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!