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COVID-19 pandemic hits deaf college students hard

pandemic deaf students
Most schools have completely transitioned to online learning as a way to stay safe during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, but the results are seriously affecting deaf students.

According to a poll by the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes, nearly 74 percent of deaf college students say online learning is harder than traditional, in-class learning. Additionally, many are being denied American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. With the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic, deaf college students are lacking accessibility and resources.

The poll, which was at conducted in April by the University of Texas at Austin, reports that 60 percent of deaf college students have reported being tired or anxious. Another 73 percent say they worry about the increased reading and writing assignments.

With more than 200,000 deaf and hard of hearing students enrolled in U.S. colleges, professors and students are struggling to find solutions.

Key issues with online learning for people with hearing loss:

  • Being denied ASL interpreters most often due to the university having an exclusive contract with an agency that does not provide remote services
  • Lack of access to podcasts and audio files
  • A need for expanded tutoring services and opportunities to connect with deaf peers to eliminate social isolation

Stephanie W. Cawthon, Ph.D. director of the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes, explains how deaf students aren’t receiving full access to their online education.

“Deaf students are not being considered valued members of the college learning community,” says Dr. Cawthon. “They lack equitable access and necessary accommodations required by law. Deaf students should be focusing their energy on learning, not using all of their energy to struggle for access. It is adding more stress to an already very stressful time, creating a mental health issue as well.”

Read more: What you should know about concentration fatigue

Online classrooms aren’t fully accessible

Communication preferences amongst deaf students can vary by setting and circumstances. The lack of accessibility to an ASL interpreter or live captioning during a live teleconference has proven problematic for deaf students to fully understand lectures. Errors in automated captioning on virtual services also make learning more difficult. This is not an ideal scenario for deaf students who uses an assistive listening system in a small classroom on campus.

“Online classrooms are not automatically accessible,” says Dr. Cawthon. “There must be an intentional effort to provide access, accommodate needs, and adjust our new learning environments to serve all students equally.”

“Online classrooms are not automatically accessible.”

In school, many deaf students rely on the faculty and staff to help set up accommodations. Now the expectation is that the students will organize their own accommodations or access needs. One student explained to the National Deaf Center Help Desk that she was asked to pay for her own ASL interpreter. This something that would not have been tolerated in a campus classroom.

Read more: Hearing Loss in the Classroom: Knowing your rights as a student

On that note, the National Deaf Center Help Desk inquiries were up 214 percent in April 2020 over April 2019. Students are seeking information on pandemic-related resources and guidance on avoiding social isolation.

When transitioning to online learning, Phonak hEARo and deaf college student Maddy Brinkmann was surprised to see the accessibility issues that arose in her classes.

“When my university suddenly shifted all classes online, my main challenges have been against situations that initially appear to be outside of my control,” Brinkmann says. “Although I had plugged my Roger Select into my computer, it was the online etiquette that people adopted, which made class discussions difficult. Although I expected technological obstacles when distance learning began, I didn’t expect these other challenges. For example, students turning their cameras off and not showing their faces.”

As a result of her experiences, she’s written a guide to distance learning for university students with hearing loss.

Tips for advocating for your education as a deaf college student

1) Get in contact with your teacher 

Being proactive can help make the transition easier for you and the professor. That way the professor can find a platform that is accessible to you from the start. That way they don’t need to change the platform after classes have begun.

Read more: A guide to distance learning for university students

2) Reduce background noise

This can include:

  • Closing windows and doors.
  • Turning off or moving away from noisy appliances- i.e. washing machines, running sinks, TVs, etc.
  • Moving away from people talking i.e. siblings doing their own e-learning, parents talking on the phone or on a video call. Check-in with your family and see what everyone’s schedule is like and work together to schedule in “quiet times.”

Read more: A parent’s guide to distance learning and hearing loss

3) Use a video conferencing platform with LIVE captioning

If you don’t have access to live captions, there are workarounds. Use a speech-to-text app on a second device. Some of these apps include Google Live TranscribeOtter.ai, and Speechy.

Read more: A guide to group video calling apps for hearing loss

4) Use your Roger Touchscreen Mic if you have one

The Phonak Roger Touchscreen Mic can be plugged into the student’s computer or tablet with a 3.5mm cable and then paired with the hearing aid.

On the other end, the teacher and any class participants can use a high-quality headset to provide the audio input. This will help the student hear the teacher clearly.

Read more: Making online learning accessible for deaf students

Do you have any more tips for online learning for people with hearing loss? Connect with us on Instagram and Facebook!

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Author Details
Ashley is a 29-year-old who loves to travel and try new things. She has bi-lateral, severe hearing loss, and wears a Phonak Naída V-SP hearing aid in one ear and has an Esteem implant in the other. She plays soccer for the USA Women’s National Deaf Team. She’s currently traveling the world in pursuit of adventure and perspective while also learning about the deaf and hard of hearing communities in various countries. Her travels can be followed on instagram @ashley5chanel or on her blog deaftattooedandemployed.com.
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Ashley is a 29-year-old who loves to travel and try new things. She has bi-lateral, severe hearing loss, and wears a Phonak Naída V-SP hearing aid in one ear and has an Esteem implant in the other. She plays soccer for the USA Women’s National Deaf Team. She’s currently traveling the world in pursuit of adventure and perspective while also learning about the deaf and hard of hearing communities in various countries. Her travels can be followed on instagram @ashley5chanel or on her blog deaftattooedandemployed.com.
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