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225 Exceptional Child

Collection of Experiences: Hearing Impairments
Maia Johnson

For many, it is difficult to imagine life without being able to rely on one of
our key senses. We take for granted the ability to hear cars passing, listen to our
favorite songs, and know when someone is calling to us. It is also difficult to gain
insight on this disability because for most of us, communicating with someone
with a hearing impairment would be very complicated without a translator.
Getting to hear the challenges of this disability firsthand from guest speaker, Mo
Sprunger, was a unique opportunity. To begin, Mo shared a bit of her story and
taught the class some sign language. We then learned what defines a hearing
impairment and discussed ways that this experience could provide an insightful
perspective on how best to aid students with hearing impairments in a classroom.
According to the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education
(2012), a hearing impairment can be defined as:
(1) The term hearing impairment is a generic term which includes both
students who are deaf and those who are hard of hearing and refers to
students with any type or degree of hearing loss that interferes with
development or adversely affects educational performance. Deafness
means a hearing impairment that is so severe that the student is
impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or
without amplification. The term hard of hearing refers to students with
hearing impairment who have permanent or fluctuating hearing loss
which is less severe than the hearing loss of students who are deaf
and which generally permits the use of the auditory channel as the
primary means of developing speech and language skills.
(2) A determination of impairment shall be based upon a full and individual
evaluation by a multidisciplinary evaluation team, which shall include
an audiologist and an otolaryngologist or otologist (Michigan Rules and
One of my highlights of class so far this semester
was having Mo Sprunger and her interpreter Karen
Kramer come in to speak to our class. Mo has an
incredible story. She wasnt born with a hearing
impairment, but when she was four years old, she
sustained nerve damage due to illness and she became
deaf. She cant even remember what it was like to hear.
Although her sister became deaf the same way, her parents
and the rest of her family did not learn sign language. Mo had to lip read and
wrote back and forth with her parents, a painstaking process that was by no
means an effective or efficient way to communicate. Her parents chose to
mainstream her and her sister in a school that had an oral programno signing
was allowed. There she received speech therapy and lip reading lessons.
As a child and young adult, Mo became increasingly frustrated by not
being able to express herself with her family and peers. She remembers the
disappointment of watching shows on television with her other sisters and not
knowing why they were all laughing. They told her they would explain later, but
Figure 1. Mo presenting to
our class
by then, the joke was no longer relevant or funny. After she learned sign
language, she was much happier being able to tell people what was going on in
her head.
Mo now works as an ASL
teacher. She wanted to teach us some
basic signing, so she and Karen taught
us to fingerspell. I have learned the
alphabet once before, so it all seemed
familiar, but it was a good refresher.
For me, the hardest letter to sign is F.
We didnt go over the numbers, but
when I tried them on my own I got very
confused. It is not as similar to how I count on my fingers as I would have
thought. Perhaps it would come more easily with practice. Once we all were able
to repeat each letter back to her, we went around the room and spelled our
names. We then played a game. Mo would sign a three-letter word and we had
to guess what it was. Even though the words were simple, such as C-A-T or L-E-
G, it was difficult to figure out what she was signing at first. I had to go letter by
I loved having Mo come in and teach us. I have always had a fascination
with sign language. When I was in high school, I wanted to take ASL as my
elective, but I was advised against it because it was American Sign Language,
and it wouldnt fulfill my foreign language requirement. Although I am happy that I
Figure 2. Learning to sign the letters of the alphabet.
chose to pursue the Spanish language, a part of me wishes that I had tried to fit
the ASL course into my schedule. Is there any sort of common language for the
hearing impaired across the globe? I am curious to know what the major
differences are between ASL and another countrys version of sign language.
I liked when Mo explained the importance of facial expressions while
communicating with an individual with a hearing impairment. I was aware that
facial expressions affect the interpretation of what is being said, such as
expressing mood to accompany the tone of voice. However, Mo explained that
with ASL, eyebrows are raised for a yes or no question, and lowered to indicate a
question such as what, who, when, where, or why. As I thought about it, I
realized that I tend to naturally do this when asking questions as well. Is it an
automatic function we are born knowing to do, or is that a social norm that we
learn as we grow older?
Last week in chapel, we had special guests from the Caribbean Christian
Center for the Deaf in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Four students from the school
performed for us. They signed while the chapel band played a worship song. I
was mesmerized. I have seen signing before, but not like this. To me, their
performance seemed more like an art form than communication. It was beautiful.
Its amazing to think that just as people learn choreography to a dance and put
their own spin on it, every persons signs will look slightly unique as well. In a
way, this variation is almost like vocal pitchevery person who speaks says the
same word in a different voice. Seeing this performance reminded me of the
Silent Praise club on campus. Each week, the members get together before the
Gathering on Sunday night and learn a worship song in sign. I am interested in
checking this out sometime!
After class, I asked Mo and her interpreter
Karen Kramer how long it takes to become fluent
in sign language. She said that it all depends on
how much time you put into it and practice, but
she estimated around two years. Although I dont
think that I would ever try to be an interpreter, I
think that being fluent in, or at least having a basic
knowledge of sign language could be beneficial to
This would be especially true as an educator. Although it would not be
necessary for a teacher to know sign language in the classroom, there are many
other ways that students with hearing impairments can be accommodated for.
Making class materials available to the student ahead of time could mean a world
of difference. This could include sending out PowerPoints or printing out class
notes to provide your student something to follow. Be aware of terminology by
trying to eliminate phrases such as this or that, but instead, naming the object
and being specific with directions. Allow students to sit toward the front of the
class so that they can clearly see what is being explained and an unobstructed
view of the teacher and interpreter. Be patient with interpreters, and willing to
repeat yourself if necessary. It takes a couple seconds for the interpreter to relay
the message to the student, so slow down!
Figure 3. Karen Kramer, Mos
Because the term hearing impaired
includes a large variation of ability to hear, a large
selection of technologies must be available to
accommodate this variety. For example, some with
a hearing impairment may still be able to hear and
speak, but with some degree of hearing loss. One
available assistive technology is the Captioned
Telephone, or the CapTel. The CapTel works like
any regular land-line telephone, with the addition of a screen that displays every
word that the caller says throughout the conversation. The transcription can be
helpful incase it is difficult to hear the person on the other end of the line (Cant
Hear on the Phone?).
One technology used at my middle school was the Lightspeed REDMIKE
microphone. It is a small, wireless device that can be held or worn around the
neck on a lanyard. The microphone connects to a classroom audio system, and
projects the users voice in the room. The volume can be adjusted on the side,
and the REDMIKE does not use batteries, it is charged (Lightspeed
Similarly, some classrooms and buildings are equipped with a Hearing
Loop (or induction loop) system. This system requires electromagnetic energy to
transmit sound. The student with a hearing impairment can use a receiver in the
ears or a headset to connect to the amplification system. Because the sound is
picked up directly by the receiver, the sound is clearer, and more background
Figure 4. The CapTel.
noise is eliminated (Assistive Devices). Dimnent Chapel at Hope College is
equipped with a hearing loop.
I am very interested in taking an ASL class in the near future. Hearing
from Mo Sprunger and learning about hearing impairments has opened my eyes
to the challenges that these students face at school and at home. I learned about
new technologies and methods of non-verbal communication, and explored ways
to include these students in the classroom.

Assistive Devices for People with Hearing, Voice, Speech, or Language
Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2014, from
Can't Hear on the Phone? (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2014, from
Lightspeed Technologies, Inc. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2014, from
Michigan Department of Education. Michigan Administrative Rules for Special
Education. Web. 18 Sept. 2014.