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Hearing loss in the classroom: Your rights as a student

hearing loss in the classroom
Going to school with hearing loss can be tough. From listening fatigue to keeping track of listening technology, to dealing with less-than-ideal classroom settings, hearing loss can present several barriers to education.

However, there are ways to ensure that you are receiving the accommodations that you have a right to. As a student, it is important to know your rights for when your needs aren’t being met to help you thrive with hearing loss in the classroom. This may happen through a teacher who refuses to provide accommodations. In the past, I have had issues getting teachers to wear listening technology, putting captions on classroom content, or providing transcripts/notes for lectures. When something like this happens, it’s important to know your rights.

What are student’s rights?

In the U.S., this usually manifests in the form of a 504 or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Other countries will likely have corresponding laws for similar purposes. These are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. An IEP is a detailed plan which includes necessary accommodations. The accommodations on your IEP should be based on your individual needs in relation to your hearing loss, which differs from case to case.

For example, my IEP includes the use of listening technology (Phonak Roger microphone), strategic seating (sitting in the front of the room so I can hear), subtitles on videos in class, and the use of transcripts/teacher notes for lectures and listening tests. You can typically also have an IEP adjusted at regular meetings with counselors and teachers. When teachers meet these needs, it makes all the difference in the classroom.

On the few occasions when I am without these accommodations, I miss important information and end up falling behind. So these rights are obviously important, but what should you do when they are violated?

Ideally, you shouldn’t have difficulty accessing something you’re already legally entitled to, but sometimes classroom adjustments are met with backlash. In these cases, you have several options as to how to handle it, and you don’t have to be subjected to exclusion in education. Remember to advocate for yourself and take action. Having the skills to do so will make school and life with hearing loss significantly easier.

Self Advocacy

The first step you take should always be self-advocacy. Voice your needs yourself, and your teacher will be more likely to respond in a positive manner. You can either raise your hand during class if you’re comfortable doing so, or you can talk to the teacher afterward if you want to maintain confidentiality, which you are also entitled to.

You should be as polite as possible without being shy or indecisive. Be assertive and tell your teacher or instructor why your needs are important. Give them detailed instructions as to how to meet them. Sometimes these events happen as a result of confusion as opposed to malice. Try not to assume the worst of your teachers. However, sometimes this will also be met with a less than adequate response. I have on occasion been met with condescension or unnecessary questions.

Remember that you don’t have to justify your needs or your disability. Your needs are legally codified through IEPs and the legislature that protects them. If the conversation takes a turn for the worse, you should politely disengage and talk to someone else about the issue. The more politely you handle the problem, the more likely it is that the school’s administration will take your side. If met with further problems, you can always get help from someone else.

“Remember that you don’t have to justify your needs or your disability.”

Read more: How mild-moderate hearing loss often is overlooked in the classroom

Speak to your school administration

The next person you should likely speak to is someone in the administration. I usually talk to an assistant principal, who often supervises teachers. Alternatively, you could speak to the diagnostician, the person who is in charge of disability services on campus, or even your school counselor. I often end up speaking to a combination of the three, as solving these issues can take a coordinated effort. Usually, the teacher will be written up, and you may be given the option to be moved to a different teacher. However, this might require a significant change in your schedule or routine, so think carefully about what’s best for your education.

Dealing with these problems can often be emotionally exhaustive. Therefore, having a support network can be extremely helpful in dealing with these problems. This can consist of parents, friends, and/or other people with hearing loss. Dealing with discrimination can cause a range of negative emotions, but don’t let that turn to apathy. It’s important to remember that you’re entitled to the same opportunities as your fully-hearing peers and that your rights do matter.

“It’s important to remember that you’re entitled to the same opportunities as your fully-hearing peers and that your rights do matter.”

Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself with confidence. As a person living with hearing loss, these skills will transfer to other aspects of your life and be immensely helpful in other areas.

What self-advocacy tips do you have for students?

Author Details
Isaac is a Phonak Teen Advisor and wears Phonak Marvel Audeo hearing aids.