Hearing impairment is a broad term that refers to hearing losses of varying degrees from hard-of-hearing to total deafness. The major challenge facing students with hearing impairments is communication. Hearing-impaired students vary widely in their communication skills. Among the conditions that affect the development of communication skills of persons with hearing impairments are personality, intelligence, nature and degree of deafness, degree and type of residual hearing, degree of benefit derived from amplification by hearing aid, family environment, and age of onset. Age of onset plays a crucial role in the development of language. Persons with prelingual hearing loss (present at birth or occurring before the acquisition of language and the development of speech patterns) are more functionally disabled than those who lose some degree of hearing after the development of language and speech.
Since much learning is acquired aurally, many students with hearing problems have both experiential and language deficiencies. Because they do not hear environmental noises and day-to-day conversations, hearing-impaired children miss a great deal of crucial information usually learned incidentally by non-hearing-impaired children. Although students can overcome some of these problems to varying degrees through great investments of time, energy, and effort by parents and educators, such deficiencies continue to be fairly common within the hearing-impaired population.
Most students with hearing impairments use a variety of communication methods. The most frequently used method is a combination of speech reading (lipreading) and residual hearing, which is often amplified by hearing aids. It is important to note, however, that speech reading is only a partial solution, since experts estimate that only about 30 to 40 percent of spoken English is distinguishable on the lips even by the best speech readers under the most favorable conditions.
Many students with hearing impairments can and do speak. Most deaf students have normal speech organs and have learned to use them through speech therapy. Some deaf students cannot monitor or automatically control the tone and volume of their speech, so their speech may be initially difficult to understand. Understanding improves as one becomes more familiar with the deaf student’s speech pattern.
Hearing-impaired students who communicate with speech and speech reading, as opposed to communicating manually with sign language, are referred to as “oral.” The incidence of oral and manual communication varies with regional philosophical differences on the issue. The population of hearing-impaired students at Allegheny is relatively small. Most of the hearing-impaired students at Allegheny are oral.
Most hearing-impaired students use note takers in class because it is difficult to speechread and take notes at the same time. Some hearing-impaired students may have language and vocabulary deficiencies.
Assumptions should not automatically be made about a hearing-impaired student’s ability to participate in certain types of classes. Hearing-impaired students may be able to learn much about music styles, techniques, and rhythms by observing a visual display of the music on an oscilloscope or similar apparatus or by feeling the vibrations of music. Some hearing-impaired students will have enough residual hearing so that amplification through hearing aids, earphones, public address systems, or personal FM transmitter/receiver units will allow participation. It is always best to discuss with the student the requirements of a class and to determine if there are ways that the materials can be modified so that the student can participate in what may become an exciting learning experience for all concerned.
Tips for Positive Communication
- Include the following statement on the course syllabus and repeat it during the first class meeting: “If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a disability, if you have emergency medical information to share with me, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible. My office location and hours are…”
- Attract the attention of the hearing-impaired student before speaking with a cue such as a tap on the shoulder or wave.
- Face the person while talking (try to avoid facing the chalkboard while speaking).
- Speak clearly and naturally without exaggerating lip movements or volume.
- Avoid standing in front of a light source like a window — the glare from behind makes it difficult to read lips.
Suggested Classroom Accommodations
- Extended time for taking tests in a quiet place.
- Seat hearing-impaired students where there is an unobstructed view of the professor.
- Try to repeat comments and questions asked by other students who are not in the range of vision of the hearing-impaired student.
- Use visual media (especially overhead projectors or PowerPoint) as much as possible — they are effective tools.
- Prepare a brief course outline, a syllabus, and a list of learning objectives for the class ahead of time.
- Assure the conveyance to hearing-impaired students of important information like class cancellations, class relocation, assignments, and tests by stating the details in writing in a hand-out and on the chalkboard.
- Establish a system of getting messages to hearing-impaired students — especially if a note taker or interpreter is not given advance notice of class cancellations and changes.
- Be prepared to reword sentences when a hearing-impaired student does not understand what is being said. (Persons with hearing impairments, like most of us, are not eager to draw undue attention to themselves; therefore, they may smile in acknowledgment when in fact they have not understood.)