Barriers to Accommodating Students with Hearing Loss
Students with hearing loss are supposed to have the right to an education in schools, colleges, and universities that is equal to what their peers receive. In reality, many deaf, late-deafened, and hard of hearing students do not get the accommodations they need.
Untrained administrators and teachers, unqualified service providers, a lack of services, and ignorance are some of the factors that create educational barriers and challenges for deaf, late-deafened and hard of hearing students.
In the United States, the education of deaf, late-deafened, and hard of hearing students is supposed to be protected by two federal laws: the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The ADA requires services providers and educational institutions who receive federal funding to make accommodations for students with hearing loss. The IDEA is supposed to ensure that infants and toddlers have access to early intervention services, and that schools have plans in place to serve their special needs students.
The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center conducted a survey of students, parents, and service providers called "Critical Needs of Students Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: A Public Input Summary." The Clerc Center found that in spite of these laws, students with hearing loss are not always getting the accommodations they need. A few quotes from the report appear below.
State funding cutbacks
In the past few years, many U.S. states are cutting funding to school programs with specialized workers who are trained in the needs of students with hearing loss, amalgamating services with other municipalities, or closing programs altogether. Students end up being mainstreamed into schools who have no idea how to accommodate them.
States are also closing down schools for the deaf that provided deaf students with an education presented in their native language - sign. States claim that with the advent of cochlear implants, deaf student enrollment is declining.
A look at a school for the deaf
Other countries are also cutting back on their services in educational institutions for deaf, late-deafened and hard of hearing students. For example, in Canada, the province of Ontario was recently considering closing or amalgamating several deaf schools. In the United Kingdom, many special programs for students with hearing loss have had drastic funding cuts and specialist staff are being laying off.
Common types of accommodation
Sign language interpreters: Since some schools for the deaf or specialized programs are closing, deaf students whose main language is sign are no longer receiving instruction in their native language. They require sign language interpreters in the general classroom.
Captioning: Some students lost part or most of their hearing after learning a language, and are referred to as late-deafened. They benefit from having a trained professional typing what the teacher is saying in real time. The words are projected on a large screen in front of the student. This service is known as CART. All students with hearing loss also benefit when classroom videos are also captioned.
Notetakers: Students who must receive information visually through sign, captioning, or lipreading require someone to take notes for them during classes. Colleges and universities often recruit volunteers from the student population to do this task.
Assistive Listening Devices: Students with mild to moderate hearing loss who wear hearing aids benefit from assistive listening devices such as hearing loops, infrared systems, and FM systems. In some cases, a teacher may wear a device that picks up the teacher's voice and transmits it to the student's hearing aid. More information on these devices is available on the Hearing Loss Association of America website.
Special seating: Students with hearing loss often benefit from sitting in the front of the class where they can lipread the teacher or more easily view captioning. Deaf students need a clear view of the teacher, blackboard and the sign language interpreter. If all the students are deaf, the desks may be arranged in a semi-circle so that everyone can see each other.
Barriers to accommodation
There are a number of barriers that prevent students with hearing loss from getting the services they need
"The biggest barrier is access to early intervention, which leads to lower reading skills, vocabulary, spelling, etc. Too many of our middle school and high school students come to the school for the deaf without a strong language foundation. We have to fill too many gaps. We need to work with early intervention agencies, doctors, audiologists, etc., and give them the information they need to help parents. Too many outside agencies are limited in focus and don’t give parents all the information they need to make decisions about their child."
Clerc Center Study
A lack of early intervention services: Many parents are not aware of or lack access to early intervention services for babies and students ages 0 to 5. They also don’t know what the signs of hearing loss are.
Lack of qualified personnel and access to specialists: Many parents and organizations of people with hearing loss complain that the staff serving deaf and hard of hearing students such as deaf and hard of hearing teacher specialists, or educational sign language interpreters do not have adequate training or skills.
Some states have passed laws recently that require educational interpreters to pass a quality assurance test. Currently, there is a shortage of qualified interpreters, counselors, teachers, and teacher’s aides that specialize in hearing loss.
Lack of appropriate programs: There are not enough programs that serve these students’ needs, This means that a child with a hearing loss may have to spend an hour or more on a school bus to attend a school with special services instead of the school down the block. A deaf child may need to attend a residential school for the deaf far from home.
"I think there is a misunderstanding about hearing loss; after all, they look so “normal” and/or people also think that a hearing aid restores hearing the way glasses correct vision and that is not the case either."
Clerc Center Study
Ignorance: Many educational service delivers just don’t know what to do with students or youth with hearing loss.
One example is the recent case of a disability services department in a college who refused a student’s request for a sign language interpreter. The student spoke English well and was a good lipreader, so the department staff refused the request, stating that notetaking services were adequate. After a public outcry and much negative press, the college changed its mind and granted the student an interpreter.
“One of the biggest challenges that my family has faced as we have worked to educate my deaf daughter has been the massive divide between ASL and oral supporters. My daughter is Deaf and can hear and speak using a CI. We do not want her to be oral only, but a voice-off ASL school doesn’t work either. There is no middle ground.”
Clerc Center Study
A lack of collaboration and consensus about service delivery: The Clerc Center study found that many organizations, parents and service providers did not collaborate with one another to ensure effective services for students with hearing loss. In some cases, the educational philosophies of service providers clashed, as in the case of deaf education.
Some groups demand that services for the deaf focus on speech and English learning only, while others such as advocates in the deaf community demand that teaching be presented in sign language. It is difficult for parents of deaf, late-deafened, or hard of hearing students to get objective information about the accommodations and services that meet their children's needs.
Lack of service access: Many students lack access to appropriate accommodations such as counselors, teacher’s assistants or teacher specialists.
The Clerc Center study points out that teacher specialists have little time to spend with students with hearing loss – in some cases, as little as 10 hours a week. Other educational staff who could help lack the training or authority to do so. Rural areas do not have the same access to qualified staff as urban areas
Cost: Accommodations such as sign language interpreters can be expensive. Many school districts and higher institutions have limited budgets. They sometimes say that they just can’t afford to hire the personnel needed to serve deaf and hard of hearing students. The ADA does allow organizations to claim an exemption from the law’s requirements if the cost of providing accommodation imposes a "financial hardship." Most accommodations are affordable or at little cost, however.