Using Technology to Support students who are Hard of Hearing

Hearing loss and deafness have many causes including among others trauma, genetics, and ear infections(American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, n.d.).  Hearing loss can also  occur at any time in ones life. Some hearing loss is congenital, meaning it is present at birth, some hearing loss occurs slowly over time, and some occurs suddenly.  Whatever the cause, hearing loss causes difficulties for students in an academic setting.

When I was a young child of about three, my brother adopted the neighbour lady as his and thus my grandmother.   Shortly after her adoption by my brother she became a family friend.  Her and her husband moved into a housing complex for people who were deaf or hard of hearing as the facility operators.  I used to love to go visit because I had learned to finger spell and introduce myself in ASL so the residents used to show me off and teach me new things.  To me, at that age, sign language was a wonderful new adventure but I did not understand the implications of having a hearing deficit in a mostly hearing world.

My first exposure to teaching a student with a hearing loss came during the time I was studying to become an educator and was tutoring on the side to pay for school.  The daughter of my Mum’s friend had had fraternal twins who were born prematurely.  The boy had to be put on a ventilator and as a result of the air pressure had hearing loss.  After I had been working with him for about a year he got hearing aids and was being encouraged to learn sign language.  I had never seen such anger from a third grader before.  He didn’t want to be different, even though it would help him.  He wanted to be the same as everyone else and he felt that having to sign or having someone sign to him during class would mark him as other.  Which is a common concern noted among children who use the FM system at school (Franks, 2008).

My second exposure to teaching a student with a hearing loss came two years ago.  I had a girl transfer into my grade 7 math class who had just recently been diagnosed with a hearing deficit, which after the testing was complete appeared to have been with her since birth.  She is a remarkable person in her own right but I admire her greatly for what she was able to achieve with no  technology or accommodations being made for her.  She was an honours students through the sheer will to succeed, she lip read what the teachers were saying, copied everything down that was written, looked off the notes of her seat mates, asked for help when she needed to.  During the year , we got use of an FM system called a sound field.  FM is the abbreviation for frequency modulation and is a common form of radio transmission.  The FM system amplifies whatever is said into the microphone and outputs through a speaker that is either external or internal to the hearing aids.   With that small addition to the classroom she became more animated in class discussions.  She told me that she felt more confident to participate if she knew what was going on. The only drawback was the speaker was large and heavy so it was only used in two of her four academic classes which were across the hall from each other.  She was without support in all of her other classes. At the end of the school year, she finally recieved her hearing aids and now had a FM system that went directly from a teacher microphone to her hearing aids.  While I know it is better for her, I do miss the class speaker because I felt it focused everyone more and I know my voice liked the lack of strain necessary to be heard.  Research has shown that using sound field amplification can also help students who experience short term hearing loss due to ear infections, English Language Learners and students with Attention Deficit Disorder(Millett, 2008).  It is unfortunate that it is not possible to have both systems in the classroom following the concept of Universal design, where what is good for students with disabilities of any kind is good for everyone Millett, 2009)This year I was fortunate to have her in my grade 8 math class.  This year she is even more active in class discussions and more outgoing with school events.  It is interesting to see what one small technology can go to help change a students ability to be more successful.

Here in Alberta, students with any learning needs require an Individual Program Plan (IPP) to talk about the modification and adaptations that need to be in place for a student to be successful.  Because of her need for the FM system and Hearing Aids, this student needs an IPP.  Part of the process of an IPP is creating goals to help the student be successful at school.  She is already been successful and needs little support to use her new technology to continue to be successful.  So her IPP becomes  one of self-advocacy instead of teacher driven.  Even though this student requires no more support than talking two seconds to put the FM microphone around your neck, the teachers, who will teach her in the fall, were noticeably unhappy when notified of her audiology meeting.  I can honestly say hers is the easiest accommodation I have ever had to make.  I have also been notified that I will also have new student in the fall that is also hard of hearing.  I am interested to see what is similar and what is the same for this new student.  Each child is different, so the label hard of hearing is not a label that defines what challenges or triumphs you will experience while working with the student.  I think of the educational categories as adjectives like short or tall.  While these adjectives give you some vague notion of what to expect they really tell you little.  I guess that is why I Love teaching, every day and every student you teach is a new adventure.  As teachers, we must look to how we can help all students to be successful because “fair does not mean equal” (Wormeli, 2006) and it is our job to find what can make the playing field for our students as fair as possible, and in today’s society means finding the technology that best supports our students.

As I do not have access to the FM system during the summer I found a video that shows the difference between what school is like for a student with a hearing impairment with and without an FM system.

Another new technology I found is TediSubtitle which has the TED talks with subtitles.  It is a $0.99 app that will allow students with hearing deficits and even my English language Learners to match what is being said with the words in the subtitles.  I am looking forward to using it in my classroom this year.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.) Causes of Hearing Loss in Children Retrieved from

Franks, Jennifer Lynn, “Why Do Students with Hearing Impairment Resist Wearing FM Amplification?” (2008). Master’s Theses and Doctoral Dissertations. Paper 205.

Millette, P (2008) Sound Field Amplification Research Summary.  York University

Millette, P. (2009, November) What Works? Research into Practice:  Using Classroom Amplification in a Universal Design Model to Enhance Hearing and Listening. Research Monograph 23 Retrieved from

Pediatric Audiology Project (2010, September 27) Hearing Loss in the Classroom [Video file]

Wormeli (2006) Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers


3 thoughts on “Using Technology to Support students who are Hard of Hearing

  1. Lauren says:

    Hi Amy,
    I used a classroom FM last year and found it very helpful to my student with hearing loss. As you stated, all students are different, but if it is working correctly, it can be a great resource. I’m also going to check out the TED talks with subtitles. It might be helpful to other students as well.

  2. […] the SmartBoard you can hear the audio with no difficulty in my room.  As I have talked about in a blog post for CEP812, I have had for the past two years and will have in the coming year students with hearing […]

  3. Sara Beauchamp-Hicks says:

    “Fair does not mean equal.” ❤ this so much. It was my mantra when I was a teacher consultant. I worked primarily with general education teachers and helped them make accommodations within their classrooms for students with special needs–including the use of FM systems. Sometimes it took a bit of convincing and often I had to fall back on that statement. It is amazing, sometimes, what a simple amplification system can do for learning. You also touched upon something else that I always advocated for–many of the simple strategies used for kids with special needs were beneficial to all students…something we don't always consider. Why not make the classroom a more conducive learning environment? Thanks for making this post so personal, Amy. I really enjoyed reading about your experience as well as your tech tool choice!

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