Immediately after arriving at Donner’s, 25-year-old Letthe Riemen turns left, into the English-language book section. She walks past the piles of ‘popular books’, where Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library and many other titles are featured prominently. “This is how I learned English,” says Letthe. “All the other kids were watching a lot of English-language films and TV shows. I would read. So I was reading English-language books from a young age, but my pronunciation left a lot to be desired.” Audiobooks aren’t always the solution to this problem, because sometimes the audio quality of the recording isn’t high enough for Letthe, who is hard of hearing.
Letthe briefly stops in front of the shelves holding the English-language fantasy books, because she loves fantasy literature. These were the first English-language books she ever read. She immediately points out which books she liked (for instance, the ones written by Deborah Harkness), which ones are on her to-read list (The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin) and which ones she didn’t really care for (Robin Hobb’s oeuvre).
Letthe reads fantasy fiction to relax, and Lord knows the Master’s student needs some relaxation. The audio quality of online videos and streamed lectures often leaves a lot to be desired and some videos do not have subtitles. Therefore, she got in touch with her student counsellors and academic advisers last spring, to discuss the courses to be taught in the fall. She asked them to tell the lecturers to make some changes. They did not spring into action in time, which is causing her a great deal of stress and despair.
Not disabled enough for help: ‘My life has needlessly been at a standstill for a year now’
Not being able to hear well enough to be able to follow online lectures, but not deaf…
“They are using videos recorded last year, so all the subject matter covered by my exams is in those videos. The audio quality is poor. With some courses you don’t get to see the lecturer’s face, and the videos don’t come with subtitles.” This is negatively affecting Letthe’s marks. Whenever she submits an assignment, she will score an 8 out of 10, but she is failing her exams. “It’s so energy-consuming for me to decipher the videos. Also, I’m still recovering from a burn-out caused by online classes I wasn’t able to follow.”
“Come on, let’s go upstairs.” Letthe is looking for a birthday present for her father. Her entire family are keen readers, but none more so than her father, who (like Letthe) is hard of hearing. “I have a few hundred books. He has at least a thousand.”
Letthe and her father both favour books on history and politics, but first she wants to check out the economics shelves. “I was already reading Richard Taylor’s works before I started on my degree. He is a Nobel laureate and behavioural economist. Here’s a book I would recommend to just about anyone: Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth. It provides a lot of information and is interesting and accessible. The latter is important to me.” Letthe points at Thomas Piketty’s heavy tome Capital and Ideology. “I mean, who wants to read something like that?”
Waarom vrouwen minder verdienen en wat we eraan kunnen doen [Why women earn less and what we can do about it] by Sophie van Gool is the first book to catch Letthe’s fancy today. “I really want to read this. This is what my Bachelor’s thesis was about.” She also grabs Zo hadden we het niet bedoeld [This is not what we had in mind] by Jesse Frederik, without thinking twice about it. “I’ve already read it, but I want to have it for future reference.” She buys Roofstaat [Robber state] by Ewald Vanvugt as a present for her father. “I hope he hasn’t read it yet.”
Hard of hearing Letthe: ‘People sometimes think I’m arrogant, but I just don’t hear them’
It’s not always easy for Letthe to sit by herself at the front during a lecture. But as…
Letthe has tears in her eyes when she discusses her studies. When she decided to attend university, she knew she would ‘sometimes have to work a little harder’ to keep up with her fellow students. She also knew she was a good student. “I enjoy learning so much. I’m really passionate about it. But they’re making it very hard for me by using inaccessible videos and streamed lectures.”
She knows her standards are high. “I’m angry with myself because I can’t handle it psychologically. I’m angry because I embarked on a double degree and may not complete it. Because I may still be here next year because I’ll have to do resits.”
At the same time she is critical of the university. “I’m mad at the university, as well, because getting everything arranged is such a hassle. I wish universities would learn how to deal with people who are outside the norm.”
Letthe has a message for Erasmus University: “Assess your students on how intelligent they are and how they seek to benefit society. I’d rather not be assessed on how many bureaucratic hoops I can jump through. I don’t want to feel like I’m less entitled to an education because I’m functionally impaired. Or like I’m worth less than a student without functional impairment.”
After she has paid for her purchases, she says she’ll start reading Waarom vrouwen minder verdienen en wat we eraan kunnen doen when she gets home, because that’s what she’s in the mood for. But just before she leaves the shop, she sees The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. She wants that, too, so she has to return to the checkout. “Can you tell why I don’t allow myself to come here often? This place is dangerous.”