Students who are deaf or hard of hearing are being presented with new challenges this upcoming school year, whether they've returned to the classroom, are learning remotely, or both. Virtual learning adds an array of potential struggles to the mix as these students will now face technology barriers that could impede their access to education.
Educators, caregivers, and students are all learning to navigate remote learning together.
What schools and educators can do
The bulk of the responsibility for making remote learning accessible falls on a student’s school and teachers. With as many as 14% of all public school students receiving special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools are tasked with adhering to Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 Plans, regardless of the type of instruction in which the student participates. What does this mean for schools? They must find ways to adapt the IEP or 504 Plan of a Deaf/HoH student to virtual instruction.
When it comes to students with hearing loss learning remotely, the primary feat for educators is to ensure that those students have equal access to their lessons. For students who are adept at lip-reading, clear video and a close-up instructor can make a world of difference. Students who have a sign language interpreter as part of their IEP or 504 Plan should still have access to that interpreter via video. When a lesson includes non-teacher-led instructional videos, reliable captioning can prevent students from missing out on critical information.
Technology isn’t always as reliable as face-to-face instruction. It’s necessary, then, for educators to participate in routine checks of their tools. For example, the student and teacher might sign onto their digital platform 10 minutes early each day. During this time, they can check that video and captioning work correctly. They can also verify that the student has everything they need to digest the learning materials through hearing, reading, signing, or whatever communication method they prefer.
What parents and caregivers can do
At home, parents and caregivers can take a few steps toward ensuring that the student has an environment conducive to learning. Most importantly, the child should have a quiet work area that’s free from distractions that could interfere with lessons and schoolwork. A separate room or nook is best, but if that’s not a possibility in the home, a tri-fold poster board can make an excellent divider between the student and environmental distractions.
A large, clear monitor at the student’s workstation can assist them with lip-reading, caption-reading, or sign language interpretation. If the child uses headphones, you can give them a quick check each day to make sure they’re working correctly before they start their lessons.
As crucial as academic learning is, caregivers should also acknowledge the importance of social learning for Deaf/HoH students. Without a typical learning environment that encourages social interactions, the child should have alternative forms of socializing. Socially-distanced playdates or video calls with friends and relatives could help children continue improving their preferred method(s) of communication throughout the virtual school year.
As we head into the new school year, effective collaboration between everyone involved in a student’s education will be critical. When educators and caregivers work together to create unique, working solutions for students with hearing impairments, remote learning can be as accessible as the physical classroom.