Students with Dual-Sensory Impairment: Characteristics & Accommodations

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  • 0:00 Dual Sensory Impairment
  • 1:35 Characteristics of the…
  • 2:38 Accommodations for the…
  • 5:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Typically, students learn by watching and listening to their teachers. Because students with dual-sensory impairment cannot learn in these ways, teachers must make accommodations. This lesson describes challenges and accommodations for students with dual-sensory impairment.

Dual Sensory Impairment

Most teachers rely on visual and auditory instruction, because the majority of students are either visual learners, meaning learners who learn best by seeing information, or aural learners, meaning learners who acquire information more readily through hearing information. Often, when students have a disability that hinders one major sense, like vision, they can learn through the other, like hearing.

What about a student who has both visual and hearing impairments? This condition is referred to as dual-sensory impairment and it leads to severe information acquisition difficulties. Students with dual-sensory impairment find it difficult to communicate with their teachers and to simply function in an educational environment.

Long ago, many children with this condition would be institutionalized since the people at the time didn't understand or poorly understood their condition and couldn't do anything with them. In a society that depends on sight and hearing to gather information, children lacking the ability to see or hear were considered intellectually deficient as well.

The famous example of Helen Keller began the push to change how educators viewed children with dual-sensory impairment. Helen's teacher, Anne Sullivan, proved that information could be acquired through other sensory means. In this case, Anne made use of a style of learning called kinesthetic, meaning to learn through physical manipulation of the environment. Anne and Helen showed that the enormous challenges of educating a child with dual-sensory impairment are not insurmountable.

Characteristics of the Condition

Students with dual-sensory impairment often also present with other disabilities such as learning and/or physical impairments. Children who are both blind and deaf commonly have difficulty speaking. Another common characteristic of children with dual-sensory impairment is repetitive behaviors. These are commonly seen in children with generalized sensory disorders, such as children with autism, and can include full body rocking, head shaking, arm waving, and/or making repeated sounds.

The mouth is an effective means of gathering information about the world when other primary sensory input is unavailable. For this reason, it's common for students with dual-sensory impairment to mouth objects, or put things into their mouths to gather information about the items.

As was the case with Helen Keller, these children can seem egocentric in that they're really a universe unto themselves. The world around them is so difficult to reach that they tend to mentally and/or physically block themselves away and do not interact appropriately with others.

Accommodations for the Condition

Teaching students dealing with dual-sensory impairment presents many challenges. However, accommodations can and should be made for these students to find success in the classroom.

First, let's take a closer look at some of the legal requirements related to students who have dual-sensory impairment. Accommodations for students with dual-sensory impairment are protected by three federal laws. These are:

  1. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): This was an act protecting all persons with disabilities from harassment or discrimination and ensuring equal access to buildings. This isn't specifically related to education.
  2. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): This was an act specifically related to education that requires all children, regardless of disability, to receive equal access to education and to show educational progress. This includes Individualized Education Plans (IEP), federal funding for special needs students, protections of student's rights, and to allow for continued education services even in the midst of disagreements between parents and a school.
  3. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act: This was an act similar to the ADA which provides for physical access for children with disabilities to educational settings but does not address academic progress.

Now let's take a closer look at some of the classroom accommodations that can be used to assist students with dual-sensory impairment. The primary challenge facing both teachers and dual-sensory impaired students is communication. Imparting information is difficult under these circumstances. Overcoming the communication issue through the use of extrasensory tools and alternative communication techniques is the first step to a successful educational experience for students with dual-sensory impairment.

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