Assistive Technology for Hearing-Impaired Students

Judi Shroyer
Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

This lesson will discuss options in two specific categories of assistive technology to help students who are hard of hearing: assistive listening devices (ALDs) and augmentative and alternative communication devices (AACs).

Hearing in Humans

Most people think of hearing as all or nothing: Either we can hear or we can't. But this is not always the case. Take a moment to plug your ears. Is your ability to hear 100% cut off? What types of sounds are getting through? Chances are, the sounds you are currently hearing are muffled to some degree or another. This is the way individuals who are hard of hearing generally hear -- like their ears are plugged or they are under water.

Symbol for individuals who are hard of hearing
symbol for HI

Assistive Technology: Definition

When thinking about communication, it is important to remember that it's a two-way street: hearing and understanding and expressing thoughts and ideas. Assistive technology refers to any type of device or technology that helps someone who is hard of hearing to communicate more effectively with others.

There are generally two types of assistive technology used to help deaf students: assistive listening devices (ALDs) and augmentative and alternative communication devices (AACs). Let's look at these in more detail now.

Assistive Listening Devices

ALDs are often used to amplify sound for deaf individuals in larger situations, such as whole-class instruction. There are primarily three different types that are appropriate and effective within the classroom, all of which can usually be paired with the technology in today's hearing aids and cochlear implants.

The most common type of ALD used in classrooms is an FM system, using radio signals to send amplified sound within the classroom. As the teacher, you'd speak into a small transmitter microphone worn around your neck or clipped to your clothing. Your student would have the receiver (either a headset or a hearing aid) that transmits the sound directly to his or her ears. FM systems are great tools for classrooms because they are simple, convenient, and effective for deaf students.

The second type of ALD is a hearing loop or induction loop system, which has four components: 1. the sound source, such as a microphone; 2. an amplifier in the area; 3. a special loop wire run throughout the classroom or under the carpet; 4. a headset or receiver worn by the student who is hard of hearing. This is great assistive technology because the sound is picked up directly by the receiver either within a hearing aid or by a headset, so the quality is extremely good.

The third type of ALD that is used in many schools is infrared systems. In this technology, a special transmitter converts sound waves into an infrared signal and beams that signal to a receiver worn by the student. The infrared signal is then turned back into the sound that the listener hears. Sounds like a sci-fi movie, right? Nope! It's assistive technology!

Augmentative & Alternative Communication Devices

While ALDs are primarily used for communicating in whole-class situations, AACs are more suited for face-to-face interaction within the classroom.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Assistive Technology for Hearing-Impaired Students:

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of at least 1-2 paragraphs that describes the variety of hearing impairment, as well as the definition of assistive technology in this context.

Tip: Be sure to address the concept of communication being a two-way street.

Essay Prompt 2:

In at least several paragraphs, write an essay that explains the way augmentative and alternative communication devices help hearing-impaired students communicate.

Example: You could explain that speech-generating devices allow hearing-impaired students to convey their ideas through voice transmission to their friends.

Outline Prompt 1:

Create an outline that explains assistive listening devices (ALDs) and augmentative and alternative communication devices (AACs). Make sure the outline defines ALDs and AACs, and provides three examples of each.

Example: Roman numeral I of your outline could be Assistive Listening Devices, with the definition. Under that, "A" could be FM system, and subcategories of "A" could be details on it, such as that the teacher speaks into a transmitter.

Letter Prompt 1:

Imagine that you are a teacher and you have a hearing-impaired student in your classroom. Write a letter to the student's parents that explains which ALD you are going to use in your classroom and why.

Example: You could say that you are using an induction loop because your classroom is already equipped with one, and the sound quality is very high.

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