Wednesday, March 8, 2017

“I Can’t Do This!” Advocating for Closed Captions

            It was right before February break. Vacation was so close!
At this point in the year, routines are in place. Relationships with teachers and other school professionals are established. Consultations focus on modifying or fine-tuning instruction in anticipation of upcoming lessons. We’ve covered the basics… or have we?
I walked into my junior high consult on the Thursday before February vacation. The history teacher sat with a paper face down on his desk. Somehow, I knew it was for me. He handed me the paper. It was a series of questions related to the current unit and across the top, my student had scrawled, “I can’t do this.” Scanning the sheet, I was surprised. The questions were ones I thought my student was fully prepared to answer. And then the teacher casually mentioned that the questions were related to a video that had been shown in class. Naturally, I asked about closed captions. You guessed it! The CC hadn’t worked for whatever reason and because my student generally does well, the teacher assumed she’d be fine and could just listen and take notes along with the rest of the class. He was baffled as to why she hadn’t even attempted these questions. I realized it was time to revisit closed captions…
            Closed captions are absolutely necessary in order for students with hearing loss to access audio/visual media used in class for instructional purposes—or just pure entertainment! As teachers of the deaf / hard of hearing, we know that even with the use of assistive technology, students do not have perfect access to sound. In order to ensure comprehension, captions are essential 100% of the time.

One of my junior high teachers pauses a video about Mt. Everest
with the CC on to model note-taking

But I don’t know how to turn on the closed captions… Some of my schools are still using DVDs (and even VHS tapes in one financially burdened district). While all DVDs should have closed caption options, each system (computer, television, DVD player) may have a different way to set up the CC. I’ve found it helpful to print out instructions and tape them to the back or side of the DVD player or television. This way, even if there’s a substitute teacher, there’s no excuse for not using CC. For online resources, commonly used sites such as Brain Pop and Discovery Streaming, and CNN Student News have CC available. YouTube captions are notoriously inaccurate with some exceptions. If teachers are planning to use a YouTube video, I highly recommend that they preview the video first to make sure the closed captions are appropriate and accurate. Teaching other students in class how to set up CC for various media also helps, especially in cases where the teacher may be out.

The captions bother the other students so I don’t like to use them… A teacher actually said this to me once! When teachers use CC in a meaningful way, all students benefit. The names of people and places are on the screen. Dates are right there in print and key details can be read for students who are not auditory learners. I’ve watched many teachers begin to really own the CC, pausing the video at key points so that students can copy important details into their notes. Framing closed captioning as a tool that benefits everyone rather than as an accommodation for one student allows the whole group to embrace CC.

I connected the transmitter with the splitter like you showed me so she doesn’t need CC… While a DAI connection to a media source allows students to listen to media through their HAT system, it does not replace CC. This connection cannot improve clarity.

It’s in Spanish. They’re supposed to listen and repeat for practice… Especially with foreign language, CC are necessary. Turning on the Spanish CC on a Spanish video for example allows students with hearing loss to follow along. A second language is even harder to comprehend than a first language so CC are even more essential.

Well, the homework is to listen to this podcast. It doesn't come with CC…  In this situation, the teacher approached me to ask how to accommodate my student. Originally, he offered to type out a script for my student.  While this would be fine for one or two podcasts, he had many that he planned to use throughout the year. He mentioned that he also had several TED talks that were similar and did have CC. A solution was found! Now, when a podcast is assigned, there’s an option to watch the related TED talk instead. As this teacher astutely pointed out, if my student needed a visual, there were likely other students who would do better with that format as well. Offering alternatives allows all students to engage without singling out the student with hearing loss.

I put the CC on so why didn’t he answer the comprehension questions? While reading the CC, students with hearing loss are not able to take notes simultaneously. If they look down to write a response, they will miss the next portion of the video. Alternatives include pausing the video and giving all students an opportunity to write, allowing the student with hearing loss to copy responses from a designated note taker, or, my first choice, allowing the student to receive a copy of teacher provided answers prior to watching the video. While sometimes perceived as cheating, previewing information allows the student with hearing loss to better follow along while watching the video as they know the important information to tune into.

It’s Friday before vacation. This video’s just for fun so we didn't bother with the CC… Even if it’s not educational, CC are still necessary. Students with hearing loss deserve equal access to all aspects of their education—even the fun parts! Not using CC means that the student may not be able to engage in the social conversations later and could feel left out or confused. If it’s happening in school, CC are mandatory.

I’m. Not. Using. Captions. One year I had a high school teacher who was incredibly difficult to work with and for reasons I still don’t understand, adamantly refused to use CC. I enlisted the help of my liaison at the school, and together we advocated all the way up to the special education director. In the end, my student was moved to a different history class where the teacher was more accommodating. This may not always be an option but my students’ needs come first.

And most importantly, remember that training students to advocate for closed captions is highly effective. Teachers often hear students in a different way than they hear us when it comes to what’s needed in the classroom. Practicing for situations involving captions (through role play and conversational scripting), and then supporting their requests allows students to feel confident—even when we’re not there.

How do you advocate for the use of closed captions?

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Lunchbox

I went snowboarding over the weekend. When it was time for lunch, I went into the lodge and pulled out my bright green Phonak lunchbox from a past Clarke Mainstream Conference that proudly announces to the world that I work with, “…students with hearing loss in mainstream educational settings. 
A nearby teenager seemed to be watching me. After a few minutes, he came over and started chatting with people at our table and I noticed him eying my lunchbox. It wasn’t long before he started talking to me. I said something and he replied, “Oh, what was that? I’m deaf in this ear.” Now I understood the interest!
Students with hearing loss find us. They find us in schools, even if they’re not on our caseload, they find us in the community, and they find us out in public at ski resorts. Nobody wants to feel different and for students with hearing loss, it’s that connection to someone who understands them that they so desperately want.

When we work with the students on our caseloads, we’re supporting their academics, we’re fixing their equipment and we’re collaborating with their teachers… but there’s so much more. We’re helping students to connect to other people. We’re assuring them that they’re ok. We’re problem solving tricky social situations. We’re lending an ear when they need to vent or a shoulder when they need to cry. We understand their challenges and celebrate their achievements. I have a seventh grade student whom I consult with once a month and each time I arrive, she announces, “It’s my special person!” with a huge grin.
Schools often want to reduce TOD/HOH (teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing) services. It’s expensive. It may not look all that different from what an SLP or special education teacher can do. The difference is in the level of understanding that we have as TODs. Even though I only see my seventh grader once a month, this time is invaluable to her. We talk about her classes, her friends, her amplification and we problem solve situations that are not working for her. I know what questions to ask because I’ve had experience with so many students in so many schools. As a result, she’s confident and quirky and an active member of her school community.

As for my new friend at the ski lodge? We didn’t talk much about his hearing but the fact that he came over to me after reading my lunch box speaks volumes. He’d never heard of a TOD but thought it was a “pretty cool job.” I may never get the chance to work with him, but he inspired me nonetheless. It goes to show that as TODs, our work is never done!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

"I'm Not Using That."

I walked into a junior high classroom. I’d been called in to consult about a student who was suddenly refusing to use his HAT (Hearing Assistive Technology- formerly referred to as FM) and had even begun taking out his hearing aids when he felt teachers weren’t watching. The team was confused by this sudden behavior as the student had always been a reliable user of technology, so they decided to seek help from outside the school. I knew the student from local social programs for students with hearing loss but had never been to his school. We made eye contact before I walked to the back of the room. I noticed the student rummaging in his backpack. He turned to me, smiled and popped in his hearing aids.

            It’s time once again to revisit the issue of students refusing to use amplification since this is a problem that comes up routinely! Often, just engaging with the student leads to the real reason for the refusal. For this junior high student? When I met with him, he described his perspective… which was quite different from what the adults working with him had assumed.
His HAT transmitter and receivers were stored in a room nearby his homeroom but there was no clear procedure for how or when the set up should happen. Arriving even a few minutes late meant choosing between getting the HAT set up or being on time for class, and he did not want a penalty for being late. Additionally, there was no point person to troubleshoot problems with equipment so he’d often opt not to use it rather than trying to figure out who could help. Another issue arose when he’d raise his hand to alert teachers to mute (or unmute) the microphone only to be told, “I’m not taking any more questions” or similar. He was unsure how to proceed and would then remove his hearing aids instead so that he could focus on his work.
We were able to resolve these problems with minimal effort. The student and I wrote up the procedure for setting up his HAT in the morning and communicated with his homeroom teacher so that he would not be penalized for tardiness while setting up his amplification. The student identified an adult he feels comfortable with, and that person is now the point person when issues occur (after some additional troubleshooting training!) Rather than raising his hand to alert teachers about muting, he and his team came up with a separate signal. It’s been a few weeks and the new plan seems to have eliminated the amplification refusal!

            When students refuse to wear amplification, there are steps we can take to get to the root of the problem:
·      Get detailed information about procedures. How is the HAT set up and checked in the morning? What is the procedure for handing over the transmitter when the student arrives to class? What is the procedure for when the student leaves for the next class or for specials? If these procedures are not clear and consistent, it’s easy for students to get away without using equipment, or, to feel awkward during transitions trying to figure out what to do.
·      Observe the student in class as well as the teacher. Is the teacher wearing the transmitter correctly? Is the teacher muting the mic appropriately? Interference and incorrect use can lead to students’ giving up on their technology. Students get frustrated having to constantly remind teachers how to use the equipment. Additional training for staff may be necessary. I observed a high school English class recently because I’d been told that my student was refusing to use her HAT just in that class. It was chaos! Behavior management was a problem and there was no clear organization or structure. I would have wanted to tune out, too! When I checked in with my student, she went through the litany of reasons she didn't want her HAT in that room—and I could understand why. It was not possible to change classes so my contact at the school has taken on the task of addressing the classroom concerns.
·      How does the student talk about their amplification? My students have all—at one time or another—expressed some embarrassment or discomfort about having a difference. Helping them to better understand their hearing loss and amplification empowers them to talk about it with others when questions arise.
·      How do the adults talk about and react to the amplification? Students pick up on the non-verbal cues from adults. When teachers express frustration with the HAT system, annoyance at having to figure out the closed captions, or they are uncomfortable talking with the student about hearing loss, these can all lead to students rejecting equipment so as not to be an inconvenience.

Once we know for sure why the student is refusing to use the amplification, we can work with them to address the concerns. There is always a reason!

How do you help students who refuse to wear amplification?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hearing Loss Doesn't Discriminate

As an itinerant, I see the entire spectrum of education. I work with students in some of the poorest school districts in Massachusetts as well as some of the most elite private schools. As a parent mentioned to me the other day, “Hearing loss doesn't discriminate. Anyone can be affected.”  My role is not to judge but to work with what I’m given in terms of communities, resources, and professionals. No matter where I am, my goal is the same- to educate those around me about the impact of hearing loss on learning and to ensure that my students get their needs met, regardless of budget restraints. 
Several days each week I drive over an hour down winding roads without cell reception to an old mill town in Massachusetts nestled in a valley.  Poverty is widespread. Unemployment is an ongoing battle. The schools struggle to meet the ever-increasing needs of the students that they serve. Despite these financial struggles, accommodating my growing caseload of students with hearing loss has become a priority. Recently, the town approved the renovation of one of the crumbling elementary schools. The new building is beautiful with freshly painted walls, shiny floors, ceilings free of leaks, and expansive classrooms filled with new furniture. But the best part- the new speaker system installed throughout the entire school! 
When I first heard about the building renovations, I immediately got in touch with my contact in the special education department. She was well aware of my students and their needs. Inquiring about the technology for the new building, I learned that there were plans to install Soundfield systems in each classroom. Working closely with the technology department in the district as well as the educational audiologist, we were able to select a Soundfield system compatible with the students personal hearing assistive technology (HAT) systems. 

Additionally, once the administration had a better understanding of how this technology could benefit not only my students but all students in the school, the system was installed in the auditorium, “specials” rooms, and library as well. Now wherever my students go inside the building, they can directly connect to the Soundfield by plugging in their personal transmitters. Teachers only have to wear one microphone and the sound is projected through the speakers as well as being sent directly to my students through their receivers. This eliminates the need for teachers to worry about muting and un-muting since they can hear through the Soundfield rather than relying solely on students reporting. Similarly, when media is used, the sound goes right to my students without having to fuss with splitters and other connections. It’s taken some time and collaboration to set up, but the effort has been well worth it! 
In another town, an older student transitioned to a new private high school. The head of the technology department, my contact at the school, the student’s audiologist, and I communicated all summer.  When my student started school this past fall, the school had purchased equipment compatible with his HAT system directly from the same manufacturer so that he would have access in all school settings. He would be able to directly connect to the existing Soundfield system in the common areas. After some initial troubleshooting with the setup, my high school student now has access everywhere on campus. 
While money is a factor in many schools, educating teams about the benefits of technology and taking advantage of opportunities such as renovations can lead to optimal technology and access regardless of financial limitations. No matter where they live, all my students deserve the same audiological benefits and educational opportunities. These past few months have proven that it pays to get involved in the schools that we visit so that people know who we are, and that it never hurts to ask! 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Power of "Owning" Hearing Loss

     “Ugh! I HATE science! I give up!” my seventh grader grumbled, pulling her science book out of her backpack then laying her head in her hands, eyes closed. I opened the book to the unit her teacher had told me the class would be starting so that we could preview the material and concepts. He’d given me the page number, but not the topics. My student perked up as she watched me open to the designated page. “Hey! It’s about hearing!” She scanned the diagram of the ear, softly naming the parts, a smile beginning on her face, until she came to the bones. “Wait- hammer? Anvil? Stirrup? It’s the malleus, incus, and stapes! I should teach this lesson!” 
    When students have a concrete understanding of how hearing works, their own hearing loss and cause, and assistive technology, it’s empowering. There’s no longer a mystery as to why it’s sometimes hard to follow in class and they can advocate for their needs regarding access. The ability to independently answer questions posed by peers about the technology creates a sense of normality around the differences. Students who are able to have a sense of humor around their differences rather than constantly feeling uncomfortable are more accepted by peers. 
     Recently, a junior high student asked for help creating a presentation that she could share with her classmates. A strong advocate, she wanted to share information, particularly around the proper use of her pass-around mic to the whole group at once. It was her idea to personify the microphone as “Mikee” and do the presentation from his perspective. Her sense of humor around the equipment was well received by the group with peers laughing with her and asking relevant questions. The results have been fantastic- she reports fewer reminders to use the microphone during discussions and I’ve observed her classmates reminding each other! 

     And as for my seventh grader? Not only did she talk to her science teacher about a more in-depth lesson on hearing, after creating an in-service for her teachers, she supported two of my younger students in the school when presenting to their class, emphasizing for me to, “Teach them the real names for the parts!”  Alongside the two second graders, she served as a role model, expanding on what they shared with the class, comparing cochlear implants and hearing aids, and helping them to answer questions posed by the other children. This group has now reached celebrity status in the elementary school, featured as “Scientists of the Week,” further empowering all three! 

One of the second graders shyly slipped me this note as I was leaving. I agree! I think hearing aids are so awesome, too!