Changes in technology have had a dramatic effect on how children who are deaf or hard of hearing are taught, according to a new report from Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.
Technology, including visual or text-communication devices and speech-to-print software as well as the wider use of cochlear implants, can generally be positive influences on these students' access to a free, appropriate education as required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, wrote Eileen Ahearn, a senior policy analyst for Project Forum. Project Forum researches policy related to students with disabilities and is supported by the U.S. Department of Education.
About 1 percent of all students with disabilities are deaf or hard of hearing, according to a Government Accountability Office report from earlier this year.
States surveyed by Project Forum found that greater use of cochlear implants has led to:
• more acceptance of children who are deaf/hard of hearing by classroom teachers;
• the need for specific accommodations in the classroom rather than specialized
• a decrease in the number of schools for the deaf;
• a decrease in the use of sign language; and
• an increased need for speech-language pathologists with experience working with deaf/hard of hearing children.
Cochlear implants are also influencing how students who are deaf or hard of hearing are taught and how their needs are changing, the report said.
Other states said cochlear implants have led to a need for changes in how teachers are trained, but professional development for related to working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing varies widely across states.
In recent months, how to teach children with hearing impairments has been the subject of debate. In Indiana, for example, when Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed several board members to the Indiana School for the Deaf, he was criticized because three of the four were not deaf. And two were thought to favor other methods of teaching over sign language.
The researchers at Project Forum found that many challenges that remain when working with children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
One of the challenges is developing and providing services in rural areas where, as is the case for children with other types of disabilities, a very small number of students tend need the services. Another is the availability of well-prepared teachers and high-quality professional development, which remain scarce. The budgets for working with deaf and hard of hearing students are shrinking in some places, and work needs to be done on improving relationships within the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.