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Deaf/Blind Students in the Classroom

Can deaf, blind, and deaf-blind people go to school?

Of course, provided a deaf/blind student has the proper accommodations, and their teachers stay on the same page throughout the entire school year. Accommodations need to be arranged months ahead of time so the disability office has enough time to make accommodations (such as hiring long-term interpreters, notetakers, and sending textbooks out to be transcribed into braille). Exam accommodations need to be arranged weeks in advance so that accommodations can be made (such as hiring an interpreter or reader/scribe). Most schools allow students with disabilities to register before other students so accommodations can be arranged in time.

What options does a deaf student who doesn't know sign language have for accommodations?

A non-signing, or oral, deaf student has at least three options for accommodations.

1) An oral interpreter
An oral interpreter sits in front of the deaf student and repeats everything that is said (by the teacher and other students) by mouthing it silently. This allows the deaf student to lipread without having to worry about lighting or the location of the speaker.

2) An FM system
For deaf or hard of hearing students that have enough residual hearing to understand speech, an FM system can be used. The teacher is fitted with a microphone and the auditory information is fed directly into the students hearing aid or cochlear implant. The only downside is that the deaf student can only hear the teacher and can't hear anything other students say.

3) Computer Assisted Real-Time Translation (CART)
CART works by having a professional transcriber type everything that is said in real time. The CART information can either be fed into a single computer screen for one deaf student, or projected onto a screen for several deaf students. It can also be displayed in large print or fed through a refreshable braille display for a deaf-blind student.

What other accommodations might a deaf or blind student need?

Deaf students need to be provided with a notetaker or notes on the lecture ahead of time so they can focus on watching the interpreter, reading lips, or reading the CART. Any videos that are shown in class need to be shown with the closed captions on. When a projector is being used in class, if a deaf student is watching an interpreter, they either need the lights on or need to have an individual light turned on near the interpreter so they can see clearly.

Before even starting the school year, blind students need an opportunity to tour the school and become familiar with their classrooms and the overall building layout before it's crowded by other students. Blind students need to have their school materials, including worksheets and text books, provided to them in the proper format (large print, audio, braille, or a combination thereof). Having what will be written on the blackboard provided in an accessible format ahead of time or at the beginning of the class is also extremely useful.

Blind students should also have any visual aspects crucial to the course content either described to them, or if possible, should have access to a model of it that can be explored tactually. (For example, in a math class where graphs are important, a blind student needs raised dot graphics or graphs made of string or wire so that they can appreciate the same concepts as sighted students). Generally, electronic format is best for writing papers and turning assignments in, because electronic documents can be magnified or converted to and from audio/braille much more easily. The school technology department also needs to make sure that any computer programs that will be used in a class are compatible with whatever magnification or screen reader software the student uses.

Blind students may or may not need someone to guide them to their classes. Any students with service animals may need a short break to give their service animal a chance to relieve themselves.

Deaf-blind students will need the same kinds of accommodations as deaf or blind students (specific accommodations obviously depending on the individual). A deaf-blind student may need to sit closer to an interpreter or may need to have a tactile interpreter. A deaf-blind student will probably also need a notetaker, and will need to have all their materials provided in a format they can read. Deaf-blind students may or may not need to be guided to their class.

The accommodations listed above are just some basic examples. Make sure to consult the school disability services, and any teachers specializing in special education or education for the deaf or blind for more detailed requirements specific to the student.

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