Education is all about access to information. The correct information can make a difference between a pass and a fail. Students who are deaf and hard of hearing have a particularly challenging experience accessing information. In our world, we naturally communicate through auditory means by default.
School is a complex environment for a student with hearing loss. It’s often the first time students are without their parent’s supervision to advocate their needs while independently learning and socializing in the school environment. That experience can be particularly unsettling, confusing and unknown territory for a young person. Their parents aren’t around to know or see the conversations and experiences. Yet, these students are expected to make decisions without guidance. There’s no specific training to deal with their hearing loss and the environment they spend most of their time in.
Every deaf and hard-of-hearing student will encounter a situation where learning becomes much more difficult. The reason could be that the teacher has an accent, the professors are more motivated by academic research than providing opportunities for education, the professor’s teaching style, or the classroom culture that makes it harder to hear or participate.
While most schools have disability offices to assist students with accommodations, they may not have a comprehensive view of assistive technology that could effectively assist students. So, I have investigated five technologies that could help students in and out of the classroom from day one. These devices won’t take long to request, purchase or get set up, as typically seen when asking for accommodations.
Having a note-taker in the class doesn’t allow you to follow along with the teacher and actively participate in the classroom. It’s hard to sit in a class when you aren’t stimulated. You will get bored quickly or doze off in front of the classroom and the teacher.
Sign language interpreters or professionally translated transcription / Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), may be an option. Yet, these professions are in high demand. Unfortunately, not everyone is privileged to have one. They’re expensive to hire, and a who you know kind of thing gets top preferences. Yet, every deaf and hard-of-hearing student or professional is seeking these translators’ services.
Hence automatic captioning tools are the best way forward when all else fails. It is true that automatic captioning does poorly with words not used in everyday language. Moreover, when sine and cosine waves or angiomyogenesis are common languages used in your classroom, they’re an option when you do not have anything else to fall back on. Tools like WebCaptioner or a mobile app that transcribes speech to text may be a better option to follow along with the professor’s words. They will be a good alternative if you have to watch online videos without any subtitles available in advance.
Sometimes the distance between the speaker and your mobile or computer microphone is too far apart for a good translation. In these cases, your professors may already use presentation software like Microsoft and Google Slides. These software already has a built-in feature that provides automated captioning using the microphone from the presenter’s computer. Everyone in the classroom will benefit from the subtitles and can see while it’s projected on the screen.
If your professor’s teaching style is to give verbal diarrhea of their knowledge on a topic and it’s all in one direction with little to no engagement, the FM system or single microphone like the ones provided with Phonak hearing aid brand works. You can sit and listen while their voice goes directly to your ears.
Similarly, some FM systems can be purchased under some hearing aid brands or through other adaptive technologies that connect to hearing aids and cochlear implants. However, a quicker way is to use an app like Jacoti, if your professor doesn’t mind turning their smartphone into a microphone while you listen through yours. So now you listen to your professor, however you listen to music or video from your smartphone.
I can’t say that I learn by listening. Some may absorb information at their own pace by writing down key points and reviewing their notes continuously to imprint the new information into their brain. However, not everyone can simply listen and recite new information with clarity right away.
The school learning style has been the same for centuries. And we need new learning styles for people who learn differently. One hack to overcome this is, perhaps, recording your class using your video cam or computer. It will give you the option to review later. Many software can help with recording, and furthermore, some transcribe audio so that you have notes available immediately.
Medical students are often required to learn about human anatomy and are graded on their ability to capture the vitals as part of the medical training. No exceptions or accommodations are made to be a doctor, nurse or any health profession involving caring for the human body.
Thus many stethoscopes are well amplified or can provide a visual reading that students can use to help them pass with good grades.
Interestingly, you can use these devices to hack other class projects requiring you to listen. Perhaps, you have a physics project on sound waves, or your biology class requires you to listen to a species. Rather than passing the assignment off to your teammate, you can use these devices to participate and learn. You will better understand and follow along using the amplifier or available visual representation of the sound.
When your professor assigns projects and group exercises where you need to interact with your peers, that’s when things get complicated. Unfortunately, social interactions are the most complex problem, and assistive technologies are not always readily available to address these problems. Yet apps for smartphones like HeardThat can provide ways to connect in noisy backgrounds if you cannot meet up in the library and speak to multiple people at once.
School is for personal growth and to help elevate you to new opportunities with your acquired skills. Although, an environment that isn’t inclusive of hearing loss can make it harder for learning to happen. While advocating is one thing that can help, it might not help you go far. If others aren’t sure how to help you or no one is stepping up to help, I hope the resources provided here will be a good starting point to see your options to get started tomorrow.
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