An Educator’s Guide to Hearing Disabilities and Technology Use

Written by: Cheryl Cheifetz


An Educator’s Guide to Hearing Disabilities and Technology Use Addendum


Addendum Written by Tricia Hayenga, Graduate Student in

Library and Information Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign





Hearing loss is the most common birth defect in the United States, affecting 12,000 children born every year (Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Information and Resources Page).  With advances in technology, people who are deaf or hard of hearing are constantly presented with new opportunities for communicating at school, at home, and in the work place.  It is imperative that educators stay abreast of these technologies and be familiar with ways in which they can use them in their classroom.


Current Technology


According to the Technologies that Assist in Classroom Learning web page on the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing website, the following technologies are currently available for students to use in classrooms. 


Sound Field System

This assistive device amplifies the teacher’s voice.  All students in the room hear the enhanced sound.  The sound field system assists hard of hearing students distinguish the teacher’s voice from other sounds in the classroom.


FM System

With the FM system, the teacher wears a small microphone.  The teacher’s voice is transmitted to the hard of hearing student who is wearing a small receiver that is connected to his or her hearing aid or cochlear implant.  This device also helps the student distinguish the teacher’s voice in the noisy classroom environment.


Captioned Videos

Captioned videos print spoken text on screen during video and TV programs.  Research suggests that captioning also aids students with normal hearing who are reluctant readers or learning English as a second language.  Studies show that text along with video boosts reading confidence and vocabulary (National Center to Improve Practice in Special Education Through Technology Media and Material 1998).  Captioned TV and videos can be played on any TV manufactured after 1993 or with older sets using a device called a closed caption decoder.


C-Print Captioning

C-print captioning involves the use of a hearing captioner (transcriber) who transfers speech to print.  Using a laptop computer, the transcriber types the words of the teacher and other students as they are being spoken.  The deaf or hard of hearing student, using another laptop or computer monitor, can read the words as they are being spoken.   The transcription can then be stored and printed for distribution to students.  C-Print Captioning is designed to take the place of interpreters and notetakers in the classroom.


Real-Time Captioning

With real-time captioning, a trained captioner uses courtroom stenographer equipment to transcribe classroom lectures and dialogue into a computer which shows up on a video screen that the student can read. 

Real-time captioning can also be done remotely.  The captioner must have a speaker phone or microphone and have a laptop connected to the Internet.

Because a trained stenographer must be employed, real-time captioning is very expensive.


New Technology



Because of the costs associated with hiring a stenographer, IBM has been working with a group of universities to design a method of real-time captioning that allows professors’ lectures to be immediately transferred to a computer screen using a wireless microphone. 


The program, which is called ViaScribe, creates a personalized voice profile of the professor’s voice patterns.  During class, the lecture is transmitted through the microphone onto a large screen for the entire class to read.  After class, the lecture is available to students as both a text and an audio file (Bain et al).


Voice recognition software is not a new concept.  However, ViaScribe is unique because it can easily be used for real-time captioning purposes.  Unlike other programs, ViaScribe requires little editing and does not require the use of punctuation cues.  Therefore, the speaker can talk naturally without having to worry about the transcription. 


Hearing Loops

Although it is not widely available in the United States, Great Britain now uses wireless technology to make public broadcasts available to those people with hearing aids.  In the article “Good News for People with Hearing Loss,” David G. Myers explains that bus terminals, taxi cabs, churches, auditoriums, and other public spaces in Great Britain are now equipped with wireless hearing loops.  People with hearing aids tune their hearing aids to a specific channel and the sound is broadcast directly into their hearing aids.


According to Myers, the technology is being used in several public buildings in western Michigan where it has become very popular.  Proponents of the new technology hope that it will catch on in other parts of the United States.  Hearing loops could potentially be used in school sound systems, providing greater access to information relayed over the school’s public address system.  In addition, the hearing loop could be connected to audio visual equipment like TVs, making it easier for students to listen to videos played during class.


Cochlear Implants


With advances in medical technology, more and more children with profound hearing loss are receiving cochlear implants.  As a result, teachers must be aware of the special needs associated with students in their classrooms who have cochlear implants. 


First, it is important to understand that a cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid.  Unlike a hearing aid, a cochlear implant does not make sound louder.  It bypasses the damaged parts of the ear and sends an electronic signal to the brain (U.S. Dept. of Education). 


According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, a cochlear implant is a small electronic device that is surgically implanted under the skin behind the ear.  The implant can help provide a sense of sound to a person who is deaf or profoundly hard of hearing.  “When hearing is functioning normally, complicated parts of the inner ear convert sound waves in the air into electrical impulses.  These impulses are then sent to the brain, where a hearing person recognizes them as sound.  A cochlear implant works in a similar manner.  It electronically finds useful sounds and then sends them to the brain.  Hearing though an implant may sound different from normal hearing, but it allows many people to communicate fully with oral communication in person and over the phone” (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders).


In an article entitled “Educational Challenges for Children with Cochlear Implants,” Chute and Nevins stress the importance of recognizing the unique challenges faced by students with cochlear implants.  This includes the importance of using an FM system or sound system in the classroom in order to combat ambient noise that makes it difficult for students with implants to hear the teacher.  In addition, it is important to remember that implants may make it easier for students to acquire English language and literacy skills, but like students with mild and moderate hearing loss, children with implants are still at risk for delays in vocabulary and language ability.


For more information on hearing loss and assistive technologies, please visit the original White Papers, the 2002 Addendum, or 2005 Addendum.


Recommended Sites


Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The association is a nonprofit support and advocacy group for the deaf and hard of hearing.  The website is an excellent resource for information on hearing loss and assistive technologies.  It includes a section devoted exclusively to assistive technology in schools.


American Academy of Audiology

The site contains information on hearing aids as well as tips for communicating with people who wear hearing aids.


American Society for Deaf Children

The site contains information for parents and educators of deaf children as well as links to other related sites.


Captioned Media Program

Sponsored by the National Association of the Deaf, the Captioned Media Program provides captioned videos free of charge to the deaf and hard of hearing as well as parents and educators.  The videos can be ordered as videos, DVDs, or streamed over the Internet.

This site describes how hearing loops work and gives information on how and where they are used. 


IBM ViaScribe 

Explains ViaScribe and how it is used in the classroom.  It also provides a video demonstration of the product.


Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center

The site includes information on hearing aids and cochlear implants.  In addition, there is a section for teachers that includes links to information on how deaf students communicate.


National Center to Improve Practice in Special Education Through Technology Media and Material

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education from 1992-1998, the NCIP website contains information on how to use assistive technologies in the classroom.  Although the information was last updated in 1998, the content regarding ways to use captioning in the classroom is still relevant today.


National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

This site provides a variety of information on different types of hearing loss as well as assistive technologies including captioning, cochlear implants, and hearing aids.


Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

Edited by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas at Austin, this website presents guidelines for making web-based content accessible for people with a wide range of disabilities including those who are deaf or hard or hearing.  The site is a work in progress and is updated regularly.



List of Works Cited

Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. 2005. Information and Resources. Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Washington, D.C. 3 June 2006

Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. 2005.  Technologies That Assist in Classroom Learning.  Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Washington, D.C. 3 June 2006

Bain, K., et al. "Accessibility, Transcription, and Access Everywhere." IBM Systems Journal 44.3 (2005): 589-603. Academic Search Premier. 4 June 2006.

Chute, Patricia M., and Mary Ellen Nevins. “Educational Challenges for Children with

Cochlear Implants.” Topics in Language Disorders 23.1 (2003): 57-67. Academic Search Premier. 3 June 2006.


G. Myers, David. “Good News for People With Hearing Loss.” Saturday Evening Post

277.6 (2005): 96-100. Academic Seach Premier. 3 June 2006.


National Center to Improve Practice in Special Education Through Technology Media

and Material. 1998. Captioned Video Q & A. Education Development Center, Inc., Newton, Ma. 3 June 2006  


National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. 4 June 2006. Cochlear Implants. National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. June 4 2006


“Opening Doors: Technology and Communication Options for Children With Hearing

             Loss.” US Department of Education. (2005)  ERIC. 3 June 2006.