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Studying with Hearing Loss: Why Communication Access Matters

studying with hearing loss

When I first began losing my hearing in elementary school, that was the start of what I call my “Swiss Cheese” education.

Every day, all day long, I strained to lipread and use my residual hearing in an attempt to access what was being said in the classroom. I studied every night to try and fill in the holes of what I missed during the day. 

I developed elaborate coping strategies to get me through each class. I asked to be excused to go to the bathroom to buy me some time away from the classroom. I bluffed my way through conversations.  In English class when we went around the room reading a paragraph out of a textbook, I calculated the number of paragraphs and when the student in front of me began reading, I had enough hearing to pick up the words and ensure I was on the correct paragraph when it was my turn to read.  

As a result, the teacher thought I was doing just fine in the classroom.

In reality, I developed what I call “Duck Syndrome,” the ability to glide gracefully on the surface while paddling furiously underneath. 

“I developed what I call ‘Duck Syndrome,’ the ability to glide gracefully on the surface while paddling furiously underneath.”

And in classrooms all over, deaf and hard of hearing students are going through their days with chunks of information missing from their instruction and educational experience. 

Read more: What you should know about concentration fatigue 

Filling in the Holes

In my work with Hands & Voices, and as a parent of three Deaf/Hard of hearing kids, I sometimes attend IEP meetings as an advocate. Every situation is different and what works for one student may not work for another. No matter the educational setting, the goal should be to give a Deaf or Hard of Hearing student 100% communication access. Whatever the hearing child can access throughout the day, the same should be for the Deaf or Hard of Hearing student. 

“No matter the educational setting, the goal should be to give a Deaf or Hard of Hearing student 100% communication access.”

Daniel is a high school student whose audiogram showed a discrimination score of 95%. In most of his classes he was doing well except for two classes, English and math. An audiogram is one measurement of hearing that provides some input, but when professionals rely on that solely to determine services in the classroom, it can put some students at a disadvantage. 

Real-time captioning

I met with Daniel and his mom the evening before a scheduled IEP meeting. One of the ways I encourage parents to get a better idea of their child’s ability to understand speech is to have them listen to a TV show or radio program that the child is not familiar with at a “normal” volume. The child will listen for about 30 seconds and repeat to the parent what they hear. If the child asks to turn up the volume or cannot understand at a rate of 100% (assuming the parent can hear at that rate as well)–that’s an indication that they’ll need accommodations in the classroom.

In Daniel’s case, he understood only about 40% of what he heard through the TV. I suggested that he try real-time captioning services in the two classes that he was struggling with. He agreed to try it. 

It took three very long IEP meetings to get the school to agree to accommodations. 

I had a similar experience with another student, Tony. At the time, Tony was a junior in high school and struggling in some of his classes. He was spending tremendous hours of study time after school to catch up for what he missed in the classroom. During one of his IEP meetings, the school offered to put a swivel chair in each classroom so that Tony could swivel around and lipread the other students.  (I kid you not). 

Tony agreed to try real time captioning in his classes for a two-week trial. During the IEP meeting, we encountered some initial resistance to the idea because the rest of the team felt that Tony was doing just fine in school. It took several weeks to actually implement the real-time captioning in the classroom, but at the end of the first day, Tony arrived home and told his mother that he had “no idea how much he was missing in the classroom until he had 100% access.”

“Tony arrived home and told his mother that he had ‘no idea how much he was missing in the classroom until he had 100% access.'”

Tony had to advocate once again when he attended college and requested real-time captioning for his classes. Today, Tony is an attorney with his own practice and he has become a wonderful advocate for other families and students. 

Read more: Teens with Hearing Loss: How to be an Advocate in the Classroom

Remote captioning 

In yet another case, Ali, a college student studying abroad, requested captioning for her cooking classes in Italy. There was some initial struggle to implement services, but the college finally set up remote captioning and transcripts. 

In some cases, schools are reluctant to implement access services because a Deaf or Hard of Hearing student is “doing just fine.” Their grades may be on par with other students. However, grades are NOT an indication to be used when it comes to accessibility services because we truly have no idea of a student’s potential until we address 100% communication access.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing students DO have the right to be able to access the educational setting just as their hearing peers do. 

Learn more about Phonak’s hearing technology for the classroom.

Karen Putz
Karen was born with normal hearing and became hard of hearing after a bout of illness in elementary school. At the age of 19, she tripped over a wake while barefoot water skiing and cartwheeled into the water. She thought she merely had water in her ears, but being deaf was here to stay, thanks to a wacky gene in her family. Becoming deaf turned out to be a blessing; after she dried the tears, Karen decided to embrace life and a whole new world opened up.

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