Students and teachers have faced insurmountable challenges during the pandemic. Some students continue to learn virtually while others have returned to the classroom. Regardless of the environment, , learning has been greatly and often negatively impacted during the pandemic by the strong reliance on technology, the need for social distancing, and the inconsistency of internet access for some families. Even greater challenges are faced by students who have hearing loss due to the auditory attenuation from face masks and limited access to support services, such as sign language interpreters, captioning, or transcripts for online learning.
To document the challenges experienced by students with hearing loss, we conducted a three-week survey in September 2020 to determine the frequency of learning situations (i.e., remote virtual, in person, blended), examine accessibility of learning materials and technologies, and identify technology issues. Identifying current educational challenges will enable audiologists, teachers of students who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing, and other school personnel to improve educational access, learning, and engagement for students with hearing loss.
The survey data were published in the January/February 2021 issue of Audiology Today. The 202 survey respondents included mostly educational audiologists and teachers of students who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. However, a few respondents included special education teachers, school-based speech-language pathologists, general education teachers, and other school personnel. The overwhelming majority of elementary students represented in the survey participated in both asynchronous (pre-recorded) and synchronous (live) remote learning at least one to five times per week, but synchronous learning was more common. In addition, the majority of elementary students participated in online group meetings, with group sizes ranging from one to fifteen students, and used online videos or lessons from outside sources like YouTube.
Unfortunately, across the aforementioned learning situations (i.e., asynchronous, synchronous, group meetings), provision of accommodations for students with hearing loss were varied. For example, captioning and transcripts were only provided some of the time, and transparent masks were not consistently used during synchronous learning. Some students and teachers used non-transparent masks, which eliminate visual cue access. Fortunately, sign language interpreters were provided virtually to most students who had interpreters at school.
Most of the students were allowed to take technology home, which included remote-microphone technology, laptop computers, associated chargers/batteries, direct audio input cords, and tablets. Repairs for technology issues were available to most caregivers via school drop off/pickup or curbside service. However, the majority of caregivers were not comfortable with the technology and software required for virtual learning, and students and caregivers frequently experienced technology issues.
These preliminary survey results highlight the challenges that students with hearing loss are facing across the various learning environments. These issues stem from technology problems as well as pandemic-associated adaptations including social distancing and the use of masks. Regardless of the learning environment, students with hearing loss must be provided the necessary accommodations to ensure equal access to the curriculum. Without these accommodations, students with hearing loss are at significant risk for academic difficulty.
To ensure the success of each student, school personnel may consider administering a situational learning inventory to identify specific learning barriers across various instructional settings. In addition, student check-ins and family-directed resources (e.g., troubleshooting guides) related to technology and software for virtual learning may help address technology issues reported by caregivers.
Data analysis is underway on the full data set, which includes 415 respondents. Stay tuned for these results, which will examine learning-environment differences and accommodations for both elementary and secondary students.
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