Effects of Unserved College Students with Hearing Loss on Program Planning – a WSD Workshop

Effects of Unserved College Students with Hearing Loss on Program Planning – a WSD Workshop

This workshop was presented at the Western Symposium on Deafness (WSD) in San Diego in April, 2005. The presenters were Dr. John Schroedel and Dr. Douglas Watson of the University of Arkansas Research and Training Center (RRTC) for Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

Dr. Watson began this presentation by noting that the last ten or 12 years have witnessed an explosion of studies of college students with hearing loss, but that these studies have focused on people with profound hearing loss, who rely heavily on interpreters, notetakers, etc. The corollary to that observation is that not much attention has been paid to the needs of the much larger number of students with less severe hearing loss. We’ve actually done a pretty good job of providing for the needs of the Deaf population, but have not done so well for people who are hard of hearing (HOH).

Dr. Schroedel identified himself as a member of this unserved population; he was a HOH college student in the early 1960s. At that time official estimates of the number of HOH people was dismally inaccurate – on the order of about a quarter of a million people in the US. The publication of an accurate census in 1974 revealed the true incidence of hearing loss in this country – about 13.5 million at that time. There were a lot more HOH students than we realized back then.

The current best estimate of the number of Americans with hearing loss is about 29 million. The incidence among working age people ranges from about 3.2% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 (roughly a million people) to about 16% of people between the ages of 55 and 64 (nearly 5 million people). About 15 million working age adults have hearing loss.

PEPNet has historically conducted surveys of college administrators to determine the number of college students with hearing loss. These surveys have documented a steadily increasing number, growing from 20,000 in 1993 to 28,000 in 2002. Unfortunately, these surveys grossly understate the number of students with hearing loss, primarily because they rely on administrators’ estimates rather than self-identification by students. More reliable surveys of the students themselves reveal a hearing loss population of about 350,000. So things haven’t changed all that much from the 1960s. There are still a lot more hard of hearing students than people think. Most of these students have mild hearing loss, and the vast majority do NOT wear hearing aids.

These numbers demonstrate a clear need for people in all professions to be trained in dealing with HOH people; that need is especially great in educational facilities, where the results of failure to understand and accommodate the needs of this population can have profound and enduring consequences.

One critical issue with the current situation is that it’s very difficult for the student with a mild hearing loss to get help. Students and administrators can’t identify them, so they are unable to offer assistance. And mildly HOH students don’t request help, because they don’t know it’s available! The following policies exacerbate this situation.

1. At colleges that evaluate applicants for admission (as opposed to open admission colleges) it is illegal for college administrators to ask students if they have a hearing loss.
2. The departments that provide services are typically called something like “Disabled Student Services”. Because people with mild hearing loss do NOT consider themselves disabled, the very name of the organization that is intended to assist them prevents them from seeking help. As a result we fail to serve the vast majority of students with special needs. A simple name change might do wonders to improve this situation!

The remainder of the workshop was devoted to questions and comments from the floor.

Comment: Perhaps colleges with audiology programs could implement a policy that every student has a hearing screening. Once students with hearing loss are identified they can be counseled about available services.

Comment: It’s not surprising that HOH students are not getting services, because they’re not used to getting them. We need to start identifying and serving these kids in public schools, so they get used to getting what they need.

Dr. Schroedel: There are approximately 800,000 students with hearing loss in K – 12. Only 7% of them get services under IDEA, because no one recognizes the problem.

Comment: We also need to educate parents, so they can advocate for services for their kids.

Dr. Schroedel: HOH kids demonstrate a very identifiable set of behaviors. We must train educators at all levels to recognize them.

Comment: We need to make it attractive for HOH kids to self-identify. One idea might be to have a question about hearing loss in grant and loan applications, and to increase the amounts provided to students with hearing loss.

I also want to point out that thinking about having to provide accommodations for so many more people makes colleges and agencies a little nervous.

Dr. Watson: The State Vocational Rehabilitation directors met last week, and one of their focuses is to train counselors to serve HOH people. They’ve seen a large increase in HOH clients and successful outcomes.

PEPNet has been a wonderfully successful program and a good model for other programs. I’d like to see them serve more HOH people.

Comment: A program for HOH students really needs to start in Kindergarten and continue through grade 12. The question is, where do we get the money for that program?

Comment: I’ve watched HOH kids who have had services K-12 go on to college and refuse services there!