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Orientation to Deafness for Students

This information is part of an online guide, Resources for Mainstream Programs

When there is a new deaf student in the class or the school, some students who don't have prior experience with people with hearing loss may benefit from learning about deaf people.

On this page, you will find a true/false quiz and follow-up activities and discussion points for each question. This information can dispel myths, lessen misconceptions, and provide strategies to promote a welcoming and responsive environment for deaf and hard of hearing students. If you do not feel comfortable facilitating activities for this orientation, consider inviting, from within your school system, professionals to assist you who are more knowledgeable on this topic (deaf educators, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, others familiar with working with deaf and hard of hearing students).

Incorporate the following quiz and activities as desired, adapting each to the specific needs of your classroom and school.

Quiz

  1. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing like to learn just like children who can hear.
  2. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing can have successful careers when they grow up.
  3. The speech of children who are deaf may sound different from the speech of children who can hear because there is something different about a deaf child's voice box.
  4. Children who are deaf use Braille to communicate.
  5. Individuals who are deaf hear no sound.
  6. You must use an interpreter to communicate with people who are deaf.
  7. With a hearing aid or cochlear implant, a child who is deaf can hear the same as a child who is hearing.
  8. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing can understand everything through speechreading.
  9. Deaf people cannot communicate using a telephone.
  10. Many people who are deaf have their own culture.

Activities and Discussion Points

Question 1:  Children who are deaf or hard of hearing like to learn just like children who can hear. (True)

  • Explain that children who are deaf or hard of hearing like and dislike most of the same things as children who can hear.
  • Have students list things they like to do, and decide whether they think deaf or hard of hearing children enjoy those things, too. If they say no, ask why not. Some students may feel that children who are deaf might not like activities that require listening or speaking-music, dancing, singing, or watching television. Explain that this is not necessarily true; deaf children may enjoy these activities as much as hearing children do. They also may not enjoy them or have any interest in them. It is important to convey the point that children who are deaf or hard of hearing are individuals with individual likes and dislikes.
  • Make it clear that children who are deaf or hard of hearing have the same feelings as all children. They can feel happy, angry, sad, left out, excited, silly, lonely, or other emotions.
  • Discuss that while the process of learning spoken language may be different for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, these students can and do learn to read, write, and do math like other children.
  • Explain that although a child who is deaf or hard of hearing may not speak clearly, it does not mean that the child is not smart.

Question 2:  Children who are deaf or hard of hearing can have successful careers when they grow up. (True)

  • Ask the students to read biographies of successful deaf people and share what they learn with the class.
  • Invite deaf and hard of hearing adults to the class to discuss their professions.
  • Set up field trips to work places that include deaf and hard of hearing adults so students can observe their jobs or careers in action.
  • Many people ask if deaf individuals can drive. Deaf people may be required to place an outside rearview mirror on both sides of their car or to wear their hearing aids when they drive, but they can get a driver's license just like anyone else.

Question 3: The speech of children who are deaf may sound different from the speech of children who can hear because there is something different about a deaf child's voice box. (False)

  • Explain that, anatomically, a person who is deaf has the capacity to use his or her voice; however, individuals must be able to hear and monitor his or her own voice and that of others to learn to pro-duce similar sounds.
  • Brainstorm ideas for how students who are deaf may learn to speak. Ideas may include:
  1. using a hearing aid or cochlear implant (see Hearing Aids and Other Assistive Devices and Cochlear Implants),
  2. seeing sounds on the lips and looking at movements of the mouth and tongue, and u
  3. sing special computer programs with software that visually reinforces a child for correctly producing sounds.
  • Use the following activity to simulate how children who are deaf might learn to recognize and say words with only limited auditory feedback:
  1. Choose a nonsense word or a word from a foreign language and don't tell the students what it is.
  2. Hum the word without moving your lips.
  3. Have students imitate you.
  4. Hum and clap out the syllables of the word, then have the class try it.
  5. Without sound, mouth the word and see if students can guess what it is.

Question 4: Children who are deaf use Braille to communicate. (False)

  • Ask students if they know about Braille. Clarify that it is a system to help people who are blind to read. Inform students that children who are deaf can usually see well and do not need Braille to read or communicate, but that this is a common misperception. (Note: It is important to mention, however, that there are also individuals who are both deaf and blind. Deaf-blind individuals may use Braille for reading. For more information about deaf-blind individuals, see http://www.deafblind.com/.)
  • Discuss how many children who are deaf use ASL. Explain that ASL is a visual language that is equal to spoken languages in complexity and ability to express concepts.
  • Discuss various signed languages. Explain that, like spoken languages, each country may have a different signed language. ASL is not universal.
  • Explain that not all people who are deaf or hard of hearing know or use sign language. The choice to use sign language depends on many factors, including how much a child can or cannot hear, the age at onset of hearing loss, and communication methods and language choices determined by the child's family.
  • Play guessing games using easily identifiable signs such as baby, drink, eat, break, tree, baseball, and swimming.
  • Expose students to books, videotapes, and CDs on sign language. Many books are available in local libraries and bookstores.
  • Teach students how to spell their names using the manual alphabet. A copy of the manual alphabet can be found in most sign language books.
  • Hire deaf professionals to teach ASL classes as a component of the school program or after-school program.
  • Ask deaf students enrolled in the school if they are interested in teaching sign language to others in the school as an extracurricular activity or through a club.

Question 5: Individuals who are deaf hear no sound. (False)

  • Note that deaf children have varying abilities to hear sound. Explain that few deaf children hear no sound.
  • Set up an activity to have students simulate different degrees of deafness. Have the students cover their ears, use earplugs, wear earmuffs, watch TV with no sound, or listen to a radio between stations. Ask students to discuss what they could or could not hear and how they felt. Reinforce that each individual with a hearing loss is different and that some students may have differing degrees of distortion in their listening system, even with a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
  • Ask students if they have had their hearing tested. Discuss how hearing is tested (evaluated and measured).
  • Have students listen to hearing loss simulations that are available via the Internet.

Question 6: You must use an interpreter to communicate with people who are deaf. (False)

  • Discuss that not all students who are deaf use sign language and an interpreter. Some children who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate effectively through spoken language using their hearing aid or cochlear implant. In addition, even if a student in the class uses an interpreter, there may be many times when the interpreter is not available. This does not mean that the student who is deaf or hard of hearing cannot be included.
  • If the deaf or hard of hearing student in the class uses sign language, brainstorm strategies for hearing classmates to communicate with their peers who are deaf or hard of hearing when the interpreter is not available.
  • Encourage learning and use of sign language in the class with all students.
  • Encourage the students to learn fingerspelling. Fingerspelling is easy to learn and can provide a quick way to bridge the gap in some communication situations.
  • If an interpreter is involved in the classroom, encourage students to work with the interpreter to facilitate communication during social interactions.
  • If the deaf or hard of hearing student in the class depends on listening/speechreading and speaking to communicate, role play and brainstorm strategies to facilitate communication. If the deaf or hard of hearing student uses a hearing aid, remind other students not to talk to him or her in an excessively loud voice. Loud talking will not help. Explain that hearing aids already make the sound loud enough; talking too loudly may distort it.
  • Brainstorm possible strategies to use when communication breakdowns occur. Some strategies include:
  1. Re-wording the message.
  2. Repeating the message.
  3. Pointing to things that communicate the message.
  4. Demonstrating the message.
  5. Writing the message.
  6. Not giving up. Sometimes using more than one strategy is necessary to get the message across.

Question 7: With a hearing aid or cochlear implant, a child who is deaf can hear the same as a child who is hearing. (False)

  • Explain that hearing aids cannot fix hearing for children. Discuss how hearing aids can make sounds louder but not clearer. Demonstrate this concept through the following activities:
  1. Write "airplane" in very small letters on a piece of paper. Ask students to read it at a distance. When they cannot read the word, bring it closer until they can read it. Explain that this is similar to what happens when a person has a conductive hearing loss and uses a hearing aid. The hearing aid makes the sound louder; once the sound is loud enough, the person can usually understand it.
  2. Write "fire truck" on a piece of paper, but leave out parts of the letters. When the students cannot read the words, bring the paper closer. When they still can't read them, explain that this is how hearing aids work with sensorineural hearing loss. No matter how loud a sound gets, the parts may still be missing. Note: Some students may guess "fire truck" correctly even though parts of the letters are missing. Explain that they guessed right because they figured out how to fill in pieces of the puzzle. Explain that this may be how some deaf and hard of hearing children learn to fill in missing pieces of words and sentences when they are listening to speech. Some children have more pieces of the puzzle missing and it is harder to fill in the parts.
  • Discuss how not all children benefit from or use a hearing aid.
  • Compare listening through a hearing aid to tuning a radio between stations with static, then making it louder. Just as with a hearing aid, when the radio plays louder, the static and noise also be-come louder.
  • Contact an audiologist to bring in hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive devices for demonstration. If possible, provide an opportunity for the students to interact with and experience the devices.

Question 8: Children who are deaf or hard of hearing can understand everything through speechreading. (False)

  • Explain that even under the best conditions, only parts of speech can be understood on the lips and face. Demonstrate how the sounds "p," "b," and "m" look the same. Mouth the words "pan," "ban," and "man" to show the class that many words look alike. Use other examples, such as "red" and "green," "maybe" and "baby."
  • Discuss strategies to support successful communication:
  1. Look directly at the deaf or hard of hearing person when trying to communicate.
  2. Make sure there is no glare interfering with visual communication.
  3. Do not speak with a pencil in your mouth or anything in front of your face.
  4. Try to sit or stand facing the deaf or hard of hearing person when having a conversation.
  5. Don't exaggerate words and lip movements.
  • Explain that not all students who are deaf or hard of hearing can speechread. Some students get a lot of information through looking at mouth movement, but others get very little.
  • Play one or more of the following speechreading games to show how information can be passed on or missed through speechreading. Have students reflect on the speechreading activities completed. Remind students that their skill in speechreading depended on their knowledge of the English language. Have students imagine and discuss trying to actually learn a language through speechreading.

Silent Telephone

  1. Have students sit in a circle.
  2. Have a student write a word or a sentence on paper.
  3. Have the student mouth the message without voice to the next student in the circle.
  4. Keep the message going via lipreading around the circle.
  5. Have the last student announce the final message.
  6. Compare it to the original written message.

Treasure Hunt

  1. Hide objects in various locations in the room.
  2. Use lipreading to give sentence clues on where the objects are hidden. For example, "Find the pencil under the teacher's chair."

Question 9: Deaf people cannot communicate using a telephone. (False)

  • Explain that some people who are deaf can use regular phones, coupling the telephone with a hearing aid or with a special amplifier that can be built into or added to the phone.
  • Explain that people who cannot hear words on the telephone can communicate via other text communication devices. In the past, individuals who were deaf used a special device called a TTY (text telephone). TTYs are now rarely used as most individuals use videophones, their computers, pagers, and other hand-held devices.
  • Discuss how videophones and video relay services are now common.

Question 10: Many people who are deaf have their own culture. (True)

  • Discuss characteristics of Deaf culture. (See About American Deaf Culture) Explain that not all persons who are deaf are affiliated with Deaf culture.
  • While "Deaf culture" typically refers to those individuals who use ASL, there may be a culture or group of individuals who are deaf and use oral communication. These individuals may come together or communicate with each other because of their interests and similarities. For more information, see the Hearing Loss Association of America or the Alexander Graham Bell Association.
  • Provide an opportunity for students to discuss or write a story about what it would be like to not be able to use all of their senses.
  • Provide opportunities for students to visit day schools, residential schools, or universities for deaf students that may be in your area. During the visits, have Deaf children and adults discuss Deaf culture.
  • Set up penpal relationships with deaf students via mail, e-mail, and/or the Internet.
  • Have students in the class visit websites of students in schools for the deaf.
  • Invite Deaf adult visitors from the community to discuss their lifestyle, how their daily life is the same as or different from that of hearing people, and what being a part of Deaf culture means to them.