Education Studies and Hearing Impairments
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Brief description of Hearing Impairments and Auditory Difficulties
Students with hearing impairments may depend on their sight for communication e.g. speech reading, lip reading, British Sign Language (BSL) or a form of English using BSL vocabulary called Sign Supported English (SSE).
The DDA states that an 'inability to hold a conversation with someone talking in a normal voice' or an 'inability to hear and understand another person speaking clearly over the voice telephone' counts as a 'substantial adverse' effect under the Act.
When the consequences of someone's deafness or hearing loss are being considered, the effect of background noise should be taken into account. Any attempts to treat or correct a person's deafness or hearing loss are ignored for the purposes of the DDA. Importantly, this means that even if a person uses a hearing aid, his or her hearing without that equipment aid is what counts.
There are four types of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss (affecting the conduction pathways for sound to reach the inner ear). Conductive hearing losses usually affect all frequencies of hearing evenly and do not result in severe losses.
- Sensorineural hearing loss (from damage to the delicate sensory hair cells of the inner ear or the nerves which supply it). These hearing losses can range from mild to profound and they often affect the person's ability to hear certain frequencies more than others.
- A mixed hearing loss refers to a combination of conductive and sensorineural loss and means that a problem occurs in both the outer or middle and the inner ear.
- A central hearing loss results from damage or impairment to the nerves or nuclei of the central nervous system, either in the pathways to the brain or in the brain itself.
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Teaching strategies associated with Hearing Impairments
These strategies are suggestions for inclusive teaching. This list should not be considered exhaustive and it is important to remember that all students are individuals. What constitutes good practice for one student may not necessarily be good practice for another. You may also like to contact the Disability Specialist in your institution for further information. If you have any good practice that you would like to add to this list, please email your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Provide sufficient time to discuss needs with the student before/during their initial teaching session.
- People who depend on their eyes to 'hear' will not be able to take notes as well as lip read or watch an interpreter, so it is helpful to provide notes or to arrange for copies from another student.
- Face the person at all times when speaking. Speak clearly and encourage other students to do the same. Speak at a measured but normal speed as speaking too slowly distorts lip patterns, which become impossible to read.
- Approach a deaf student who is working from the front or side to avoid startling them.
- Arrange lighting and seating so that everyone's face is well lit. Avoid standing in front of a window or light: this places the face in shadow.
- Do not talk and write on a board or talk and demonstrate at the same time.
- Try to keep background noise to a minimum.
- Be aware that loud noises can be distressing when amplified through a hearing aid.
- Lip-reading is very tiring: students may need to have periodic rests.
- Unknown vocabulary is hard to lip-read. Write vocabulary down and check that it is understood.
- It is difficult to lip-read if the context is not known. The better a talk is structured the better is it followed. Handouts and overheads can be very helpful in complementing spoken instructions and descriptions, but provide these in advance, as students cannot lip-read at the same time.
- Use short clear statements and vocabulary, avoiding or explaining abstract concepts or jargon. If students misunderstand, a different way of explaining the same idea should be explored.
- Important announcements, key concepts and new technical words should be written on the board or given as a handout.
- Repeat the beginning of an utterance and not just the end, and do not change the wording. Deaf and hearing impaired people may tune-in late to the fact that they are being addressed and miss the beginning.
- When working with interpreters make time for them, and always address the deaf person, not the interpreter.
- Interpreting is tiring: do not speak too quickly. During long sessions allow interpreters to have short rest breaks. There might be times when two interpreters are needed.
- Any videos or audio tapes that are to be used in the session should have written transcripts. Deaf students will benefit if interpreters and communication support workers have access to these before the session and are given notes, handouts and scripts of videos in advance.
- If a student has speech difficulties, this is not a reflection of intellectual ability or understanding. Encourage students to contribute to discussions and be patient to allow communication to take place.
- Students with hearing impairments may experience difficulties with grammar if they are using British Sign Language as a first language. These students may require extra time and/or assistance for their written work.
- Some students may need to record lectures; others may have a note-taker or interpreter. Make time for interpreters, be aware of time lags, e.g. when asking questions, and allow time for the hearing impaired students to answer.
- Group work can be difficult for hearing impaired students as they may not know who is speaking and thus who to watch unless an interpreter is present. Encourage students to indicate with a gesture when they are speaking. Provide extra time after group sessions to check that the content has been understood.