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Disability Specific Adjustments: Deaf and Hard of Hearing

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 had 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 Australian Sign Language (Auslan). Many will receive cochlear implants early at birth. Some will rely on spoken language. Many will communicate with a combination of spoken language and sign language. Some will have normal language and literacy development. Some may have issues with literacy. The impact 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 acquire 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 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 a laptop on which 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 the process 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.

Disability Practitioner Strategies

There are a range of services and equipment that are commonly facilitated by Disability Practitioners as reasonable adjustments for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

These include:

  • Access to peer lecture notes
  • Provision of Auslan interpreters for lectures, tutorials, practicals, practicums and meetings with staff as required
  • Provision of a combination of Auslan interpreters and/or note-taking services for classes
  • Arrangement of appropriate seating in lectures, tutorials, practicals and examinations for lip readers
  • Provision of a real-time Laptop typist note-taker for lectures,  tutorials and practicals
  • Access to real-time captioning in lectures
  • Transcription of requisite Audio Resources into accessible format including narrated powerpoints, multi-media clips and web-conferencing
  • Facilitate external assessment and recommendations of appropriate technology and equipment for the required settings
  • Provision of Assistive Technology or equipment in examinations
  • Arrangement for student to meet with faculty to identify strategies for accommodating the implications of the disability in relation to the inherent requirements of any required practicums
As a disability practitioner it may be helpful to be aware of inclusive teaching and assessment strategies that can assist all students. ADCET has identified some specific strategies that may be useful for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing Deaf and Hearing Impaired Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Strategies

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