Issues Encountered by Students with Hearing Loss and Potential Solutions

Issues Encountered by Students with Hearing Loss and Potential Solutions

Editor: This portion of the HLAA Research Symposium was presented by Jim DeCara and Larry Scott.


Jim DeCara began this portion of the Research Symposium by pointing out what an abysmal job we do of providing services to hard of hearing (HOH) children in the public schools. If the approximately 876,000 HOH students, only eight percent are currently getting services. This means that 92% are NOT getting services!

This handbook, “Hard of Hearing Students in Postsecondary Settings”, focuses on the roughly 414,000 HOH college students among the total student population of 15 million.

One important consideration is how ready a person is to accept help. Chapter Three of our handbook includes a look at the four stages of readiness. People normally progress through all four stages as they work towards resolution of an issue.

Stage One – person doesn’t realize that he needs help
Stage Two – person realizes that he needs help, but doesn’t realize that help is available
Stage Three – person realizes that he needs help and that it is available, but is not yet ready to seek help.
Stage Four – person realizes that he needs help, and that it’s available, and is ready to seek help.

Jim then read one of the vignettes from Chapter One of “Hard of Hearing Students in Postsecondary Settings”. Peter graduated from high school as the only identified HOH student in his class. After working for three years, he enrolled in his local community college. Despite his 47 db hearing loss, he didn’t wear hearing aids, and refused to reveal his hearing loss. After struggling for a semester, Peter decided that college wasn’t for him and dropped out.

Jim mentioned that Larry Scott would take a look at how technology could have helped Peter in his presentation.

Jim concluded his presentation by considering what HLAA can do to further the goal of appropriate access for HOH students. He mentioned that the individuals in this room are uniquely qualified to advocate for HOH students and to serve as role models, because they have found strategies that enable them to overcome the barriers. And he suggested that HLAA, as a consumer hearing loss organization, is in a unique position to make a difference for HOH students.

Larry Scott

Larry Scott took the floor following Jim’s presentation to discuss the services that are available at NTID. He began by noting that most of the students who attend NTID have had good services in their school careers and are used to working with the school system.

But he noted that he often consults with representatives of schools whose students haven’t been so fortunate and he generally focuses his recommendations in two areas. One is the necessity of providing a role model for the student, and the second is providing appropriate technology to improve communications.

Larry listed the following issues that affected Peter’s academic failure:
1. Lack of understanding of the communications issues in his life
2. Lack of hearing aids
3. Difficulty communicating in the presence of noise
4. Large venue classrooms
5. Lack of support for dealing with his hearing loss from family, friends, and school

Larry’s recommended course of action included:
1. Counseling in issues related to his hearing loss
2. Education in the appropriate use of technology
3. Providing a sound field of FM system for his classes

Back in 1997 NTID did a study of the complaints of their HOH students. Not surprisingly the chief complaint was the lack of access to auditory information. At that time NTID used old FM systems, didn’t have enough of them, and expected the students to educate the instructors. Things have really changed since then!

Phonak came out with the MicroLink system, and it was compatible with the Listen Technologies systems, and the two of them together provide a very capable system for the HOH students. So when they built their new field house in 2004, they incorporated an FM system. It worked great, so they installed the same system in some of their auditoriums. They are also including the systems in classrooms as they renovate them. Peter would have certainly benefited from such a system.

Larry mentioned that CPrint was developed at NTID, and it provides a near-verbatim transcription of what the instructor says. This is another solution that Peter could have used.

Next year NTID will be installing some of the new Phonak Inspiro (FM) transmitters. This system has the advantage of allowing multiple transmitters to be used in a single system, with the output of all available to users. One important application of this system is to allow a microphone for the instructor and one or more microphones for the class, so that HOH students can follow class discussions, hear student questions or answers, etc.

Larry remarked that this system is also great for teachers, who may need some assistance to hearing their students!

Q. The last system you described really only works if the students take the time to get the microphone before they speak. Do they really do that?
A. I can’t say that it happens all the time, but the technology is there to accommodate it. At that point it’s up to the instructor to enforce it. Also, we now have 50% of our students mainstreamed into other (hearing) colleges at RIT, and we see it as our duty to educate the faculty and staff at those colleges about the needs and technology requirements of our students.

C. I use the Inspiro, and I think the limit is six or eight microphones. So that’s really quite a lot. Away from the educational system, the issue is, of course, cost! They’re not cheap!

Q. Your technology is really commendable. The barrier we find is audience or classroom participation.
A. At NTID we have a program called “Class Act” to educate the instructors about the needs of HOH students and the technology we provide. That’s really the bottom line. If the instructor doesn’t enforce the “rules”, then the technology won’t work as well.

Q. I’ve read your handbook and presented it to the administration at the college where I work, but I can’t get them to recognize it as an issue. How can we reach the community colleges in New York?
A. You might contact PEPNet Northeast, which is located at NTID, which is one of several PEPNet regional centers. Their job is to do exactly what you’re asking.

C. I’ve worked in the California Special Education program with a wide range of disabilities. I’m happy to hear about this program, but the notion that kids in K-12 get services is just false. Some schools do a wonderful job, but others are really poor.

C. I’d like to offer my daughter as a case study of a student who had wonderful services in K-12. Laying the groundwork during that time is crucial!

C. I’d like to emphasize that choosing the right college is also crucial. We have a list of 350 colleges and universities that offer targeted services, and I think choosing one of those colleges might be a good idea.