Harriet chose to intercalate on the Public Health MSc at BSMS, with all teaching being delivered online during the one-year course. “One hundred per cent of my lectures were online on Microsoft Teams,” Harriet says. “Whilst technical difficulties could arise, having lectures online meant that I was able to still lipread as the lecturers did not have to wear masks when presenting.” Harriet quickly adapted to using subtitles and captions online, and although these were not always 100% accurate, she has been able to complete all the modules of the MSc remotely to date. 

One of these modules tasked her with creating a seven-minute Ted Talk-style video on a topic of recent public health importance. Harriet viewed this is an opportunity to highlight some of the challenges that she and others with a hearing disability had faced in order to spread awareness and find solutions. Harriet’s seven-minute video is available to watch in full below.


3-9 May 2021 marks Deaf Awareness Week, and Harriet’s main wish with that in mind is for more people to listen to and understand the challenges faced by those with a hearing disability. Harriet says: “Those of us in the deaf and hard of hearing community still have voices and opinions. Take the time to find out how we like you to communicate with us. This could be us asking you to talk a little slower, a little louder, or make sure that you are not covering your mouth when talking. If we mishear something you or someone else says, tell us again what it is that was said. Telling us that “it does not matter” or answering a question for us that we misheard only serves to isolate us further from society.” 

And for any prospective medical student with a hearing disability, Harriet’s advice is to seek additional help and support. “Student Support and the Disability and Dyslexia teams at universities are there to help you find solutions to any challenges that you may have,” she adds. “It is ok to feel uncertain about what to expect from university when you are applying, and you do not have to have a set plan from the start. Tutors and staff are there to support you through your entire medical school journey so every time a new challenge arises, you can learn to adapt and find new creative solutions to find a way that works for you.”

Deaf Awareness Week takes place from 3-9 May 2021. This year’s theme is ‘Coming Through it Together.’ Find out more on the Deaf Council website.

Find out more here >

If you are a current or prospective BSMS student with a hearing disability, please contact Dr Andrea Pepper, Reader in Cancer Biology at BSMS, who is part of the Student Support team. Dr Pepper is profoundly deaf herself and is happy to be contacted directly if you wish to talk about studying medicine with a hearing impairment. 

Contact Dr Andrea Pepper here >