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! 

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