Stephen is currently employed as a Part 2 Architectural Assistant, at Archer Architects LLP. He has previously worked at Penoyre and Prasad and Hawkins\Brown. At this stage, Stephen is concentrating on gaining more experience in the workplace and enjoying the stimulation and challenges that are a part of his job.
I have a creative mind and a passion for buildings. I started out studying engineering but it quickly became clear that architecture would be a far better fit. Some people said: ‘You’re joking. You want to do seven years of training?’ But I didn’t care, I just wanted to roll up my sleeves and get on with it.
My experiences as a student varied hugely. The first university I went to was familiar with deaf students, so it was very aware of my needs. I had the same interpreter for three years and some students learnt basic sign language, so I felt more included in what was going on.
I spent one of the worst periods of my life at my second university. They were ill-prepared to support such a profoundly deaf student. There were budget issues, resulting in a poor choice of interpreters. In one year I had 17 different interpreters, hence no continuity. I felt like giving up but decided to stick it out. Fortunately things improved after a meeting with all parties, but it was still very tough and I often felt like I was playing catch-up because of all the extra problems.
People can be reluctant to get to know me fearing that my deafness will create a barrier because they are used to communicating in a spontaneous way - but with a bit of patience… they realise I have a good sense of humour and that my intellect is equal to theirs.
It can take longer for a deaf person to access and absorb information than for a hearing person. Sign language is my first language and is an instant means of communication for me. It is not the same as spoken English (my second language). My level of literacy is invariably lower, although I try to improve it daily. By contrast, my visual perception is very advanced.
After gaining Part 2 I was all set up and raring to go, but a tough five years followed because I was unemployed. I was offered a few interviews but when prospective employers found out about my deafness, suddenly the vacant position was filled! I knew I was capable of working hard and had good design ideas and technical ability, but I needed a chance to be able to sell myself. Eventually I got an interview, gave it my all, and I got the job. But there is discrimination out there; I sent roughly 800 job applications before I landed this one. The only really important question a potential employer should be asking is: ‘Does this person have the necessary qualifications for the job?’
I continually have to prove that I am just as capable of good work as a hearing person. I try to educate those around me and win them over by showing that I have a friendly personality, that I am receptive to new challenges and keen to learn on the job. People can be reluctant to get to know me, fearing that my deafness will create a barrier because they are used to communicating in a spontaneous way - but with a little patience and use of the written word they realise I have a good sense of humour and that my intellect is equal to theirs.
Judge people by their ability, not their disability and be interested in what they could bring to the profession.
My enthusiasm, determination and love of a challenge enabled me to successfully complete a complicated freelance project during my ‘unemployment’. I created contemporary designs for a new dental clinic and lab, which are now in use and greatly appreciated by the clients. They gave me this golden opportunity because they trusted my ability and saw past my deafness. As a result I now have a great example of my work to include in my C.V. and portfolio.
Currently I know of only two deaf architects in the UK and that doesn’t reflect well on us as a profession. More action should be taken to make it a level playing field – for example practices could seek out information on funded deaf-awareness training, they could offer mentoring or work experience and perhaps the RIBA could provide a central helpline to provide both career advice and guidance for employers.
What advice would I like to give to people reading this? Judge people by their ability, not their disability and be interested in what they could bring to the profession. Have patience with a deaf person – remember, they are probably just as frustrated as you are. Give them the chance to show what they can do. Finally, try to step into their shoes and appreciate what it has taken for them to get to where they are.