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May 2024

UCL’s Summer School for deaf & hard of hearing (year 11 & 12) students

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Deaf students are hugely under-presented in Higher Education (HE), ‘Discover UCL Summer School for D/deaf and hard of hearing (year 11 and 12) students’, a residential event, unique to UCL, aims to redress balance by equipping deaf students for university life. Approximately 15 students have attended each year, 62 in total since 2014.

The ‘Discover UCL…’ team deliver a programme to support deaf students’ preparation for university, developing confidence and skills to flourish in HE. This unique event has deafness at its core, every aspect is designed to benefit deaf students. It is also a commitment in UCL’s Access and Participation Plan (APP).

Note: APPs are contracts with the Office for Students, that outline how an institution will increase admission and retention of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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The summer school  is innovative and creative, drawing together groups of (internal/external) people who would never ordinarily work together, or previously encountered deaf people.

The programme ( includes practical information (e.g. UCAS statements), object-based learning sessions using UCL’s museum collections and PhD student talks on varied subjects. Deaf role model and current/former UCL deaf student talks convey career choices and barriers through personal stories to help students plan for university and careers. Disability services support sessions to provide practical guidance, explain access rights under the Equality Act 2010, and reassure students that UCL (and other universities) can support their access needs, and are legally obliged to do so. Academic ‘taster’ sessions are tailored to the interests of the cohort. To instil confidence and self-advocacy skills, students win prizes for requesting adjustments like asking interpreters to rephrase, reminding a speaker to use a radio aid transmitter.

Sharing experiences of deafness

For many students ‘Discover UCL…’ is the first time they would have met another deaf people. The team ensure they provide a supportive environment for deaf students, to enable peer bonding through shared experiences. Engaging 16-17 olds with different interests, perspectives and communication preferences is challenging but running sessions that are engaging and stretching are key to the event’s success.

The central role deaf people take in delivering ‘Discover UCL…’ team is a key to its success. Deaf professionals from the private, public and third sectors, (areas like academe (outside UCL), financial and arts sectors, healthcare and charities) deliver sessions, which make up approximately 50% of the programme. Student quote –“I had a wonderful time, in particular, having the opportunity to meet other deaf people my age, and being able to discuss issues we face as deaf teenagers/students. The advice given on disability support at university was particularly helpful. Overall, the whole experience was great. I’m so glad that I applied.”


The entire event is accessible, from physical space to communication support. All staff and presenters complete deaf awareness training, over 50% (deaf and hearing) are fluent in British Sign Language (BSL). The varied skills and diversity reflected within the ‘Discover UCL…’ team also aids engagement and developing trust with the students.

The communication support team also give during and after the event. Communication adjustments are flexible through the event – for example, a student appears more comfortable with Sign Supported English (SSE), interpreters will use SSE when interacting with that student.


  • 27% of students (2014-2018) went on to university, three to UCL. Note: Students are year 11/12 when they attend so there is a 1-2 year lag with data.
  • Two of the team’s student helpers came to UCL via ‘Discover UCL…’, and now support with delivery of the programme, engaging other students annually by sharing their lived experiences of deafness, as former attendees and current UCL students. The team have a strong and mutually supportive relationship with their deaf student helpers, developing them by involving them in external presentations, supporting them deliver training events in their departments, and actively enabling them to raise their profiles by developing networks within UCL.
  • An unintended impact has been on the service providers during the event, photographers and videographers, staff from UCL museums, security and student residences have acquired deaf awareness through their contact with the team and event.
  • The team share their expertise of widening participation, provision of access and inclusive education through conference presentations and discussion panels. Discover UCL…’ features in internal publications as an example of good practice for improved disability inclusion.
  • Enhances UCL’s reputation in the deaf sector for both academic excellence, and inclusion by actively welcoming deaf students.

The ‘Discover UCL…’ team believe that to be inclusive, we need to embrace diversity and share ownership for cultural change. They are beacons for inclusive education, supporting deaf students at UCL by advising departments and internal services on good practice and advocating for deaf students. The team take active and progressive approaches towards equality, diversity and inclusion by championing deaf people’s inclusion in HE. Through ‘Discover UCL…’ they create unique opportunities for the students attending and develop the UCL community.

Student quote: ‘The Discover UCL summer school was one of the most influential and beneficial times of my life. I developed myself academically, met friends for life and most importantly learnt that even though I am deaf, university is a very real goal’


– A pilot event for parents of deaf children will be run around Easter 2020 to equip them with skills to support their child’s entry and achievements in HE. To register interest in attending, email Beth Craigie (

– To find out more about ‘Discover UCL summer school for deaf and hard of hearing students’ 2020 and to register interest see

For further information about either of the above events, email Dr Manjula Patrick (