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Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training
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Hearing Impairment and Deafness

According to Deafness Forum Australia, approximately one in six Australians has a significant hearing loss. Within this population, most individuals have some level of hearing impairment and only a small proportion of the group is deaf. Types of hearing loss include sensorineural (nerve-related), conductive (affecting the outer or middle ear) or a mixed hearing loss (mixture of both types.) People who use Australian Sign Language (Auslan) often prefer to be referred to as deaf rather than hard of hearing. They see this as a positive identity rather than a negative label.

People who have a hearing loss are either pre-lingually deafened or post-lingually deafened. People who are pre-lingually deafened have lost their hearing before they acquired language. People who are post-lingually deafened acquired their hearing loss after they acquired language. For each group the impact of the hearing loss and the degree of deafness will vary.

Some people who are pre-lingually deafened use Auslan. Many received cochlear implants early at birth. Some rely on spoken language. Many communicate with a combination of spoken language and sign language. Some have normal language and literacy development. Some may have issues with literacy.  It varies greatly, so it is important to understand the needs of each individual. All these factors need to be considered when assessing the types of reasonable adjustments.

People who have a post-lingual hearing loss generally acquired their hearing loss later in life. They may or may not benefit from listening devices. Some may learn sign language as a means to diversify access to communication.  As with people who are pre-lingually deafened, it is important to assess the needs of each individual before implementing any reasonable adjustments. This is because the requirements of each individual can be diverse.

Students with a hearing loss may require accommodations and assistive devices to have the best access to education. Accommodations may be as simple as preferential seating or as complex as wireless assistive listening devices in the classroom. Some will require Auslan interpreters and live remote captioning. Each learner with a hearing loss should be assessed individually and accommodations should be implemented based on the unique needs of each student.

Impact of Hearing Loss

The learning processes of students with a hearing loss  may be affected in the following ways:

  • Students who have been deafened in early childhood can be very different to students who have lost hearing later in life in terms of educational disadvantage. For example, their range of vocabulary may be limited, which in turn may affect their level of English literacy.
  • Deaf and hard of hearing students can sometimes prefer visual learning strategies. This can be a challenge in an environment where much essential information is delivered exclusively by word of mouth.
  • Students with a hearing loss may need to use assistive technology to participate in class. This assistive technology can be the laptop where software such as Skype can be used to deliver Auslan interpreters or captioning. For some it will be in the form of listening devices. For others it will be a combination of technology that includes both listening devices and computer based software.
  • The impact of hearing loss can cause delays in receiving learning material. Students who need information transcribed from tape must sometimes wait for a significant period of time for this to happen. This needs to be considered in terms of developing suitable timelines for the completion of work for each student.
  • Students with hearing loss may appear isolated in the learning environment. The possibility for social contact and interaction with other students is often limited, and this isolation or separateness may have an impact on learning.
  • Participation and interaction in tutorials may be limited. Students who cannot hear the flow and nuances of rapid verbal exchange will be at a disadvantage.
  • Some students with hearing loss coming straight from the school system have been familiar with a structured learning environment, and may require a period of adjustment when entering into the post-secondary learning environment. Communication difficulties and adjustments may lead to a level of anxiety about performing in front of others. This may affect participation in tutorials, particularly for students whose speech development has been impacted by their hearing loss.

Teaching Strategies

There is a range of inclusive teaching strategies that can assist all students to learn but there are some specific strategies that are useful in teaching a group that includes students with a hearing impairment:

  • Encourage students with a hearing loss to seat themselves toward the front of the lecture theatre where they will have an unobstructed line of vision. This is particularly important if the student is using an interpreter, lip-reading, relying on visual clues or using a hearing aid which has a limited range. Be aware that some students may not be comfortable with this suggestion or have alternate strategies. Respect their choices.
  • Use assistive listening devices such as induction loops if these are available in the lecture theatre. Hearing aids may include transmitter/receiver systems with a clip-on microphone for the lecturer. If using such a microphone, it is not necessary to change your speaking or teaching style.
  • Ensure that any background noise is minimised.
  • Repeat clearly any questions asked by students in the lecture or class before giving a response.
  • Do not speak when facing the blackboard. Be aware that moustaches, beards, hands, books or microphones in front of your face can add to the difficulties of lip-readers. Students who lip-read cannot function in darkened rooms. You may need to adjust the lighting in your teaching environment. If a sign interpreter is employed, follow the hints for working with a sign interpreter.
  • It is difficult for a student watching an interpreter to also take notes from an overhead or blackboard. An interpreter is unable to translate concurrently both your words and any information given on an overhead. It is important therefore that all information should also be available as handouts.
  • Provide written materials to supplement all lectures, tutorials and laboratory sessions. Announcements made regarding class times, activities, field work, industry visits etc, should be given in writing as well as verbally.
  • Allow students to record lectures or, preferably, make available copies of your lecture notes. Flexible delivery of teaching materials via electronic media is also particularly helpful for students who have difficulty accessing information in the usual ways. For students with a hearing loss, new technology - and the internet in particular - can be used to bridge many gaps.
  • Ensure that lists of the subject-specific jargon and technical terms which students will need to acquire are made available early in the course. If interpreters or captioning are being used as an adjustment, make this list available to the professionals providing the service as early as possible.
  • Any videos or films used should, where possible, be captioned. When this is not possible, you will need to consider alternative ways for students with hearing impairment to access the information.
  • In tutorials, assist students who lip-read by having the student sit directly opposite you and ensure, if possible, that they can see all other participants. Control the discussion so that only one person is speaking at a time.
  • Students with hearing loss, especially those with associated speech issues, may prefer to have another student present their tutorial papers.
  • Language abilities are often affected by hearing loss, depending on the age of onset. Students who acquired their hearing loss early in life may have literacy issues. In some cases, providing reading lists well before the start of a course for students with a hearing loss can be beneficial. Consider tailoring these reading lists when necessary, and provide guidance to key texts.
  • Allow assignments or reviews to be completed on an in-depth study of a few texts rather than a broad study of many.
  • Using Auslan interpreters and live remote captioning may require some adjustments in teaching styles, particularly the pace of the learning. Consult with the providers of the service early to identify any potential changes.
  • Where live remote captioning is provided, a transcript of the session can usually be assessed within 24 hours. It is recommended that these be emailed directly to the student as an accurate record of reference.

Assessment Strategies

Always consider alternative forms of assessment where necessary. Standards are not expected to be lowered to accommodate students with a disability but rather are required to give them a reasonable opportunity to demonstrate what they have learnt. Once you have a clear picture of how the disability impacts on learning, you can consider alternative assessment strategies:  

  • When their range of literacy is an issue, students may require the use of a thesaurus or dictionary during exams. A personal computer with spelling and grammar functions may be required.
  • Provide alternatives to those assignments which are based on interviews or questionnaires, and be flexible with assignment deadlines, particularly if students have had to wait for transcripts of learning sessions.
  • Provide extra time in examinations, particularly extra time for reading questions. Some students will prefer to have questions and instructions ‘signed’ to them.