With the arrival of Covid-19, many schools and universities moved to online learning at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. As a new school year begins and students return to online schooling or a hybrid environment of both in-person and online classes, it’s important to recognize the effects that online learning can have on the hearing impaired students.
In a recent article by Dr. Diane Bell, several options were presented to ensure all students are able to access online learning. If you’re a teacher, parent, school administrator, or student, these 7 tips can be useful in making this year’s online learning experience a profitable one.
Assess the needs of your students
This is especially important with a new school year starting. You may have new students in your class with accessibility needs that you are not aware of. Even if you have returning students, it’s good to find out what their needs are and see if anything has changed since the last semester. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to explain to your students that online learning presents challenges that may not have been present in the classroom. Therefore, it’s important for them to speak up if they have any issues accessing class content.
Use captions or subtitles for audio or video content
Simply put, both captions and subtitles are a way to present a text version of content presented through video or audio. When considering the needs of your hearing impaired students, it’s important to use at least one of these methods to complement your video or audio presentations. Research has shown that the use of text combined with video or audio benefits everyone, not just students with hearing loss.
Test your video platform for accessibility
Common platforms used by schools and universities include Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting and Adobe Connect. Consider the benefits of each one but also keep in mind that they’re not all created equal. Some provide closed captioning and some are better than others in terms of the accessibility features they offer. Don’t be afraid to try out several options in order to pick the best one.
Film with accessibility in mind
As the teacher, think about your audience before you start filming your lecture. A general recommendation is to wear clothing that contrasts well with your skin but is not too “busy” or distracting. Light in the room and the video camera angle should be such that it’s easy for the listeners to see your face and be able to read lips if necessary.
Define the rules for group communication platforms
If your class offers an online audio or video chat room for asking questions or interaction among students, it’s good to set a few ground rules at the very beginning. Students should use the “raise hand” feature so that only one person is speaking at a time. When not speaking, other students should be on mute to eliminate background noise. When combined, these two rules alone will make it significantly easier for hearing impaired students to process what is being spoken.
Speak slowly and clearly
This is good practice even when lectures are done in person. It becomes even more important, however, when classes are recorded or presented online since technology can distort voices.
Follow up frequently with students
Even if you’ve followed all the recommendations above, don’t assume that each student is successfully accessing your online content. Touch base with them periodically to ensure that they haven’t had any issues. Communication works both ways – if you’re a student, don’t be afraid to let your teacher know if you do encounter any problems.
Ensure devices are optimized for online learning
If you’re a student with hearing loss, or the parent of one, schedule an appointment with your audiologist before the school year starts. He or she may be able to adjust your hearing aids or provide tips for making other hearing devices compatible with online learning platforms. Working together, we can make online learning accessible and productive for everyone.
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