Friday, June 26, 2015

Classroom Techniques to Assist Students with Hearing Loss

By Carlee Andress

When a child has a communication disorder, a language barrier exists that can cause deficits in all areas of life ranging from interpersonal relationships to academic success. As educators we have the responsibility to implement learning based accommodations so that each student can access information despite their possible language and learning barriers.  It is difficult to understand which accommodations are appropriate and how to facilitate them effectively in the classroom. This article will address strategies and technological tools that promote learning in the classroom for people with hearing loss.  
Hearing loss or hearing impairment is the most prevalent disability with 360 million people affected by it world-wide.  Furthermore, the main impact is found in communication, which is closely linked to learning, writing, reading, speaking, and understanding the world around us.   Imagine you are at rock concert or a major sporting event and a friend (who is sitting down the row from you) is trying to tell you something.  Can you comprehend every word your friend is trying to say?  No, probably not.  Can you write down what your friend is trying to say?  Nope.  If you were to read a passage later in the day, could you identify that text as something that was said to you before? No.  Chances are excellent that you cannot identify, process, retain, or apply your friend’s message simply because the sound signal was not clear.  For people with hearing loss, every conversation, lecture, or dialogue is unclear.  Every time someone speaks to them, the quality of the message is similar to the quality of your friend’s message at the rock concert or sporting event. 
People with a hearing loss are not of lesser value, intelligence, or competence; however, they do need to be able to hear in order to interact socially and participate academically.  The student and the professor are both responsible for employing communication strategies to facilitate learning in the classroom.  
The first, and perhaps most important, communication strategy is to reduce background noise.  Even in a quiet environment, students miss some speech sounds and other sounds are ‘muffled.’ When noise is added to the environment (i.e. humming computers, fans, buzzing lights, open windows, hard floors), more sounds and therefore language is eradicated and the learning barrier strengthens. 
The second strategy is to speak just a little slower and a little louder.  If you speak too slow or too loud, the message will become distorted thus making it difficult to comprehend.  Speaking slightly slower and louder is beneficial to a person with hearing loss.  Slowing down your rate of speech gives the person more time to fill in the ‘unheard’ sounds with contextual clues.  Speaking louder overcomes the ambiguity of sound signals associated with background noise.
The third strategy is to stay at a close distance from the person with a hearing impairment.  In fact, a good rule of thumb is to stay an arm’s length away at all times.  People with hearing loss become experts at filling in ‘sound gaps’ with lip reading and facial expressions.  To achieve competent communication with people who have a hearing loss, we must give maximal visual support.  This includes everything from gestures to written communication.
The fourth strategy is to use technology.  Clearly, the person with a hearing impairment needs to visit with their audiologist for a full assessment, and it is their responsibility to wear and properly maintain their hearing aids.  With that being said, professors and teachers alike should be familiar with the many features and unique qualities of a FM system.  One FM system that audiologists on our campus support is the Phonak Roger Pen FM system.  This pen can be pointed at the speaker/professor or can be worn by the speaker/professor.  The pen will only pick up the professor’s voice and then direct it straight into the receiver on the hearing aid.  The pen eliminates the hearing difficulties associated with background noise and distance.  Sometimes wearing a hearing aid alone is not enough, because the hearing aid amplifies all sounds and this taxes the listener. In short, the pen (or other FM devices) filters out unnecessary noises and picks up the communication partner’s voice.
If you have a student with a hearing loss, please encourage them to:
1.)    Set up an appointment with an audiologist.
2.)    After the results come in, the student must visit with disability services.
3.)    The student should present their diagnosis (from doctor) and classroom accommodation plan (from disability services) to the professor.
4.)    The professor and the student should work together to incorporate appropriate strategies and tools in the classroom.

Contact information for the University of South Dakota’s Audiology Program:
Communication Sciences and Disorders – Noteboom Hall
Noteboom Hall
Phone: 605-677-5474

Contact information for the University of South Dakota’s Disability Services:
Phone: 605-677-6389

For more information on the Phonak Roger Pen FM system, please visit the following site:   

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