Assessing an institution for students with hearing impairments


In the latest in Ernst Vanbergeijk's series on assessing institutions for students with disability, he takes us through the unique considerations required for students with hearing difficulties.

Comments from the second installment of this series of articles, which covered assessing an institution for students with visual impairments, helped me crystalize what counsellors are really trying to assess.

Counsellors are attempting to assess the institution's acceptance of individuals with disabilities. This is more than simply providing the "reasonable accommodations" as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Does the college or university embrace the notion of diversity of abilities? Or do they subscribe to the dominant hegemony; believe in a medical model of disability where disability is considered a pathology that needs to be cured.

Creating a culture around disability

A strengths-focused model of disability does not take this approach. One such model is the cultural model of disability where the different ability is celebrated and not pathologized. A culture is a system of knowledge that is passed on from generation to generation. It includes beliefs, attitudes, values, that are distinct from other groups. A culture shares a history and a language. People from the same culture share icons, heroes, and sources of pride.

The hearing impaired and deaf community have done an excellent job of embracing the strengths based approach, viewing the disability as a distinct culture.

Definitions of hearing disabilities

A hearing impairment is either a partial or full hearing loss in one or both ears. There are varying levels of hearing loss. Moderate hearing loss is defined as a loss of between 41 and 55 decibels. Moderately severe hearing loss is a loss of between 56 and 70 decibels. Severe hearing loss is a loss of between 71 and 90 decibels. (Answerbag, 2009). The hearing loss can be unilateral which manifests as an inability to detect the direction of a sound or distinguishing background noise.

Hearing loss can be biological in origin through the aging process or it can be genetic. A hearing loss can also be the result of environmental factors such as being exposed to excessive noise (e.g. working at an airport, attending loud rock concerts) or through a trauma such as being too close to fireworks or a fire arm when it is being discharged.

"Deafness is considered to be a different condition from being hearing impaired, particularly by the deaf community. Deafness is the complete loss of hearing in both ears, while hearing impaired persons are often referred to as 'hard of hearing'." (, 2009)