Students with Speech Impairments

Speech impairments may have many causes – hearing loss, illness, injury, and congenital or psychological conditions. Speech impairments are found alone and in combination with other disabilities.

Speech impairments range from problems with articulation or voice strength to an inability to speak at all. Unless the impairment is recent, students with speech impairments generally have had some speech therapy. Among the more common speech impairments encountered at Allegheny are stuttering, chronic hoarseness, difficulty in evoking an appropriate word or term, and esophageal speech (resulting from a laryngectomy).

Many speech-impaired students are reluctant to participate in activities that require speaking. Even if the student has adjusted well to speech impairment, new situations may enhance past anxieties. Self-expression should be encouraged; however, pressure to speak is not likely to be helpful. Speaking in front of a group can be an agonizing experience for speech-impaired students. Public speaking is an important component of the curriculum at Allegheny and accommodations for this should be discussed with the SDS coordinator.

Various communication aids are available for students who cannot speak. Students who are able to type may use portable electronic aids that produce computer printouts, display words on LED screens, or have synthesized audio output.

Students whose disability prevents signing, writing, or typing may use electronic voice synthesizing equipment that has a keyboard activated by a head pointer or mouth wand. Most Allegheny students with speech impairments are able to sign, write, and type. Communication aids and methods available include the following:

  • laptop computer with LED display and printer,
  • laptop voice synthesized computer,
  • pointing to common words and phrases such as yes and no.

Tips for Positive Communication

The ability to understand impaired speech improves with continued exposure and listening, as does the ability to understand a foreign accent.

  • Be patient and listen.
  • Do not provide words or finish sentences for a person who stutters or speaks with difficulty; let the person complete his or her thoughts.
  • Give students with communication disabilities the opportunity to participate in class discussions as much as possible, even if extra time is necessary.
  • If the course requires oral communication and the student is unable to communicate orally, arrange for alternative methods, such as written communication that might be shared with the class; some students will, on occasion, use laptop speech synthesizers for communication in class.
  • Encourage participation, but do not require a student with a communication difficulty to speak in front of the class.
  • Allow students who are unable to communicate orally to use a word processor, sign board, or sign interpreter in class.
  • If you do not understand what is being said, do not pretend to know; tell the student you do not understand and allow him or her to repeat the communication.

Suggested Classroom Accommodations

Students with speech impairments seldom require the test accommodations that students with other disabilities need; however, the following considerations are important:

  • Written assignments or responses to specific questions that can be shared with the class by someone else reading them aloud are an alternative to oral presentations.
  • For students who choose to participate orally, faculty and class members should be patient, offering encouragement and an opportunity to develop self-confidence in a challenging situation.