Beneath the surface: listening for an MBA between the lines

4 minute read

There is a lot that can be easily articulated about what motivates one to pursue an MBA at an international institution. One of the salient features of the Oxford Saïd MBA for me was its internationally diverse cohort of more than 300 students from 63 nationalities. While spending a year of grad school with 312 peers, each inspired by their own journey, is an exciting and beautiful prospect, it also means personally showing up as your complete self in a new environment. While preparing for the MBA, one aspect of myself, I was concerned about, was my hearing impairment. Early in my professional career, I was officially diagnosed with bilateral mild sloping to profound sensorineural hearing loss. The best remedy for this is a cochlear implant, but powerful hearing aids also help to a certain extent. Simply put, the nature of my hearing loss means I cannot hear 80% of high-pitched sounds occurring in natural speech. Practically, I couldn't hear the whistle tune at all (sorry gents), and I've dropped and lost more than a fair share of keys and coins due to my hearing loss.

The wonder in all this, is that I managed to get through the first 20 or so years of my life with no hearing aid, relying on lip-reading, contextual awareness and graceful friends and family to compensate for this impairment. With the diagnosis, I had to go through the stages of change to get to terms with it and like everything else during the pandemic, I fell back on the bandwagon and misplaced my hearing devices altogether. As I was preparing for Oxford, addressing this area of ‘weakness’, especially given that I would be exposed to a multitude of accents, became a priority and I reengaged my audiologist to kit me up with a new pair of hearing aids. Around the same time, I found out about the Oxford University's Disability Advisory Service (DAS) which provides information and advice on disability issues and facilitates support for those with specific needs.

The support provided by DAS is what compelled me to write this blog. The team takes a personalised approach to each case and provides tailored support tools and solutions for each student. Although invisible to others, the one-to-one needs assessment and commensurate support really transformed my MBA experience. In-class discussions, group work and group meetings are the core of an MBA course and it is in these multi-speaker environments where I struggle the most.

My Disability Advisor’s understanding of the mental effort I require to actively listen and communicate throughout the day given my disability was heart-warming, for once I felt understood. I was offered tools and devices to simplify my life. The most transformative was the Roger-On Microphone system - microphone devices that feed directly into my hearing aid which I could hand to lecturers, and another which I could use in a multi speaker environment. This and other practical solutions, like access to Scholarchy and a transcriber of live conversations, enabled me to keep up to date with live conversations and contribute meaningfully to classroom discussions. I probably would have survived the academic and social demands of the MBA, but I’m not sure how enriching it would have been without the support from DAS, my academic officers at Linacre College, lecturers and especially peers in my study groups and sections who were supportive and understanding of my condition.

I am still sometimes uncomfortable with discussing my hearing impairment or stating that I have a disability in my applications at the risk of it overshadowing who I am as an individual. However, over the past year, I have grown and leaned into it. Our flaws at times can feel overwhelmingly disempowering, but the reality is that once we embrace them, they are a unique piece of the puzzle that completes who we are. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is not just about what meets the eye or meeting quotas, but it is creating opportunities and systems that empower all human beings to bring the best of themselves. My experience with the DAS team and the Oxford community was excellent and made me cherish this august institution evermore.

Oxford MBA