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Video made about life of a deaf student at Oxford

A documentary about coping with life as a deaf student at Oxford, made by a group of Oxford undergraduates, has gone viral on YouTube.

The film, entitled “Hearing… but not as you know it” was made by SJCtv, the student TV channel of St John’s College, and received over 9,200 views after being listed on the site for just two days.

It follows the life of Helen Willis, a third year Physiology and Psychology undergraduate at the college, who was left totally deaf after contracting meningitis at the age of two.

Willis said, “My parents were told I would never be able to speak and I would need special support for the rest of my life.”

Willis was given a unilateral cochlear implant following her illness, which gives her limited hearing, and the film explores how she experiences life in “two worlds of silence and sound”.

In June, Willis was awarded the £6000 UK Graeme Clarke Scholarship to help her in her studies at Oxford. The scholarship was set up to honour the memory of Professor Graeme Clarke, the pioneer of the modern cochlear implant, and is presented to deaf students on both the basis of academic achievement and commitment to the foundation’s ideals of humanity and leadership.

Miss Willis described her time in Oxford as her “first experience of the hearing world”, and explained that she has been “stunned” by the unexpected success of the film.

She told Cherwell, “Previous television documentaries on deafness and cochlear implants have generally been third-person accounts, and I feel that the best way to understand how the cochlear implant works and the challenges the recipients face is to directly experience it for yourself.”

Pascoe Foxell, an undergraduate involved in editing the film, noted that “pretty much everything […] was produced by St John’s students with the equipment SJCtv has bought in the past.”

There had been concerns about how the film would be vx cb rtreceived by the Deaf community, as use of the Cochlear Implant is still a “sensitive issue”, being seen by some as an attempt to escape the Deaf identity.

However, feedback appears to have been wholly positive. The video was passed on to the Cochlear Implant Children’s Support which has distributed it to parents of children relying on Cochlear Implant Technology today, and the President of SJCtv, Sally Le Page, said that “it’s especially lovely to see how it has helped so many families.”

The film has been viewed in around 50 countries, and has proved most popular in the United States. Indeed, it was featured in the American web-show, “Right This Minute”, in which it was lauded as “compelling” and “an inspiration”.

It is hoped that the video will increase awareness of the challenges facing those with hearing problems, and also encourage others considering study at Oxford.

Helen Young, a University Disability Officer, noted that although there are several deaf students at Oxford, university applications from those with sensory impairment are low, “particularly amongst students who are profoundly deaf” but was keen to stress the “wide range of support” which the University provides. Miss Willis also noted how both St John’s and the University have been “wonderful” in arranging any necessary support.

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