Publish at April 20 2022 Updated September 06 2022

Integrating students with hearing impairments

How do we adapt teaching to these learners?

Schools should, in theory, be a place where everyone can acquire knowledge regardless of their circumstances. The reality, however, is more nuanced as observers have long noted issues of inequality in schools. Indeed, many organizations and individuals are advocating for greater inclusion of students with disabilities, among others.

Many think of physical accessibilities for, say, those in wheelchairs. Yet some disabilities are more subtle but require just as much support.

What to do about students with hearing loss?

Education relies primarily on two senses in particular: visual and auditory. Materials such as textbooks, charts, and software serve as cues to visualize a concept. Yet, rarely are these not accompanied by audio explanations spoken by the teacher or by other media (videos or audio vignettes). So when one of these two senses is not functioning well, it has an impact on academic performance. Visual disorders are more easily spotted and addressed.For hearing, however, it's a different story.

In fact, hearing difficulties can lead some adults to believe that they have learning problems, as this American article reminds us. Among other things, it recounts the real-life case of a young girl who was being evaluated for comprehension difficulties. The teacher, however, suggested that the ears be checked. The otolaryngologist found clumps of wax in each ear. Once these were removed, the learner finished the year in the top of her class.

Some problems are more severe, including total deafness. Unfortunately, the majority of the teaching force does not feel up to teaching these children. In Britain, an online survey showed that 68% of teachers said they wouldn't know what to do if they had to have a deaf student in their class. What's more, this country has a marked shortage of teachers who specialize in hearing disorders.

The situation in Quebec is not straightforward either. While the Montreal area offers two specialized facilities, the rest of Quebec is not so lucky. One must either move to Montreal or send the child to a foster family during school, which in both cases implies a significant uprooting. Otherwise, the policy is to integrate these children into regular classes without making sure of the results. Especially since studies on this type of integration are famously lacking.

France is also trying to do what it can, but an inventory published in June 2021 shows that deaf students still have considerable delays on the regular track. The fault lies in late detection, language deficiencies in early childhood and educational programs that do not take this population into account.

Here too the pandemic has accentuated from a global perspective the educational backlog of deaf children. In some areas, it's impossible to follow classes on television or even by smartphone. All the more so because there were few or no devices in place to improve accessibility through subtitles, for example, of educational content. Add to that face-to-face masks that hide the lips, making reading the teacher's words impractical.

Sign Language and Visual

Many promises have been made over time to students and their parents. France has set up the PEJS (Pôle d'Enseignement des Jeunes Sourds) but according to the report done in 2021, it is still too small and should expand. This requires interpreters since for many children with a hearing impairment, the country's sign language has become their native language. They are more comfortable expressing themselves with this language and understanding it when it is used.

Or, teachers trained in LSF or LSQ are few and far between. Moreover, those with such training are likely to be increasingly in demand. That said, as this schoolteacher explains, it is entirely possible to train in these languages. There are now books and entire Instagram accounts where women and men teach sign language. The Elix dictionary can answer many questions.

Some forms of teaching also allow for more integration of deaf children into mainstream classrooms and without the use of sign language. Aural-verbal education can be applied during early detection of deafness. Thus, from an early age and with the help of technologies like cochlear implants or hearing aids, the world of sound remains accessible. They will therefore hear spoken language and be able to use it themselves. However, there is nothing to prevent the use of sign language in addition to learning "normal" sign language. In fact, many specialized institutions offer bilingual education.

Pedagogical changes must also take place in order to better integrate these learners. Obviously, lots of explanatory visual aids will allow for better understanding but in addition for greater participation by the child.

Adding subtitles when showing movies or videos will give them the opportunity to understand what is being shown. As a teacher, one must think about placement so that those with hearing impairments are able to see the mouth more easily. A recording of the lessons followed by a written transcript with speech to text converter will offer everyone the official version of what was said.

Finally, it may be appropriate to additionally teach a few signs to classmates to promote the social integration of children in a regular setting. Whether it is lexemes from everyday life ("hello", "are you okay?", "thank you", "please") or others related to the educational activity in question (e.g. "painting" for a visit to the museum). For that matter, it can be interesting to let students ask for words to learn on their own, even if it means looking them up on the Elix Dico.

Illustration: Elf-Moondance on Pixabay

References :

Clark, Joanna. "Building a Better Future for Hearing Impaired Schoolchildren and Saving the Potential of an Entire Generation." Global Partnership for Education. Last updated March 3, 2022.

"Discover What Auditory-Verbal Education Is." Montreal Oral School For The Deaf. Last updated March 31, 2022.

The Elix Dico - The Living Dictionary In French Sign Language (LSF). Accessed April 15, 2022.

"Le PEJS (pôle D'enseignement Des Jeunes Sourds)." Onisep. Last updated October 18, 2021.

Magrath, Douglas. "Tips for Teaching Deaf Students: Understanding the Hurdles They Face." MultiBriefs. Last updated July 19, 2021.

Sanford, Claire. "How to Accommodate Hard-of-Hearing Students in the Classroom." Rev. Last updated February 11, 2022.

Skopeliti, Clea. "Deaf Children Falling Behind As Specialist Teacher Numbers Fall." The Guardian. Last updated February 20, 2022.

"Two in Three Teachers Don't Know How to Teach a Deaf Child." SEN Magazine. Last updated November 19, 2021.

Victory, Joy. "How Does Hearing Loss Affect School Performance?" Healthy Hearing. Last updated January 12, 2022.

Yim, Theara. "What School for Deaf Children?" Scholar. Last updated July 2018.

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