Hearing Disabilities: Assistive Technology
Over 80% of all hearing loss is sensorineural, which means that the source of the problem is damaged hair cells in the cochlea. Although this type of hearing loss is generally not amenable to medical or surgical treatment, hearing aids often can be of benefit.
That being the case, you may wonder why students with hearing aids still request accommodations to be able to hear in class. The expectation by many people is that the hearing aids will correct hearing as glasses do vision, but this is not the case. Hearing aids provide amplification of sound that is very helpful. But there are other problems some people who are hard of hearing experience, such as not being able to discriminate the speech sounds they can hear, even with added volume, and not being able to isolate speech from background noise. Hearing aids alone do not correct these problems.
Hard-of-hearing students are individuals who come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their hearing losses. As a result, their ability to understand speech varies greatly, as do their needs in the classroom. Communication access has to be customized to meet the student's needs and may include hearing aids, communication strategies, assistive technology, note taking, computer assisted realtime transcription (CART), or some or all of the above.
Assistive technology can stretch a hearing aid's capability. Three types — FM, infrared, and audio loop systems — in conjunction with the hearing aid can increase intelligibility of the teacher's voice for a student by bringing the sound directly to the student's ear and by cutting out background noise that otherwise would compete with the teacher's voice. This technology may make enough of a difference that a student will be able to hear in class when he/she couldn't with hearing aids alone, and, depending on the level of hearing loss, the student may or may not need a front seat.
Even so, with hearing aids and assistive listening devices, students who are hard of hearing will still be working hard to hear. It's probably safe to say they can never relax and just absorb what the teacher is saying. They have to go through an additional step of listening intently to process what they are hearing and then form a reaction to it. The listening and processing part alone takes a lot of energy. In addition to hearing aids and assistive technology, they will be using speechreading and any other strategy they know to help them understand speech. All their efforts to hear are dependent upon factors that affect speechreading such as lighting, the instructor's teaching style, and room acoustics. As to why students may request note takers, many people with hearing loss cannot watch the speaker for speechreading, ensure that their hearing aids and assistive devices are in sync, and take notes at the same time.
In essence, many students will be using a combination of technology, communication strategies, and every inch of concentration just to hear, and even with all that, it is entirely possible that some students, depending on their needs, will still not get everything said in class. Even though they may hear most of what the teacher says, there is a good chance that unless they have all the appropriate assistive technologies, or the teacher remembers to always repeat what the other students in the class are saying, the student will miss questions and comments from the class... Although they definitely will be working hard to do so, hard-of-hearing students can and do succeed at achieving communication access. They are able to do so when they have responsive teachers and school administrators who facilitate their requests for accommodations and are determined to educate themselves and others about strategies for communication.
The following is excerpted from the "Report on Assistive Listening Devices" by Ruth Warick, Catherine Clark, Jesse Dancer, and Stephen Sinclair, published by the National Task Force on Quality of Services in the Postsecondary Education of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students, 1997.
For the most hard of hearing students, and for some who are deaf, hearing aids and related sound amplification devices are of great benefit in their communication and learning. We are all familiar with hearing aids. If we don't wear a hearing aid ourselves, almost certainly we know others who do.
Hearing aids, the predecessor to ALDs, have been in existence for over a hundred years in one form or another, and have become increasingly sophisticated over the years. Unlike ALDs, hearing aids amplify sound through a single unit leading into the ear. There are different types of hearing aids such as behind-the-ear-aids, in-the-ear aids and body aids.
Basically, a hearing aid system consists of a tiny microphone that picks up sound waves from the air and converts them into electrical signals, a battery that provides electrical energy to operate the hearing aid, and a tiny loudspeaker called a receiver that converts the amplified signal back into sound waves and directs them into the ear through a specially fitted mold.
Most behind-the-ear and body aids have a "t-switch" that controls a telecoil which in turn picks up electromagnetic signals from a telephone or another listening device. This is reconverted into sound, magnified, and sent to the listener through his/her earmold. This offers enhanced sound quality and avoids picking up extraneous sounds. One disadvantage is that, besides blocking out erroneous sounds, it also blocks out the wearer's own voice. This problem can be solved by using a combined microphone/telecoil mode. If the student uses two hearing aids, he/she may choose to wear one in the customary microphone mode and the other in the telecoil mode. Alternately, the student may be using only one hearing aid.
While some hard of hearing persons rely solely on their hearing aids, other find them inadequate in some environments, and choose to use an assistive listening device.
ALD's differ from each other in numerous respects, but they also have common features not shared by hearing aids. Like hearing aids, ALD's have transmitting and receiving components. However, whereas hearing aids package both these components in a single unit for wearing on the user's body, ALD's place the microphone/transmitter unit at or near the source of the sound, e.g., speaker, musical performance. The transmitter sends the signal through the air by cable to the receiver being worn by the user. This separation of the two components enables an ALD to:
- amplify sound over a considerable distance,
- provide clear sound over distances by eliminating echoes and reducing surrounding noises,
- overcome poor sound quality when a microphone/public address system is in use,
- amplify sound from several vantage points.
It is a matter of student choice whether or not to use an ALD. While it may appear that a particular student would benefit from the use of a system, the individual student must choose whether to wear it; if he/she does not want to use ALD, this choice must be respected, with the recognition that each hard of hearing person differs in his/her response to such devices.
Many hard of hearing students function well with a hearing aid in one-to-one interactions, but they may not be able to hear in large classrooms. A distinct acoustic advantage of ALDs compared to personal hearing aids is the position of the input microphone at a location close to the talker's mouth. While the noise and reverberation characteristics of a room generally are constant at all places, the intensity of the primary speech signal decreases as distance increases from the talker (called the "speech-to-noise ratio"). By placing the mircophone of the auditory amplification system close to the talker's mouth, the most advantageous ratio is obtained between the intensity of speech and the level of background noise.
ALDs maintain this favorable speech-to-noise ratio due to the fact that the signal is transmitted by electronic, magnetic, infrared, or radio media rather than acoustically (as in the case of the hearing aid) to each listener's ear.
Four TTY phones are located on campus: Safety and Security (in the Athletic Center), the first floor of the Campus Center, the first tier of Magill Library, and the Dining Center foyer.
This following is a reprint of an article from Clarke Mainstream News, the newsletter of the Mainstream Center at Clarke-School for the Deaf/Center for Oral Education, V. 17, #8, May/June 1998. In Pennsylvania the State Relay Service number is 800-855-1155. The Federal Information Relay Service is 800-877-8339.
An Introduction to State Telephone Relay Services
Communicating by telephone is an integral part of growing up in America. From the time children figure out how to say "Hi" to Grandpa, through those nights when teenagers are up until 3:00 a.m. talking with a good friend, telephones are part of their life. For the young person with hearing loss, this used to be one situation from which she was completely disconnected.
With the advent of TDD's, or Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf, telephone use was finally accessible to those with hearing loss. But even then, it was only possible for the person with a TDD to communicate with others who had TDD's. Calling a hearing friend was still not possible, because most hearing households didn't have -- and still do not have -- the necessary TDD equipment. But today, there is a service that allows full communication access for people with hearing loss. With the advent of Telephone Relay Service in every state, people with a TDD can now communicate with anyone else who has a telephone. As part of the Telecommunications Act of 1992, every state was required to implement a telephone relay service by 1995. Today, every state has such a service. Anyone in Pennsylvania can use the State Relay Service by calling 1-800-855-1155. What is the Relay Service? It is a service provided by a telephone company with specially trained operators, or Communication Assistants (CA's), who assist with calls between people who have TDD's and people who do not. For example, Susan, who is deaf wants to call her friend John, who is hearing, to make plans to meet at the mall. John does not have a TDD, so Susan can use the Relay Service. If John later needs to call Susan back to change the time of their meeting, he too could use the Relay Service.
There are certain protocols when using a State Relay Service. For example, the Communication Assistant must relay (by voice or by TDD) the exact words that are being communicated between both callers. One of the problems in this process is that a hearing caller often uses such phrases as "tell him" or "ask her". In effect, this caller is talking to the CA rather than the other caller. This is inappropriate. The callers should talk or type as if the CA were not there. For example, it would be more appropriate for John to say, "Susan, we need to meet at the mall a little later," rather than, "Tell Susan I need to meet her at the mall a little later."
There may be variability in the skill and experience levels of either the CA or the caller. Sometimes a CA may not be clear when explaining how the relay works to an inexperienced caller. If this leads to confusion and misunderstanding, a caller might feel frustrated and reluctant to use the service in the future. To promote the use of the relay service for communication among students with and without hearing loss, it would be helpful to have the State Relay Service provide a training session for a class or a whole school. These sessions are usually free of charge and take 90 minutes or less.
Social inclusion is one of the most important concerns of students with hearing loss who are in regular schools. If using the telephone is an integral part of the social life of today's kids, then we need to ensure that the student with hearing loss has access to this kind of communication. Everyone with a reason to talk to this student by telephone needs to know about using the State Relay Service.
Sign language interpreters are key to enhancing communication between deaf and hearing people. They are seen with political speeches, in churches, in theatres, and in any place where communication to a large audience is important. The main foundation in the United States for facilitating such communication is the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf:
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc.
On the web: www.rid.org
8630 Fenton Street Suite 324, Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-608-0050 (v/tty), 301-608-0562 (tty), 301-608-0508 (fax)
The following text is quoted from the website of the British Deaf Association
Contrary to popular belief, Sign Language is not international. Sign languages evolve wherever there are Deaf people, and they show all the variation you would expect form different spoken languages.
They are not derived from spoken language of a country. Thus, although in Great Britain, Ireland and the United States the main spoken language is English, all three have entirely separate sign languages.
As with spoken languages, a sign language can evolve from a parent sign language and therefore show affinities. For instance, due to historical and political links, Australian Sign Language and modern BSL [British Sign Language] share a common ancestor, and there are similarities between the two.
American Sign Language (ASL) bears a resemblance to French Sign Language (LSF) because Laurent Clerc introduced the "methodical sign system" developed by the Abe Del'Epee in eighteenth century France into American Deaf education. There are also the regional dialects and "accents" which are present in every language.
There is a collection of internationally accepted signs - Gestuno - which is sometimes used in the course of international meetings of Deaf people.
In 1988 The European Parliament passed a Resolution on Sign Languages, proposing that every member country recognise its own national Sign Language as the official language of Deaf people in that country.
For more information or assistance with any of the above, please contact us.