College, hearing loss and self-advocacy
The month of August is here, which can only mean one thing – it’s almost time to go back to college and begin a brand-new semester! Whether you are an incoming freshman or a seasoned upperclassman, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate college when you have a hearing loss. Here are some of my tips for starting the semester off strong as a deaf or hard of hearing college student.
Understand how your hearing loss affects you
Have at least a general understanding of your hearing loss in order to be able to advocate for yourself effectively - if you don’t understand your own hearing loss, how will you be able to explain your needs to others? Your audiologist or hearing care professional can help you to
learn more about your specific hearing loss, and they can help you to determine what kinds of hearing assistive technology and accommodations may benefit you.
Use your university’s resources
Almost every college or university has an office that is dedicated to supporting students who have disabilities by providing the accommodations that students need in order to have equal access in the classroom. At my university, each student who is registered with the Disability Support Services office is assigned an advisor who helps them to figure out what accommodations would best fit their needs and assists with notifying the student’s professors about the accommodations the student is eligible for within their classes.
Some of the accommodations I use in my classes include priority registration, note taking services, the use of an FM system, CART (which stands for Communication Access Real-Time Translation), closed captioning on all videos that are shown during class and priority seating in the classroom. There are many other accommodations that you may choose to use, depending on your specific needs, such as an ASL interpreter, an oral transliterator, or C-Print, to name a few.
Get to know your professors
Although your college or university’s Disability Support Services office may inform your professors that you are deaf or hard of hearing, it is necessary for you to meet with each of your professors and discuss what accommodations you may need in their class at the beginning of the semester, ideally during the first week of classes. There are many different ways that you can do this; for instance, some people like to schedule an appointment with each of their professors to meet together during their office hours, while others prefer to send an e-mail to their professors and explain what accommodations they need in writing.
Since I use several different accommodations in my classes, including an FM system and CART, I usually create a little brochure or fact sheet that contains a brief explanation of my hearing loss, some tips on how to communicate with me effectively and an overview of how my FM system and CART works as well as a picture of each piece of equipment that I will be using during class. This works well for me because I can either e-mail my brochure to my professors prior to the first day of class or I can print it out and give it to them before the first class begins. My professors can refer back to the information in my brochure as needed throughout the semester.
Choose your seat wisely
Make sure you arrive early enough on the first day of class so you can choose a seat that provides the best possible listening environment. Since I rely on lipreading to fill in the gaps of what I can’t hear, I almost always choose to sit in the front of the room so that I can see the professor well. I try my best to avoid sitting near the classroom door or the windows because the noise from the hallway or outside the classroom can be distracting and can make it even more difficult for me to hear. Likewise, I refrain from sitting near any noisy blower fans or heating/cooling units because the background noise completely drowns out the professor’s voice and makes it nearly impossible for me to hear or understand what is being said.
Explain your hearing loss to your classmates
I am usually the only deaf or hard of hearing student in my classes, and in many cases, I am the first young adult with a hearing loss that my classmates have ever met. Some of my peers who have never had a class with me before may feel a bit nervous about interacting with me because they don’t know how to communicate with a person with hearing loss.
I have found that taking the time to explain a little bit about my hearing loss helps others feel more comfortable and understand how to communicate with me better.
Choose a few people who you are most likely to spend time with during class and talk to them about your hearing loss and what you need in order to communicate. For example, you could choose to briefly explain your hearing loss to the people who sit beside you during class, the people who are a part of your small group discussion or the members of your group project assignment. It can be very simple and brief; I usually start by saying something like “Hey, I’m hard of hearing, which means I don’t hear very well. I need you to look at me when you talk so that I can read your lips. I also need you to wear this little microphone; it connects directly to my hearing aids and helps me to hear you better”.
Editor's note: If you enjoyed this article, check out Jessica's work on The Mighty, where she is a regular contributor. And, whether you're going back to campus this fall or if college is but a distant memory, you can seek hearing care and treatment from a dedicated hearing care professional by visiting our directory.