Shirvaun Abbott is a determined and patient woman. She learned at a very young age to not give up, and to find solutions to her hearing loss.
One of those solutions was to apply for a Deaf Education Scholarship from the National Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing. It meant she could afford her childhood education course, and allow her to focus on starting her studies sooner.
“It has meant I can get into the course and study better, not worry about also trying to save up for it,” the 21-year-old says.
Shirvaun is in her second year at university, having applied for an extension due to the Covid lockdowns last year. Her hearing loss has made it a challenge, but she is not giving up.
“I really like NZ Sign because it's more based on your body language. For English, it takes time to understand academic words that I don't really know.”
“During lockdown, I couldn’t go to campus. But I really want to meet the teachers to do face to face because it's easier for me to lip read instead of Zoom sessions. If I have a Zoom meeting, I ask for an interpreter, normally I have two interpreters for my classes.
On Zoom calls I have three sides – the interpreter is one the left, the screenshot [teacher presentations] is in the middle and the teacher is on the other side. Sometimes I can't watch them at the same time, so I watch the interpreter.”
“Sometimes either I or the interpreter will ask the teacher to slow down, and if I miss something, I have to email and wait. Sometimes the teacher replies the next day or it can be a few days.”
Shirvaun was born deaf, but her hearing parents did not realise she was deaf until she was two years old as there was no history of hearing loss in the family. They moved from South Africa to New Zealand and needed to seek help. Shirvaun had a Cochlear Implant fitted soon after.
“I used to hate it [the cochlear implant] because of the noise. I kept taking it off, and my parents were trying to push me to wear it so I could get used to it. But I used to keep hiding behind the couch and taking them off,” she recalls.
“They had all the wires and the batteries in the back, so it was quite heavy. As the technology changed, it became smaller and it now it goes to my ears. So I don't feel anything.”
Growing up in Auckland, Shirvaun attended a mainstream school with a Deaf Unit, learning English and NZ Sign Language alongside her other subjects. Her parents do not know NZSL, but have supported her through Deaf camps and events for people with hearing loss, including golf tournaments, cooking classes and movie nights.
Before lockdown, Shirvaun spent one day a week at a pre-school, gaining teacher aide experience. But now needs to focus on her studies full-time.
“It was good for me, because I could talk to every student – the deaf child doing in Sign, and hearing child I would speak.
“It made me want to be a deaf teacher, to be able to teach both worlds. I can do anything. I have got a lot of certificates and trophies, I pass on my grades.”
As part of her course she attended an observation week, cementing her desire to teach early childhood.
“I went to an observation week, and loved it. I love working with children. I got involved and played with them. They asked me to teach sign language and I just loved it. Some of the children have deaf parents so helping teach the children was just amazing.”
She is candid about how hard it can be. She has been bullied. But when she is low, friends lift her up again, and she wants to teach pupils with hearing loss that they can achieve their dreams.
“Deaf is not dumb. Deaf can do anything,” she says. “Just follow your dream.”
In our Share Your Story series, Deaf and hard of hearing New Zealanders open up about their experiences.
If you want to apply for the Deaf Education Scholarship, please click here: https://www.nfd.org.nz/nfd-trust-grants-ands-scholarships
Stay tuned for more interviews, which will soon be released to our blog: