Individuals navigating a multitude of disabilities that often aren’t evident by the naked eye, frequently do not disclose them. As a result, these individuals often aren’t taking advantage of tools that can greatly assist them in their studies, workplace or daily lives.
This reality is elucidated by statistics, which include:
- 1 in 8 people in the U.S. is experiencing hearing loss in both ears, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
- 1 in 4 US adults has a disability that impacts major life activities, yet only 4% disclose it in the workplace. 54% of adults with hearing loss have worked for a significant amount of time without disclosing it, reported the Sunday Post.
Students managing disabilities in the classroom, are often embarrassed to share them or do not have a thorough knowledge of the resources that are available to them. With this knowledge in mind, campuses should not wait for students to self advocate for disability accommodations.
Campuses can start by providing key technologies to deaf and hard of hearing students and consider ways to implement them when initially designing classroom and student experiences. When these students’ needs are served, their academic performance and ability to reach graduation improve significantly.
What Technology Assists Students with Disabilities?
Technology can greatly support students in reaching their full academic potential. By giving them a few tools, universities can level the playing field for all students. There are also low, mid and high tech assistive technology options, which often work well in combination.
Using technology can be as simple as printing texts in larger fonts, if students struggle to read smaller text. Additional methods include offering electronic Braille to help blind students read both texts and graphs, providing transcription of lectures to help with note taking, implementing spin and puff systems to help students with mobility issues control on-screen movement with their mouths and much more.
Technology for Hearing Impaired Students in the Classroom
According to the NIDCD, there are three types of technologies that can aid students living with hearing loss in the classroom: assistive listening devices, augmentative and alternative communication devices and alerting devices.
Assistive Listening Devices
“Assistive learning devices help amplify the sounds you want to hear, especially where there’s a lot of background noise,” explains the NIDCD.
Hearing loop systems, also known as induction loop systems, are another example. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), universities can connect a professor’s microphone directly to a student’s hearing aid with a wire that goes across the room. The electric current that moves through the wire when the professor speaks make it easy for the hearing impaired student to hear, even when the class is large or noisy.
Similarly, frequency modulated (FM) systems can use radio signals to transmit sound from a professor’s microphone “to an individual at a constant volume, regardless of a person’s distance from the FM microphone,” explains the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center. Depending on the student’s level of hearing loss, FM systems are used as augmentative communication devices as well.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices
Augmentative devices help hearing impaired students understand others and communicate better themselves.
According to NIDCD, “keyboards, touch screens” and a “display panel… [that] faces outward so that two people can exchange information while facing each other” can be used to improve communication. Campuses can implement these technologies in both classes for effective communication and in offices that provide services to students.
Presenting clear texts and visuals in presentations can help professors communicate their messages more clearly to students too.
Alerting devices adapt sound to other forms of communication. For example, when a fire alarm goes off on campus, it may also blink intensely with a bright red light to get the attention of hearing impaired and deaf students.
Speech-to-text devices for hearing impaired students have also been a game changer. Also known as speech synthesis, these devices translate human speech to text. As technology has progressed, these devices have become more efficient, now reaching 99% accuracy.
How Modern Technology Helps Students with Hearing Loss
Technologies designed for hearing in the classroom are abundant and diverse.
For example, automatic speech recognition, or ASR, software often helps with the differentiation of different voices in classrooms. The transcribed text can help students determine who said what. This usage comes into play during class participation or when students speak out of turn.
When these devices, or other transcription software products, are powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, they can also be trained to understand course material. To make the tech smarter, software providers often input related articles, books, current event information and terminology into the system.
The system also gets smarter the more it is used, which makes providing accurate course transcription and captions for course videos easier, faster and more cost effective.
As a result, institutions can feel comfortable providing real-time captions of lectures or webinars to students. Real-time captioning is helpful for all students, in addition to those who are deaf or hard of hearing, by providing them with another method of retention – a visual aid.
Technology Helps All Students, Not Just Those with Disabilities
When you provide technology that assists deaf or hearing impaired students in classrooms, you also serve a wide range of student groups that do not have disabilities too.
Students studying in their second or third language might find it easier to follow what’s being said if captions are provided. Captions also help when reviewing course videos on a train for example, as students commute, but are unable to play the audio out loud.
Academic transcription software can also be used to support students without disabilities, but who struggle with note taking or those who miss a class and need access to its lecture material.
By planning ahead to serve diverse needs, campus leaders can provide personalized learning paths with technologies that assist in improving all students’ performance, whether or not these individuals actively seek out the university’s help.