Specialized in aerodynamics, Mehmet Demirci first studied mechanical engineering at Polytech Sorbonne before joining the Masters in Engineering at Sorbonne University. Suffering from hearing loss since birth, he takes stock of being a student with disabilities at the university.
How do you find daily living with a disability at the university?
Mehmet Demirci: Few people with hearing loss go on to higher education. I am the only one of my specialized primary school to have obtained a master’s level of studies. Access to general education and then to higher education is still far from easy for students with disabilities. But fortunately, there are support systems at the University.
If my first two years of preparatory classes were not easy in terms of adaptation, I was supported by the University and in particular by the Handicap Health Student Services (SHSE) assistance. The SHSE interfaces with the other departments of the University to ensure that I could benefit from arrangements without which it would have been difficult to succeed: a third more time during exams, a soundproof room in which to take the tests, and note taking during class by other students. The SHSE is also present to mediate with teachers and inform them of my situation.
Many professors are also very supportive. The vast majority of them agree to wear a microphone during class to amplify the sounds directly transmitted to my hearing aids. They gladly answer my questions when I misunderstand an element and some of them even help me choose my orientation. And when they run out of time, I can turn to other students to explain some points. I feel real solidarity from the student community.
In your opinion, how can we improve accommodations for students with disabilities?
M. D.: Since I can hear the classes thanks to my hearing aids, I have not faced any major difficulties at the University. On the other hand, other profoundly deaf students have encountered more obstacles. The note-taking service put in place by the SHSE is an excellent thing. But the ideal would be to go even further by distributing the teachers' notes to those with profound hearing loss for a better understanding of the concepts discussed. It would be interesting to develop personalized tutoring with sign language interpreters to help these students.
You have chosen to have an apprenticeship as part of your program. How were you accompanied to the professional world?
M. D.: I chose to have an apprenticeship during my engineering degree because I saw a real opportunity to have my first professional experience.
The meetings with companies for students with disabilities organized each year by the SHSE helped me to find an apprenticeship contract. More than just workshops, these meetings are a real opportunity to interact with potential recruiters and show them our motivation.
During one of these meetings, I spoke with a Safran group's Diversity Mission manager and spoke to her about my desire to join the aeronautics field. She helped me, during the workshops, to rework my cover letter by addressing the issue of hearing loss while reassuring the company that my disability was in no way a hindrance to my professional success. In addition, I was able to benefit, like any other Sorbonne University student, from the advice of a professional integration officer to prepare me for job interviews.
Following this, I joined the Safran group where I spent 3 years as an Apprentice Design and Methods Engineer. I then did my first-year master’s internship in a laboratory at ONERA (a French center for aeronautics research) to have a clearer vision of the world of research. Then, in the second year of my master’s, I joined Safran again during an internship to study the numerical methods used during aerodynamic simulation.
Aside from communicating by phone, I did not encounter any particular difficulty during my various professional experiences. My colleagues have always been kind and the disability mission of the company has enabled me to integrate even more easily.
Since the law pass in February 2005, companies have been obliged to have at least six percent of employees with disabilities in their total workforce of the company. What do you think of this law?
M. D.: I think that's a good thing because it forces companies to interact with people that have disabilities and to better understand what a disability is. Being in contact with these people helps to remove taboos, avoid misconceptions and any confusion between disability and incompetence.
What misconceptions would you like to correct about your disability?
M. D.: French Sign Language (LSF), which I learned during my childhood and that I practiced actively until the age of 13, is not a simple language. It is a full language within itself and it is very rich. It is not because one goes to the essential by transmitting only the "key signs" (subject/verb/complement) that it is a poor language. To express an idea or describe an object, the LSF uses the hands but also the body and face to reinforce or modify the expression of the signs. The number of sentences we can produce is unlimited. The LSF is alive and evolves with time as new signs are created every day, while others become obsolete. Finally, as in any language, we can make puns, which proves its subtlety.
The second misconception that I would like to correct is the confusion between being hearing impaired and being mute. Several of my deeply deaf friends vocalize or exchange in the LSF, via the visual-gestural channel, but they are not silent either. Moreover, a person with a hearing impairment can speak a foreign language. During my apprenticeship, I went to Ireland for a month where I learned a lot. I thought I had significant gaps in English and yet I managed, once there, to make myself understood very well and to understand others. I gained self-confidence, I got the TOEIC * and today I'm less afraid to speak another language. I realize that I am sometimes even more at ease when speaking than a hearing student is.
In addition to French, English and sign language, I also speak Turkish, which is the native language of my parents. Today, I would like to learn German, which is a strategic language in the industrial world.
What advice would you give to a student with a disability?
M. D.: You must never abandon your goals or give up. When faced with a difficult situation, it is important to focus on the positive and find strategies to help you hang on. The other element that seems essential to me is to go towards others and develop a network (students, teachers and professionals) so you are not isolated. Finally, you should not hesitate, in the case of discrimination, to assert your rights and to turn towards the competent people for help.
* Test of English for International Communication