Increasingly students are expected to be able to listen to iPads or computers in the classroom and to also respond verbally. For children with typical hearing this is accomplished with standard headphones or with earpieces with integrated microphones (like headphones used with a smart phone). Unfortunately, these standard ways to connect a student to the computer may not work with students with hearing aids or cochlear implants.
It is important for the classroom teacher to recognize when (even with the best amplification accommodations) which students may not have the auditory ability to hear the difference between “cat” and cap” unless they see it being said. Audio alone sometimes isn’t enough and the use of oral interpreting must be considered. For students who have interpreter or transliterator a splitter cord can be plugged into the computer input jack so the adult can use Walkman style headset and hear what the student is hearing. If clarification is needed some transmitter mics will not transmit speech once it is plugged in to the computer thereby requiring visual communication with the child (to prevent this issue you may be able to select ‘mute’ or ‘active’ as a mic setting on the FM/DM device).
It is discriminatory when students with hearing loss are assessed or expected to work on computer programs with audio input if their hearing loss has not been appropriately accommodated. Even with extra testing time provided, students should not be forced to spend extra time and effort to discriminate the words being said versus the actual task being tested. Extra test time may be a convenient (free) accommodation for the school district to provide, but it results in undue effort on the part of the student, thus requiring him to work above and beyond the expectations of other students. Whereas, providing appropriate technology to connect students to optimize their hearing or appropriate visual accommodations that does not require undue effort for them to comprehend the material results in testing or learning equity. Ultimately, if a solution cannot be found that allows the student to access information optimally (as well as hearing peers) it is important that the IEP specifies accommodations such as 1:1 test administration in a quiet room for high stakes testing and really whenever the student’s performance will be measured.
A November 2014 policy guidance from the US Department of Education and Department of Justice clarified that, Under Title II of the ADA, schools have the responsibility to ensure that communication access is as effective for children with hearing loss as it is for their typical peers. For some students on IEPs these requirements on effective communication may exceed what is currently provided under IDEA. This requirement applies to students with hearing loss who are not on IEPs or 504 Plans too! These laws also apply to children in public preschools as well.
In September 2015 the US Department of Justice released a 9-page document on testing accommodations. The publication provides technical assistance on testing accommodations for individuals with disabilities who take standardized or other high-stakes tests. It addresses the obligations of testing entities, who is entitled to accommodations, and what types of testing accommodations must be provided. Although the document is geared more toward high school or post-high school high-stakes testing (like the SAT), the list of testing accommodations and other information is also applicable to considerations for younger children. Mentioned accommodations specified include dstraction-free rooms, physical prompts (such as for individuals with hearing impairments) and extended time.
The student seems to ‘hear’ – what is the big deal about special connections to media devices?
Hearing Loss and Recorded Speech
An increasing number of educational resources are being delivered through recorded speech, inclusive of, but not limited to, reading comprehension programs (e.g. Raz Kids), in the younger grades, listening centers and even examinations.
When a student requires the accommodation of a “reader” for examinations, rather than a live voice reader, they are often provided with a recorded version of the exam. While recorded speech may be an adequate delivery method for a student with normal hearing sensitivity, it creates a barrier for students who are deaf/hard of hearing. Rather than recorded speech, students who are deaf or hard of hearing require a live voice reader for examinations. The rationale behind this accommodation are:
- The recording process compresses speech to a narrower band, whereas people with hearing loss actually require a broader frequency band for optimal understanding.
- Listening to recorded speech does not allowing the student to use speech-reading to fill in gaps in their hearing..
- Not being able to speech-read creates a barrier to understanding/comprehension.
- Subtle intonations and inflections are often not captured in recorded speech.
- While students with normal hearing may still be able to understand the message, students who are deaf/hard of hearing may struggle as they rely on intonation/inflections of speech to enhance their speech understanding.
Rate of Speech
- Students who are deaf/hard of hearing require a slower rate of speech than is often offered on recorded materials.
- A live reader can accommodate a reduced rate of speech where a recording cannot.
- Students who are deaf/hard of hearing do not have equal access to spoken information, therefore the student who is deaf/hard of hearing will likely require the repetition of some exam questions to ensure equal access.
- The everyday listening effort required of students who are deaf/hard of hearing is substantially greater than their peers and can result in fatigue and attention challenges and reduced retention abilities.
- When hard of hearing students have to listen to recorded speech they lose visual cues, vocal intonation/inflection cues optimal listening rates as well as opportunities for repetition. Additionally, the way speech is recorded is not optimal for students listening with hearing loss.
- All of these factors create gaps that need to be “filled in” by the hard of hearing student which in turn increases the required listening effort relative to their peers.
- Sound exhausting? It is; and the deaf/hard of hearing student has to do this while still engaging in the the processing of complex questioning, the retrieval of information, as well as the stress of test-taking.
Examination Accommodations Check List
Listening to recorded speech through hearing aids or cochlear implants is much like an individual with normal hearing listening through to an announcement in a large area, like an airport or WalMart. Speech can be heard but it is fragmented and difficult to understand.
To ensure that your deaf/hard of hearing student has equitable exam taking opportunities they will require:
– Writing all tests/exams in a quiet room.
– Provision of more time for the writing of exams.
– Requesting a live voice reader in place of recorded speech (digitally or computer generated voice or CD-Rom format), if needed
– The reader will be required to make use of the student’s personal FM/DM system for the duration of the exam, inclusive of opening and closing remarks.
– The use of a scribe or notetaker, if needed.
This information is thanks to Krista Yuskow, educational audiologist from Edmonton, Alberta and author of the Tech Talk section of the Teacher Tools e-Magazine.