“You’re so lucky you’re deaf. You can just turn everyone off.” My head whipped up just in time to notice the look of dismay briefly cross my seventh-grade student’s face. He recovered quickly, smiled hesitantly, and muttered, “Yeah” as he muted the DynaMic. He needed to concentrate on his independent work in the noisier than usual classroom where students were completing a variety of assignments before the end of the term.
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a comment like this or seen such a reaction. Technology is such an integrated part of our world and everyday experiences that well-intentioned peers (and adults) may overlook that fact that using this technology is a necessity rather than a perk for our students with hearing loss. The majority of students that we work with are in mainstream classrooms with typically hearing peers. This was an innocent comment referring to how the student with hearing loss can mute his microphone and work in quiet whereas the typically hearing student can’t block out the noise in the classroom in the same way. What the hearing student didn’t realize was the effect his comment of being lucky could have on his peer with hearing loss. He has an acceptance of his hearing loss, but this boy would not describe himself as “lucky.” Even though PowerPoint presentations related to hearing loss, inviting peers to join individual sessions, and ongoing advocacy work with our students can all help raise awareness of hearing loss in the mainstream classroom, others still forget. We work so hard on teaching our students to speak up and advocate but there are still days they decide to let it go or get annoyed, and that’s part of being a regular kid. It’s unrealistic to expect our students to advocate in every single opportunity.
Helping students think of a response they can use when someone makes a similar comment to them can be helpful. As a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing, I continue to learn the best way to respond, too. After a science teacher that I work with reported overhearing a similar comment in her classroom, the parent of the child with hearing loss responded to the group email by describing how she spoke with her child about the difference between being “lucky” and in seeing the silver lining. While it may not always feel “lucky” to have hearing loss, there are those silver linings – in this case, the mute button.