I have been hearing from several parents asking for help with remote learning issues. The problems the kids are having should be expected:
- Masks are covering the teacher’s mouth so lipreading is not possible
- Masks, especially those close to the mouth are really distorting the speech signal
- The signal coming through the computer is further distorted
- When the teacher turns away to write on a white board etc., the signal is further reduced.
What can we do to resolve these issues?
The school needs to be made aware of the problems with a child with hearing loss (and actually many other children) not getting a clear signal:
- Any child who has an IEP or a 504 is known to the school as a child with a disability. If the school does not easily respond to a child’s needs, parents should ask for another IEP or 504 to request changes in the educational plan.
- Teachers need to use face shields so that the student can see the teacher’s face. The Department of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin has developed a mask system with a face shield and mask beneath it which is easy to use and safe for everyone.
- While there are some masks that have a piece of plastic near the mouth, they tend to fog up making lipreading difficult
- For any child who can read, a system of closed captions should be mandatory. The first choice should be to have a captioner type what is being said which will show on the bottom of the child’s screen. If you cannot get the school to provide captioning (or until they get it going) there is a text system called otter.ai which can be used to provide captions but it is a voice activated system and there is no one there to make corrections when things do not make sense.
- Some families are asking schools to let the child attend in person when students are alternating days.
The problem is a serious one. While all children will fall behind during the difficult period, children with hearing loss are in a more difficult position because a distorted system will make things worse for them. Families will need to be very aggressive in getting schools to provide what their children need.
Audiologists and other clinicians have to help families negotiate with the school by making it clear that children with hearing loss really do have special needs. I know it is difficult but it is essential.