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Accommodations: Sports and Extra-Curricular Activities

Summary: If it is known that a student with a HA/CI/FM system or sign language interpreter is going to participate in a school sanctioned sport, it is the school’s responsibility (whether it’s the athletic department, teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing, educational audiologist or some school official) to contact the governing body over athletics in the state to get a letter stating that this accommodation is allowed. This letter should be carried by the coach so in the event they are being questioned by an official, they have documentation. The rules for club teams not associated with a school may have a different protocol for getting such a letter but under the
ADA, that student should still be allowed access to information with accommodations in order to participate.

Time Out! I Didn’t Hear You!

The following features information from a 1996 publication that has been an invaluable resource to many parents and professionals who want to support children’s participation in sports and other extracurricular activities, even though they have a hearing loss. The authors Catherine Palmer, Stacy Butts, George Lindley and Susan Snyder have graciously given permission for excerpts of this 88-page publication and the full link to be included on
Supporting Success for Children with Hearing Loss.

Extracurricular activities and sporting events may be very important for the overall educational and social experience of a child. For most children, the school day does not end at the sound of the bell of the last academic class. Many lessons about team work, responsibility, winning, and losing happen in ‘after school’ activities that are sponsored by the school. All children have the right under the law to access these after school activities in the least restrictive way just as they have a right to access the academic offerings of a school. Time Out! I Didn’t Hear You provides the student, parent, coach, athletic director, principal, school-board member and educational audiologist with all the information needed to make athletics accessible in the most cost-effective, comfortable way.

The use of assistive devices is an important part of making high school athletics more accessible to athletes with hearing loss.

There are a multitude of relatively inexpensive devices that can be used for almost any difficult communication situation that can
occur during practice and training. In some sports, assistive listening devices can be integrated, within the boundaries of the rules, into the game itself. It is the responsibility of the coach, the athlete with hearing loss, and the other team members to work together to identify where communication breakdowns are occurring and to identify solutions. The devices themselves are simply tools that are used to try to come as close as possible to the ideal situation.

Three federal laws guarantee access to students with hearing challenges, their parents, and individuals who work with them. In essence, each of the laws say that students with hearing impairment should have access to whatever all of the other students have access to – nothing more, nothing less. For instance, if there is a soccer team for students at the school, the student with hearing impairment should have the right to try out for that team. If needing to receive instructions during tryouts is essential for a successful tryout, then the student with hearing impairment is entitled to whatever is needed for him/her to receive the instructions. The use of assistive devices and communication strategies are meant to create a ‘level playing field’ for these students. Refer to pages 33-37 of

Time Out!
for information about these laws and student rights to equal access and participation.

Specific Accommodations Suggested for the Following Sports

The Time Out! publication provides rich information whereas the table below provides a brief summary of the information provided on accommodations for specific sports. Refer to pages 50 – 81 of

Time Out!
for detail. It is common for individuals to perspire while playing sports. Hearing devices that are moisture resistant should be used and or protective devices for hearing aids like Ear Gear or SuperSeals.

Activity Suggested Accommodations for Competition
Archery Hearing devices + FM; red/yellow/green signal lights, tactile stimulator on wrist
Badminton Hearing devices; large hand gestures prior to call for the ball; FM to hear umpire
Basketball Red light behind each backboard lights at end of a quarter; portable loop system around bench with the coach using the microphone plus hearing devices
Bowling Hearing devices; Visual stimulus or scorekeeper/teammate to notify the bowler if s/he has fouled.
Canoeing Hearing devices; Buddy system to relay announcements; person with hearing loss in rear seat; visual signals or flag in conjunction with a ‘go’ gunshot;
Cross Country Hearing devices; visual signals; red/yellow/green light for ready/set/go or flag in conjunction with a ‘go’ gunshot;
Curling Simple signal system between players while on ice; FM during time-out conference with coach
Diving Assistive listening device with headphones for coaching advice on pool deck; visual signs for scores.
Fencing Visual signals in addition to auditory signals for on guard/ready/fence; tactile device on wrist/ankle
Field Hockey Hearing devices + FM for communication between player and coach during sideline discussions. Hand motions, shoulder taps to bring attention of player with hearing loss to coach
Football Hearing aid within a modified helmet (info provided); visual signals between players during plays
Golf Hearing devices + FM to use with advising partner
Gymnastics Receive coaching advice via hearing devices and remove them while competing; visual scoring
Judo Coach must have attention of competitor before making appropriate gestures or visual signals
Lacrosse Hearing devices + FM for communication between player and coach during sideline discussions; head gear may allow for use of hearing devices during play; hand gestures between players
Riflery Hearing protection; thorough knowledge of firing range protocol commands; vibrator on wrist
Rowing Use of a red flag and verbal commands to signal start; pre-determined signals to correspond with verbal commands (person in front of individual with hearing loss brings a foot down to signify go)
Rugby Due to physical nature of sport an ITE hearing aid with a soft canal is recommended for safety. Buddy system to relay coach messages as players are substituted or use of hand gestures
Skiing Hearing devices; visual starting procedure such as red/yellow/green lights visible to all competitors
Soccer Hearing devices as long as there is no threat of injury. ITE aid with soft canal recommended. Players deliver messages during substitutions and/or hand gestures. FM use or loop for coach conferences.
Softball Hand signals for each umpire call used by closest teammate on field or between coach/players
Swimming Raised flag for ‘on your mark’, dropped flag for ‘go’. Can be in conjunction with gunshot or strobe light. Drop flag in water in front of swimmer when a false start occurs.
Table Tennis Haring devices + FM for between game conferences with partner. Hand signals between partners for use during play.
Tennis Hearing devices. Use of hand signals during doubles. Visual score cards.
Volleyball Use of hand signals during game; visual scoreboard. Visual signal to accompany whistle signals.
Water Polo Hand signals between players. Whistle plus flag to signal start or fouled plays, may add hand signals.
Weightlifting Hearing devices; extra cuing by coach or teammates as needed when it’s the individual’s turn.
Wrestling Hearing aid use may not be recommended due to physicality of sport. Locate individual next to coach when possible. If individual cannot easily hear the whistle ‘go’ signal it could be augmented by the coach banging the mat as a tactile signal to the competitors.

Having a hearing loss didn’t stop these competitors!

Refer to page 83 of

Time Out!
for more information on these successful individuals with hearing loss.

  • Heather Whitestone: At 21 years of age, Heather Whitstone became the first Miss America with significant hearing loss in

    the history of the pageant. Not only has she won the Miss America pageant in 1995, but she has earned impressive academic success graduating from an Alabama high school, where she was mainstreamed with children, earning an A average.
  • Jim Ryun: At 45 years of age, Jim Ryun, former Olympic medalist and former world record holder in middle distance running, tried on his first pair of hearing aids. Although Ryun was born a gifted athlete, he needed to overcome the challenges of his hearing loss. Ryun had to compensate for simple things that many runners take for granted, such as hearing the starter’s pistol, or hearing their competitor’s footsteps behind them.
  • Curtis Pride: Born on December 17, 1968, Curtis John Pride was welcomed into a world with a profound hearing loss. He was fully mainstreamed into his neighborhood schools by seventh grade and graduated from high school with a 3.6 GPA. Along with his academic success, Curtis enjoyed a great deal of athletic success as well. He was awarded a full basketball scholarship, but just prior to his high school graduation Curtis was drafted by the New York Mets. Valuing his education,

    and through a unique arrangement, Curtis agreed to sign with the Mets part-time while attending William and Mary College as a full-time student and a four-year starter at point guard. In 1990, he graduated with a degree in finance. In 1992, Curtis signed with the Montreal Expos as a minor league free agent. He soon proved his abilities by batting a combined .324 with 21 homeruns and 50 stolen bases. Then in 1993, Curtis pride became the Þrst deaf athlete in the major leagues in 50 years.
  • Neil Gwinn: Neil Gwinn is an elementary school guidance counselor and a high school soccer coach in Howard County, Maryland. In his ‘spare’ time he is an assistant coach and player for the United States Deaf Soccer Organization (USDSO). Neil has had a progressive hearing loss since childhood. Gradually hearing aids were not useful to Neil and he received a cochlear implant in June 1995.

Information from Time Out! was excerpted by Karen L. Anderson, PhD and provided with permission of the authors. Information was posted on
Supporting Success for Children with Hearing Loss in February, 2013.