Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live with a hearing loss?

Wear ear plugs for a day!

Because of increased early detection of hearing loss and advances in hearing technology, larger numbers of deaf and hard of hearing children are learning in their neighborhood schools, instead of specialized programs. Mainstreaming is a term used to describe the integration of children with hearing loss into regular school classrooms so they can learn alongside their hearing peers. This now happens at earlier ages than ever before, with many children mainstreaming as early as preschool.

Students who are deaf and hard of hearing can thrive in mainstream classrooms, but it is vital that each student receive the personalized support they need to succeed. Through a variety of individualized services, schools across the nation are working with students, parents and school professionals to provide strategies, support and teaching services to help ensure that every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Many public and private schools in the United States have had little direct experience with students who are deaf or hard of hearing. When a school is unfamiliar with hearing loss, hearing aids, cochlear implants and other assistive devices commonly used by these students, it can be difficult to anticipate the students’ unique needs, both academically and socially.

In many school districts, deaf mainstreaming programs are housed in a designated school with special deaf education teachers dedicated to giving the highest quality school experience for both deaf children as well as hearing children. It is not just the deaf children who benefit from mainstreaming, the hearing children also benefit from interacting and learning alongside deaf children. this can increase awareness and sensitivity of diverse populations as well as give them exposure to knoweldge about hearing science and a visual language, American Sign Language. Transitioning from a specialized program to a mainstream school can be exciting, but it can also raise many questions. What kind of support services will they need? How do we educate our child’s teachers and classmates about hearing loss?  

One elementary school in Northern Kentucky, River Ridge Elementary, has given an educational and academic home to the Northern Kentucky Regional Deaf Program for the past 15 years. Deaf students have both specialized and mainstreamed activities involving a high level of interaction with hearing students. Hearing students learn basic sign language and they learn about the challenges faced by deaf students. They learn about hearing aid and cochlear implant technology. This type of experience can have long term beneficial impact for all children. 

At another school in Liberty Township, Ohio, Lakota Local Schools, one deaf student’s project is making a significant impact on the local community. Cherokee Elementary has implemented the ideas of Plains Junior High School eighth grader Corbin Evans as the “Deaf Experience”, an idea that started out as a fun Eagle Scout project that has evolved into a major fundraising effort for the local Deaf Community. Corbin was interested in helping hearing students understand what it is like to have a hearing loss, by having them wear ear plugs for a 30-minute timeframe during the school day. The earplugs don’t block out all sound, but they mute sounds for an idea of what it is like to be hearing-impaired. The students are encouraged to go home and share their experience with their parents and to perhaps make a donation to make a difference in the world of those who cannot hear.

Student experiences with using the earplugs garnered many insightful and surprised responses, even with this minimal level of auditory deprivation. Some reported communication misunderstandings and safety concerns, such as not knowing when someone was approaching from behind.  Other comments included:

“It was different being hearing impaired because every time someone spoke it made me frustrated because the words got mixed up and I had to guess what they said.”

“Everything was muffled and the closed captioning didn’t work so it made me anxious as I watched the video.”

“It was hard being hearing impaired. I couldn’t hear my friends. I couldn’t hear anything.”

It is important to Corbin not only to increase awareness of people who are different, but also to encourage the idea that even with a hearing loss, individuals can still be successful in spite of major challenges.  These challenges include not only overcoming perceptions, but learning to rely on other sensory information sich as visual and contextual cues in the lack of auditory information. Corbin’s ultimate goal is to gather donations of $2000 in a fundraising effort to provide financial assistance to hearing impaired students for things like amplified or light-flashing smoke alarms in case of an emergency. In the interests of advocating for the deaf, he also wishes to expand this program to additional schools. Many local businesses are already donating to this cause. 

 If you would like more information on how to participate in the “Deaf Experience”, email Lakota’s Community and Media Relations Department. You can also help Corban with his project by making a tax deductible donation to the Hearing, Speech and Deaf Center of Greater Cincinnati (please write “Eagle Scout Project” in the memo line).  
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