BBC documentary to star finalist

willisSt John’s finalist Helen Willis will be the star of a new BBC documentary as part of their See Hear programme.

Willis, who will complete her degree in Physiology and Psychology this year, is deaf following a meningitis infection when she was two years old. She was filmed for the programme during 5th week.

Willis was one of the first people in the UK to receive a cochlear implant, a technology that aims to restore hearing to those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. It has successfully given her some hearing ability.

Commenting on her involvement, Willis said: “It was an amazing experience and I felt very privileged to be part of it. I’m flattered that they deemed me a worthy subject to film.

“I now only hope that I have done the university and the college justice, because without my tutors and my friends, my university experience would be nowhere near as enjoyable or special.”

The BBC crew followed a day in Willis’ life. This took in a lecture, dance practice and St John’s dinner with her tutors.

See Hear is the BBC’s main disability programme for a deaf and hard of hearing audience, and the focus of this instalment will be a celebration of Willis’ achievements at Oxford.

Willis added: “I’m honoured to be featured on such an important disabilities programme and I hope that the filming will inspire others with disabilities to not be scared to follow their dreams – I’ve dreamt of going to Oxford since I was 8 years old, and now it is reality (and I still to this day cannot believe my luck).”

After completing her degree, Willis is planning on taking up a place to pursue at MSc in Neuroscience, remaining at Oxford for another year.

Willis wishes to specialise in technology for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. She said: “I would very much like to pursue a DPhil, possibly in auditory neuroscience, especially in the field of cochlear implants. I’ve personally benefitted so much from the cochlear implant technology that I would very much like to help others benefit too.

“I’m currently debating on whether I want to continue in research or go into science communication (eg become a science journalist) after my DPhil, or do both!”

Willis has previously featured in a documentary made by the St John’s student-run film-making club SJCtv, entitled ‘Hearing… but not as you know it’, and the video went viral on YouTube, racking up over 9000 views in under two days, and travelling across the Atlantic to be included in an American web-show, ‘Right This Minute’. Praised in the same show for being “compelling” and “an inspiration”, the video investigated life as a deaf student at Oxford.

Last year, Willis was in the news for winning the Graeme Clark Scholarship, which is a unique award established to help cochlear implantees further themselves by undertaking university studies. According to St John’s, “the scholarship is awarded on the basis of academic achievement and a demonstrated commitment to the Cochlear ideals of leadership and humanity.”

The exact broadcast date of the programme is as yet unknown, but there is already excitement surrounding its release. Peter Blenkharn, a second year Engineering student at St John’s, commented that “It’s great to see that Helen’s hard work has been recognised again!”