I was told I wouldn’t be able to go to university, but I used that frustration to fuel my studies.
feel like I’ve got two identities: being deaf and being black. It’s a double struggle to fit in and I’ve had to work 10 times harder than my classmates. [A recent report from the National Deaf Children’s Society, which analysed government data, found deaf pupils in England are struggling “at every stage of their education”.]
I was born hearing but became ill with meningitis when I was a baby. After that I became deaf. I grew up in Barking and Dagenham, in East London, with my mum, who works as a caterer and a cleaner at two different colleges. I was bullied in primary school – people would say “ew, you’ve got hearing aids in” – and felt like I didn’t belong. By the time I got to secondary school I had accepted my identity, but that didn’t mean everyone accepted me. I communicate using sign language, so people would stare and I knew I stood out.
I worked hard in secondary school, but was still told I wouldn’t be able to go to college or university. I was told deaf people didn’t go on to higher education. “Which deaf people do you know who have gone to university?” someone asked. The truth was I didn’t know any, because I had no role models.
This made me frustrated, and my frustration came out as anger. The main way I dealt with my anger, though, was positive. I channelled it into a determination to show people I could achieve, despite my disability.
I got my GCSEs and applied to do BTec business level three at Barking and Dagenham College. I spent two years at the college and the vocational course was fantastic. I met so many different professional people, I had a mentor and people supported me. I’m now able to study a degree in politics and economics and have completed my first year at Lancaster University.
However, the discrimination hasn’t gone away. The first person I met when I got to university immediately made a racist joke. He said: “I’ve got loads of black friends, don’t worry.”
I also get combined prejudice for being both black and deaf. I chose a white hearing aid because I like it and I’m proud of who I am, so I don’t mind if people notice it. But recently a deaf woman pointed at me and said: “Look at him, his hearing aid doesn’t match his skin colour!”
It’s difficult to keep calm all the time. I try to stay positive, but quite often I feel like I want to give up. When that happens, I tell myself I’ve got to look to what I can achieve next. That keeps me going.
I made a few friends at uni last year, but so far I feel I’ve missed out on the full university experience. Next year, I’m transferring to Leeds; it’s a bigger city and I think there will be more deaf students, so I’m hoping I’ll feel less isolated.
I want to talk about my experiences and show young deaf students that it’s possible to go to college or university and achieve things. I got a 2:1 at the end of my first year of university, which I’m proud of, and last year I was named Leidos Career Ready UK Student of the Year.
I want to tell other deaf black students to keep working hard. Have the right attitude and arrive on time, because you can achieve anything if you stay strong. To young people with disabilities, I say keep your identity and be proud of it. Society will always try and push you aside; show them you’re not going to disappear.
Main image copyright: Jephta Asamoah
Jephta Asamoah as told to Abby Young-Powell