- Hearing impairments are usually viewed as one of the more significant disabilities, perhaps because so much of our learning comes to us through the sense of hearing. Yet many people with hearing impairments or who are deaf view hearing loss not as a disability but as a linguistic difference. In addition, most people who are hearing impaired have typical cognitive abilities and can and often do vociferously advocate for their own rights.
- As with other disabilities, there is no absolute determination of what constitutes impaired hearing. Although children who are deaf are not able to use their hearing to understand speech, they may perceive some sounds. Children who are hard of hearing also have a significant hearing loss; but unlike deaf children, they can respond to speech and other auditory stimuli.
- For many years educators have debated the most appropriate instructional methods for these children.. Educational programs with an oral emphasis view speech as essential for integration into the hearing world. Much attention is given to amplification, auditory training, speechreading, and the use of technological aids. Other educators use a total communication approach with students with impaired hearing. This approach uses a variety of methods to assist the child in expressing, receiving, and developing language. Still others believe that deafness merely reflects a linguistic difference, not a disability, and therefore advocate for the exclusive use of American Sign Language (ASL) as the method of instruction.
- Many children with hearing impairments lag far behind their hearing peers in academic achievement, and the achievement gap usually widens as they get older. This suggests that more effort needs to be made in enhancing the curriculum and instructions for students with hearing impairments.
- The debate over communication and instructional methods for students with impaired hearing is likely to continue, for research has yet to provide a definitive answer to the question of which communication method is best. Fortunately, technological advances are improving the communication abilities of many individuals with hearing impairments, and future advances may enable educators to analyze and track their language development with much greater precision. This information could be used to design more appropriate language instruction.