By Zoe Dunn

I began Year 7 with trepidation and excitement, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more. However, I did experience obstacles due to my disabilities. I am profoundly deaf, with bilateral cochlear implants and have cerebral palsy. I used an electric wheelchair to navigate school and utilised my FM in the classroom.

Throughout my high school years my teachers of the deaf supported my learning. I had three itinerant teachers in the private system, from years 7-10 and then one teacher in years 11 and 12, in the public system. Beginning high school, I was glad to have the support of my teacher of the deaf who I had in primary school. He supported me in my transition to high school and helped me feel prepared. He also met with all my teachers and ensured they knew how best to support me.

Despite this, there were instances where I did not receive support, an example of this was my year 7 music exam. Even though my itinerant teacher had informed the school of my needs, I was told to sit this exam with no provisions. I do not hear music well and find it difficult to access. Nevertheless I had to sit the exam, I was not given the required second listening, I was forced to sit the exam without a scribe. My cerebral palsy prevents me from being able to write, so this was near impossible. Needless to say, I failed.

In year 7-10, my itinerant teachers primarily helped me one on one with classwork. I was keen to do well and found the workload challenging, so I greatly appreciated the time I had with them to clarify concepts that I may have missed in class. They were creative in their approach, allowing me to do the work I wanted to do, while also including vital language and comprehension into our discussions. Unfortunately, my itinerant teachers were limited by the length of time they had with me, one hour per week, as well as a school who did not understand my educational needs.

In Year 10, it became painfully obvious that this was not the right school for me, especially for years 11 and 12. They provided the bare minimum in terms of exam provisions, which were not appropriate for me and would have ensured my failure in the HSC. In addition to this I felt like I was a burden on the school and no longer a valued student but only an expense. This attitude was not from my classroom teachers but from an unyielding administration.

I moved to a local public school for years 11 and 12 and it was the best decision I ever made. The new school welcomed me with enthusiasm and warmth, such a contrast to my old school. They genuinely wanted to ensure my success, I no longer had to fight to be heard. In consultation with my new itinerant teacher, the school provided me with appropriate provisions to ensure I was able to showcase my academic ability.

My new teacher of the deaf could provide me with six hours of support per week, in contrast to the one hour I received before. With all this time, she could provide more support which was especially important for the last years of high school, through to the HSC. Not only did I receive help one on one, I also had in class support, which I had not received since early primary school. The HSC is a stressful time and she also helped me manage my anxiety about exams and assignments. My itinerant teacher also encouraged me to learn how to advocate for myself, a skill that has been really important in school and beyond.

University was the next step and my itinerant teacher’s support in my transition to tertiary education was invaluable. From helping me choose courses, to attending meetings with disability services at various universities, she really assisted me to make an informed decision about which institution would  be best for me. 

I am forever grateful to the teachers I worked with, who inspired me and encouraged me to see my deafness not as a barrier but to celebrate who I am with it. I valued the relationships we developed and the support they gave me, for without it, I would not be who I am today.