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A parent’s guide to distance learning and hearing loss

Parent's guide to distance learning for deaf students
Due to COVID-19 we’re all at home. Through the end of the month? The school year? Longer?

I have children with hearing loss, ages four-years-old and seven-years-old, who are regularly joining video calls, engaging in distance learning, and asking to see friends. How do I help them hear clearly, when I’m in the background on my own conference calls, and our dishwasher never stops running? I swear our normally quiet home has become a crazy place.

When talking with Lindsay Cockburn Au.D., she tells me I’m not alone. Many parents are reaching out to her asking for simple tips on homeschooling, technology use, and more. Lindsay and I worked together to assemble the below tips, handouts, and FAQs.

How am I supposed to help my children with hearing loss with distance learning?

Kids with hearing loss have a significantly harder time understanding speech in a noisy environment than their typical hearing peers. This can lead to difficulties with attention, listening fatigue, and even behavior issues.

Luckily there are 3 simple things that can be done at home to help.

1) 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.”

2) Start with a listening check.

Check your child’s equipment to make sure it’s working. Try to do a listening check of their “class” as well. Ideally, only one person should be talking at a time.

3) Use assistive listening technology if you have it.

Connecting to a computer or tablet via Roger technology will provide the best sound quality because it helps reduce background noise while making the teacher’s voice slightly louder and clearer. Otherwise, Bluetooth features in your child’s hearing aid, or a remote mic, could be used.  You can see a write up with pictures of how to connect Roger or Bluetooth hearing aids to your child’s computer here.

distance learning and hearing loss

A recent infographic that sums up e-learning requirements. Photo credit: @ListenWithLindsey

What Hearing Assistive Technology is available for distance learning at home?

My daughter wears hearing aids with receivers attached sometimes called “boots.” My son wears hearing aids with receivers installed. We’ve been using Roger at home for a while now. But most parents have never actually seen the “FM” microphones that are talked about in their child’s IEP. No matter what your school could our could not send home, you may have some questions.

Read more: Making online learning accessible for deaf students

What is a Roger system?

  • A Roger microphone can be work around the neck to help your child hear, it also can be connected to their computer, tablet or TV.
  • A Roger microphone helps people hear over noise (think: Dishwasher, Siblings playing, TV or music) and at a distance (we have a lot of conversations more than 6 inches away and that’s hard for a person with hearing loss).
  • In order to hear the signal from the Roger microphone, you need one Roger receiver per hearing aid, cochlear implant or BAHA. (The system works with other brands of hearing instruments; your child doesn’t have to be in Phonak or Advanced Bionics technology.)
  • Roger receivers can be connected to a Roger microphone by pressing the connect button.
  • If you have multiple family members with hearing loss, a Roger mic can connect with all of their receivers
  • Roger receivers can be installed (instead of attached) in Phonak Marvel hearing aids. I worked with my kids’ audiologist to get a Roger system at home. You can too.

How do I use Roger?

There is a whole list of instruction sheets available on Phonak’s website. You can download any you need here.

Watch one teen who met the Roger engineers give feedback on the solutions.

What does Roger sound like?

A classroom simulation with the Touchscreen Mic and other transmitters:

 

A cafeteria simulation with the Roger Pen:

 

Phonak Teen and his family listen to Roger: 

 

How do I know if I’m connected?

You can get a simple audio Y-splitter to do this (one male end and two ports). I got mine from Amazon.

I plug the male end into the computer, then with my male-to-male 3.5mm cable, I plug one end into an open port and the other end into the Roger transmitter (Touchscreen Mic or Multimedia Hub). Next, I plug my headphones into the other port. This way, my child gets the Roger signal, and I can verify it!

distance learning and hearing loss

Using a Y-splitter to check your child’s Roger system.

I’ve never done a hearing check on the hearing aids before. How do I do this?

This short video by a mom talks about how she does listening checks on her daughter’s hearing aids. (ASL accessible.)

I don’t have Roger, what headphones can I use instead?

You want one that has noise cancellation features, stereo sound, and a microphone. A couple of choices include the Logitech H390 USB Computer Headset or the Jabra Evolve 20 UC Stereo.

Or if your child wears Phonak Marvel hearing aids, talk to your hearing care professional about the TV Connector. This is a lower-cost method of getting streamed media signal (without the battery drain of Bluetooth.) In order to use this in interactive distance learning classes though, your child’s personal computer must have a working microphone.

How do I keep it clean?

On the Roger Resources for Teachers page, there is a great document talking about appropriate ways to clean Roger in the time of envelope viruses, like COVID-19.

Read more: How to clean your hearing technology

Does Phonak have a consumer line?

Yes, the Phonak customer care consumer specialists can help you with connectivity questions. Contact them at 800-679-4871 or via email at info@phonak.com.

Are there listening activities or self-advocacy tools available I can use with my child?

There are lots available. The below are free and helpful to children, no matter what brand or type of hearing instrument being used.

If you’re like me, your brain can only handle so much new information at once these days. Save this site, so if / when you need that refresher, you can come back over and check it out. Follow @ListenwithLindsay and @HearingLikeMe on Instagram and visit Lindsay’s website! And most importantly, give your kids extra hugs.

Special thanks to Lindsay Cockburn Au.D., for collaborating with me on authoring this post.

Whitney Spagnola
Author Details
Whitney loves a good cup of black coffee. By day you can find her in Phonak’s marketing department and by night you can find her chatting with her family and friends. She has tinnitus and moderate hearing loss. She is the mother to two children, both have mild to moderate hearing loss. Her favourite thing about her hearing loss: that she is a better advocate for her children. Her favourite thing about her hearing aids: that she can stream anything she wants! Her favourite sound: laughter and the ocean.
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Whitney Spagnola
Whitney loves a good cup of black coffee. By day you can find her in Phonak’s marketing department and by night you can find her chatting with her family and friends. She has tinnitus and moderate hearing loss. She is the mother to two children, both have mild to moderate hearing loss. Her favourite thing about her hearing loss: that she is a better advocate for her children. Her favourite thing about her hearing aids: that she can stream anything she wants! Her favourite sound: laughter and the ocean.
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