Including the Student with Moderate Hearing Impariment

Including the Student with Moderate Hearing Impariment (PILOT Reflections)

I know a smidgen of sign language. I once rode a bus from Virginia to Texas, and happened to sit next to a hearing-impaired young woman. (Hmm… I was young at the time, too.) I learned to sign the alphabet when I was in third grade, and she could read lips, so we had a good starting point. I learned the basic concept of ASL very quickly, so much that sometimes when I didn’t know the right word, I would guess, and either I guessed right, or I was close enough to understand. The sign for “forget” is sort of wiping a thought away from your forehead and throwing it away, so it makes sense that the sign for “remember” is grabbing a thought and putting it into your forehead.

My two-year-old daughter likes repeating the sign language gestures done by Maggie Stewart, the actress who plays Mayor Maggie on Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood. (When Ms. Stewart and some of the other cast of the show were recently at a local theme park, Ms. Stewart sort of clicked out of auto-pilot, put down her autograph pen and spent some time signing back and forth with my daughter. The fact that my daughter toddled up to her and, in sign language, called her “beautiful” and “wonderful” probably helped get her attention!)

But there is no way that I could learn enough ASL to translate my lectures if I learned a few days before class started that a hearing-impaired student had signed up for one of my classes.

Using blogs as a way of discussing class material will help level the playing field, so to speak, but I’m going to work against my tendency to see blogs as the solution to every instructional problem.

While I depend upon the classroom bonding that takes place during informal class discussion, that bonding can take place through more physical and visual activities.

I’ve picked up some other tips that seem pretty obvious, but which I might not think of in the middle of a class:

  • Show DVDs with the titles turned on.
  • Don’t turn your back to the class (to write on the board, for example).
  • Speak slowly (that will be a problem with me!)

I already often send follow-up e-mails after introducing new material. Perhaps the hearing-impaired person would benefit from being able to read this material first, so that the classroom experience is less fatiguing.

At my previous job, a student did a senior project on the humor of hearing-impaired persons. An example she gave was that after Clinton’s sexual history began to affect his presidency, the sign for “Clinton” changed in the deaf community, taking on some of the elements of the sign for “slippery” or “slick” (or maybe it was “waffle”, I don’t remember — something else mildly critical). And I’m also familiar with the play/movie “Children of a Lesser God,” which operates from the premise that sign language is a beautiful culture in its own right, one that risks being destroyed if the world at large forces the hearing impaired to adapt to the culture of the hearing world.

I’d be careful not to expect the hearing impaired person to give “the deaf side of things”, just as I wouldn’t single out the lone non-white student or the lone male student to give a minority report. Still, if I were teaching a literature or media class, I would try to include “Children of a Lesser God” along with, say, “The Miracle Worker” (the story of Helen Keller).

Depending on the future educational and career goals of the hearing-impaired student, I would consider how strictly I would ask him or her to conform to standard written English. I’d probably be lenient in a literature or media production course, but I’d have to educate myself on the syntax of signed English, which, when translated into written English, can be structurally very different. Asking this student to participate in informal typed conversations, via e-mail or via blogs, may help the hearing impaired student recognize the differences between standard written English and transcribed signed English.

If the student has moderate hearing impairment, and can understand conversational speech but may miss offhand comments made by students in the back of the room, then I might restructure classroom discussion so that it is more ordered. Students speaking into a microphone may begin with prepared statements, and then a panel will give their responses. Students could then break up into small groups, so that everyone gets the chance to participate in a freer discussion, but the hearing-impaired student doesn’t have to strain to listen to comments lobbed from the back of the room. Students might be asked to write up a conclusion from their breakout sessions, and post it to a central location.

Actually, now that I think about it, if the students who start with formal statements were required to submit them in advance for a grade, so that they could be reviewed in advance by the hearing-impaired student, that strategy would also help students who feel uncomfortable speaking in class, who have difficulty taking notes, who regularly miss class due to extracurricular or health obligations, etc. (That may be a good example of Universal Design.)