Hearing impairment is often categorized under the category of deafness. However, it is not the same thing.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 's official definition is "an impairment in hearing, whether fluctuating or permanent, that adversely affects an individual's educational performance but is not included under the definition of 'deafness.'
So technically, deafness and hearing impairment is different and varies based on the severity of the disability. Medically, a hearing loss above 90 decibels is generally considered deafness, which implies that a hearing loss below 90 decibels is viewed as an impairment.
In honour of The Hearing Impairment Week 2022, we've compiled a list of teaching strategies for an inclusive classroom, educational challenges students face due to hearing impairment, the early signs teachers can recognise, and the available assistive technology.
What are the educational challenges for students with hearing impairment?
The biggest educational obstacles for students with hearing impairments stem around communication. The hurdles commonly arise in oral mediums in speech, lip reading and use of residual hearing and manual mediums like sign language. These communication forms are altered due to the inability to register information conveyed.
The following may be difficult for a student with a hearing impairment:
- The subjects of spelling, grammar, and vocabulary
- Making notes while listening to lectures
- Participate, engage or understand classroom discussions
- Understand educational videos
- Present oral reports
What Teachers Should Know
The degree to which a child is affected by hearing impairment or loss can vary greatly. A child with profound hearing loss may be "deaf." Hearing loss can be recognized at birth or caused by injuries, infections, or exposure to loud noise for a prolonged period. Teachers can identify early signs of hearing impairment through children's behaviour, learning challenges, and performance in the classroom.
Children with hearing loss may exhibit the following symptoms:
- One of the most common early signs is facing speech difficulties. Students with hearing impairment would show limited or unclear speech.
- Unable to follow directions and pay attention
- Students with hearing impairments may only hear parts of a conversation. They would have a half understanding of things and might ask the facilitator to repeat the information.
- Unable to hear everyday sounds, like a school announcement or school bell
- Learning problems
The solution and Teaching Strategies
Designating a Note Taker
You might see institutions assigning a note taker for children with hearing impairment. It allows the student to concentrate completely on listening to a lecture. A mix of traditional communication, sign language, lip reading, and assistive technologies can compensate for the challenges, which enables the child to participate in classroom discussions and immerse in learning. This eradicates the struggle of doing all things and allows the child to focus on the learning aspect.
Kids with hearing loss may need to sit close to the teacher, preferably to the front of the class, so they can read lips or hear more clearly. Those who are dependent on sign language may need an interpreter. For online mediums, consider adding captions or if the technology allows you to turn on automotive captions, ensure you use that. Many children use amplifying devices to hear the sound, which can help them better understand the information. Another recommended consideration is switching to a U-shape or circle-shaped seating arrangement, which allows the child with impairment to better interact with the class and gain a better understanding.
Use An FM System
People with hearing impairments commonly use FM systems. This device can help children with hearing challenges as it eradicates the concern of sound volume and clarity. The teacher can wear a microphone/transmitter, and students wear a receiver that amplifies the sound and make it easier for them to receive sound easily, even in a noisy classroom.
Students with hearing impairment mostly speech read to some extent. So teachers must face students when they speak. To help them, you must talk slow, clear and loudly. If students have access to their devices, teachers can speak in a normal tone. Make sure that the pronunciation is slow and clear if it's not proper; there's a high chance that it'd lead students to a state of confusion and might even break the learning momentum and communication with the teacher.
Minimize Background Noises
Background noise is a distraction for all students. However, for students with hearing impairments, it can hinder their learning to a great extent. Even if students use hearing aids, background noises will create problems as the device only amplifies the sound. Minimizing background noises is a must. Authorities can help ensure that corridors are silent and students with hearing impairments get to sit in the corner classrooms. You may want to consider quiet areas like the library if students need silence and allow them to take their materials in quiet places when studying independently.
Integrate Visual Aids in Teaching
Students enjoy visual learning, and for students with hearing challenges, visual aids can benefit in creating engaging and enriching experiences. Using videos, pictures, slideshows and animations will not only engage all students but also help the ones with hearing impairment. Use graphics and text labels and ensure students get to learn in the best ways possible.
Make Maximum Use of Available Technology
Technology has become an integral part of education and essential for classrooms. With hybrid and online models, there's no limit to one can impart learning. Teachers can be as innovative as they want and enhance their teaching methods. Interactive whiteboards are used in classrooms, and they can help students with hearing challenges. Sound amplification systems are a part of IWBs, and they can help students facing challenges with hearing loss. Other options are using real-time captioning, videos, recorded lectures, voice recognition software on computers in case of online learning and more. The best way to work around this is to understand what works for the child best and make room in your pedagogy to fit the needs of the child with an impairment. Consider asking the students' families, special education teacher or an audiologist, and you can devise a plan that will work out for the entire class easily.
It's important that you create awareness about the impairment and teach students to celebrate differences: it's important that students with hearing loss or any other challenges feel accepted by their peers. The best way to ensure they are comfortable and feel accepted is by educating all kids about the challenges for children with special needs in class. Talk about how kids can support each other and create a dialogue around the differences. Make sure you have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying or inappropriate behaviour.
Types Of Assistive Technology
Hearing loss can be temporary, and technologies, therapies and treatments can help children with impairment. Assistive technologies and devices like hearing aids and cochlear implants can improve a child's hearing ability. Learning sign language or speech reading can also make it easier to communicate. Let's look at the different types of assistive technology that can help with hearing impairment:
- FM systems: this is the most common device widely used by people with hearing impairment. The sound is directly transmitted to the listener through the device as the speaker wears a microphone. This works very well in classroom settings, as a student with an impairment can listen to the teacher regardless of the distance from the microphone. There are two kinds of FM systems available personal and sound field. A personal FM system directs sounds to an individual, whereas a sound field FM system provides increased and directed sound levels to a group of people.
- Infrared and Audio Induction Loop systems: it's not as common as the FM systems, the technology is effective in large spaces. An Infrared system uses invisible light beams and carries sound to a personal receiver. Various attachments are mostly connected directly to a personal hearing aid or cochlear implant, or sound is transmitted to headphones or speakers. In parallel to this, an Audio Induction Loop system is a cable (induction loop) that circles a room or is worn around the neck and transmits the sound electromagnetically. The electromagnetic signal is picked up by the telecoil in a hearing aid, cochlear implant, or headset. To be tied into the audio loop, the telecoil is switched on in an individual's hearing aid or cochlear implant.
- Coupling accessories connect media devices like smartphones, laptops, tablets and more. These accessories work through plug-in cables directly from a hearing aid or cochlear implant into tablet devices or phones, or couplers, which transmit sound wirelessly from hearing aids to media devices.
Additional Resources You Must Check Out:
- This guide on online education for special ed educators covers various studies, blogs, reports, challenges in online teaching for special needs students and educators and how to combat them, strategies & tips schools can take to connect with students with special needs during online learning and a handy list of special ed resources.
- A list of the best apps to teach students with hearing impairment would help educators narrow down their options and make a pick from the best options. The list comprises the best apps to aid teaching and learning for students with hearing impairment. All apps mentioned are described to a point where you’d understand in what areas they can benefit educators, parents and children.
- You need to check out this list of top assistive technologies available for all kinds of special needs. Educators must go through it to be aware of the innovations that can help students. A must-read to add to your knowledge bank.
- Understand the potential of online learning to educate special students with diverse needs and disabilities. This piece would help you understand how online education can benefit or be planned for students with various special needs.
- This guide on inclusive education by UK Aid, the World Bank Group and The Ministry of Human Resource Development by the Government of India is a perfect toolkit that covers all the information on hearing impairment and how teachers can help kids with it. A must-read.
As per WHO, by 2050, nearly 2.5 billion people will have some degree of hearing loss, and at least 700 million will require hearing rehabilitation. It is estimated that by 2050 over 700 million people – or one in every ten people – will have disabling hearing loss.
With these alarming figures, we must create an inclusive environment for children and ensure that their education doesn't suffer due to something they did not choose. Education accessibility is a human right regardless of one's ability on the spectrum.
At last, here's an inspiring video on Making Education Accessible to Deaf Children by Nyle DiMarco that touches upon how hearing impairment/deafness limits the ability to communicate, the vital foundation to thrive in life and how one can ensure education is accessible to all, regardless of their limited ability.
Do share how you create an inclusive teaching plan addressing the needs of children with hearing impairment. Mention in the comments section below.