Roberto and Biology: A Case Study on Accommodations for Deafness

DO-IT Factsheet #206
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Faculty/articles?206

Background

My name is Roberto and I am a premedical student majoring in biology. I have a severe-to-profound bilateral hearing loss and use hearing aids and speech reading (watching the movement of a person's lips) to maximize my communication skills. I have some knowledge of American Sign Language but not enough to effectively use a sign language interpreter as an accommodation.

Access Issues

My biology courses, as well as many other courses in science and mathematics, involve intensive lectures; some have interactive discussion sessions, and all of them make extensive use of advanced technical terms. Many of these terms are difficult to hear with hearing aids or to lip-read. I tried to use an FM amplification system (which through a microphone and transmitter worn by the instructor sends his or her words directly to my hearing aid) in these classes, but it was not helpful because of the nature of my hearing loss. If I miss information because of my hearing impairment, then I can't follow the lecture or adequately participate in discussion and ask questions. Note taking provides limited assistance since the notes are not verbatim, I can only review them after the class session, and sometimes the notes are available only one or two days after the class session. Note-taking assistance and front-row seating are adequate for me in nonscience and nonmathematics courses. Because the pace of instruction in science and mathematics is fast and the volume of material covered in each session is large, it is important that I have an adequate means to access the course lecture and discussion as it happens.

Solutions

I contacted the office of disability services and requested the provision of real-time captioning in my science and mathematics classes. I told the counselor that I had tried various accommodations like note taking and the FM system but that I was still having difficulty with the lectures. The deaf services counselor reviewed my request and then approved it.

Real-time captioning as an accommodation involves having someone with adequate stenography training (often a court reporter) come to the class with me. The stenographer has a steno machine and laptop that is loaded with stenography software, and he or she sits next to me so I can see the monitor. When the instructor talks or others participate in class discussion, the stenographer enters all spoken words. The words spoken then appear very quickly on the monitor, and I can follow the discussion, ask questions, and, after class, get a hard copy of the notes. Alternatively, the office of disability services arranges for a stenographer at a remote site to provide the same service; in this situation, the instructor wears a wireless microphone that transmits the voice back over the same phone line that is used to instantly send back the real-time captions to the student with a laptop in the classroom. This alternative procedure is used when there is a shortage of qualified stenographers, there are scheduling difficulties, or it is the most cost-effective method to provide the accommodation.

Conclusion

This case study demonstrates the following:

  1. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may have differing accommodation needs, and the accommodations may not be the same in all courses for the same student.
  2. Accommodation procedures and alternatives must be in place, or there must be a capacity to quickly make arrangements to implement the accommodation.
  3. There are advanced technical accommodations, such as real-time captioning, that may be available anywhere in the country when students and support staff are aware of the resources.
  4. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing and those with other sensory disabilities can compete in scientific and technical fields and careers.