How to Study with a Disability: Shawn's Perspective - Maple Services
How to Study with a Disability: Shawn’s Perspective

How to Study with a Disability: Shawn’s Perspective

Studying with a disability can be challenging, but also rewarding. In this article, we will hear from our Maple Scholarship recipient, Shawn Phau who is currently studying Auslan (Australian Sign Language) at TAFE Queensland. He will share his experience of working part-time, balancing his study and personal life, overcoming barriers, and learning from his disability.

Working while studying

Shawn works part-time as an Auslan tutor and a NDIS specialist support coordinator for NDIS participants. He has a hectic schedule with a heavy study load of 40 hours a week and a variable workload of 10-20 hours a week depending on the week. He is classified as a full-time TAFE Queensland student despite having only two days of classes.

The greatest challenge of working while studying is time management for Shawn. He juggles the demands from TAFE authorities, peers, and work alongside dealing  with the pressure from NDIS clients or employers who may not understand his limited availability.

He advises those who are considering working while studying to negotiate with their employers, managers, supervisors, NDIS clients, or business customers that they can’t attend to their needs or customer service requests quickly due to their time constraints. He also suggests getting a Pensioner Education Supplement from Centrelink in addition to the Disability Support Pension so that they can concentrate on their full-time study without needing to work extra shifts to cover their bills and living expenses.

Photos: Shawn showcasing his study setup and weekly timetable. He also got his college, Tafe's Student ID card.

Studying with a disability

Shawn’s disability impacts his ability to study in several ways. One of them is incidental learning. He explains that he misses out a lot on hearing people’s incidental learning, such as conversations, announcements, or feedback that happen in the hearing cohort of TAFE learners in the mainstream class. He says that he has to be a proactive learner by asking his Auslan interpreters and teacher to inform him what is happening in the class.

Another challenge is that not everyone in the mainstream class would understand people with disabilities’ struggles and barriers. He has to self-advocate for his rights and needs, such as access to interpreters, captions, or assistive technology. Short Disability/Deafness awareness training briefing is important for the class because not everybody has free time to learn everything about his disability challenges and accessibility issues. Shawn faces issues such as Ableism, Audism, and Disability Discrimination in his study environment.

He states that a key learning from studying with a disability is to be fully committed and focused on his study. He has to work harder than hearing students to achieve his goals and also learns from his disability by appreciating his Deaf identity and culture, developing his resilience and problem-solving skills, and connecting with other Deaf people and people with disabilities.

Tips for studying with a disability:

Shawn provides three tips for those who are considering studying with a disability:

  • Plan your study routine and stick to it. He says that he studies from Monday to Friday and follows a typical TAFE student schedule (see attachment).
  • Seek support from various sources. He says that he gets support from his family, friends, mentors, teachers, interpreters, counsellors, and disability services. He says that support is crucial for his wellbeing and success.
  • Enjoy your study journey and celebrate your achievements. He says that he enjoys learning new things, meeting new people, and discovering new opportunities. He says that he celebrates his milestones and rewards himself for his hard work.