The Unheard Voice of the Hearing Impaired in Waterloo

Wah waaah waaaah waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah

We all can agree that the sound of a crying baby is annoying, but just like many other sounds, it is mostly unavoidable. When walking around public places, we hear many voices, whether it’s the sound of children laughing, screaming or the wind’s sough and howl. I agree that not all sounds are pleasant; however, there many people who have always wondered what is it like to be able to hear, not only the loud cries and laughter but also the voices of their loved ones. In Canada, there are 357,000 Canadians who are culturally deaf, born without the ability to hear, and about 3.21 million Canadians who have issues with hearing. Moreover, 466 million people around the world live with hearing disabilities and 34 million of them are children.

Their disability impedes the process of learning languages, as one of the main requirements of learning a language is listening to its words and letters to get the pronunciations right. Studies have shown that with an inability in spoken languages, difficulties in social interactions arise, leading many people to loneliness and depression.

Consequently, sign language, hearing aids, cochlear implants and subtitles emerged in our societies.

Sign language is used mainly by the deaf to communicate with others using their hands and body language. Hearing aids are removable devices that work on magnifying sound vibrations in the ear; however, they only tend to work effectively for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Meanwhile, cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices that target people with severe to profound hearing loss.

Personally, I have always wondered what is it like to be someone with a hearing disability in the Kitchener-Waterloo region, so for my quest, I started by contacting the Special Education Consultant at Waterloo Region District School Board, David Dowhaniuk. Mr. Dowhaniuk informed me about the only high school hearing program available in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region, which is in Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute. To my content, He told me about one of the teachers in the program, Mr. Jon Taylor, a previous graduate of WCI, who agreed on seeing me and answering all my questions. In my visit, I was also welcomed by Jordan Pender, a current student in the program, who is also the youngest person in North America to get cochlear implants.

Jordan Pender and Mr. Jon Taylor

 

I wanted to know the educational path taken by the hearing impaired, and Pender was the right person to address and acquire from. She attended Smithson Public School from Kindergarten till Grade 6, then she went to Stanley Park Public School for two years, Grade 7 and 8, and now she is in her fifth year at KCI. All these schools offer congregated classes for Hearing Services students, but I had no clue what was the program like until Pender told me, ” at first, It was difficult because I am not used to hearing, so I had a hard time speaking. Then it got better as I progressed through the courses and the different EAs, educational assistants, who helped me with hearing and speaking.” She then explained to me about how she had different EAs for each class, and how there would be hearing specialists that will help Pender pronounce words better and do programs such as corrective reading, which basically “builds literacy through pronunciation,” as Mr. Taylor elucidated.

Much to my shock, I learnt that Pender takes all the courses that other students take, but French is the only course that they are exempt from because, “pronunciation and language is hard enough for English, but in general, they can take academic, fast forward or applied courses,” said Mr. Taylor. I asked what do they do in the Hearing services room if they basically take most of their courses with the other students?, and Mr. Taylor answered, “this room is an extra resource room where I and an EA will give them more attention and help with their work, so basically I am a resource teacher. What kind of help do they mainly get from you and the AE? “We build literacy, we work on wellness, behaviour and self-esteem. Then we also break down words and show the kids how to pronounce in the corrective reading.” Mr. Taylor also added, “one of the things I do to other kids here is working on phonetics, for example, where do you put your tongue in your mouth when you say -sh as opposed to -tcha. They only spend an hour here with me or the EA, and they take the other four courses with mainstream students.”

Being a senior just like Pender, I wondered what are the requirements of graduating high school for someone with a hearing disability? “It is exactly the same as every student, we are just not required to do French, but the rest is identical. We need 40 hours of volunteering and the same amount of credits” said Pender. Furthermore, Mr. Taylor commented, ” the only difference is that for their resource period, they come to me for extra help, which they need because generally there is a language gap and their literacy, writing, and reading is a bit lower. Imagine your whole life hearing sounds instead of words, these guys (students in the hearing program) have to put sounds to make words then words to make sentences, so basically they have more work to do, which is why they need the extra help from me and the other two educational assistants that work in this room as well.” At KCI, unlike our school, the students have a Multi-Subject Interdisciplinary Period (MSIP) with their other 4 courses, and for students with hearing disabilities, like Pender, they go to the hearing services classroom for extra help; however, other students just work on their assignments.

 

Mr. Jon Taylor

The educational path was not the only thing I wanted to know, so I asked Pender about her hobbies and future plans. She replied,” I read outside of school lots of books, including romance, action and mystery, and I am trying to get into Conestoga college for construction or Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) General Carpenter because they offer additional assistance and services for people like me.”

Knowing that this is the only high school that offers the hearing services in the region, I asked Pender on how she gets to school, ” I take a short bus, but some students take vans or taxis as well.” What about students with hearing disabilities that don’t live around KCI’s boundaries? Mr. Taylor responded, “many kids take buses to here from Cambridge, Kitchener and different parts of Waterloo because this is the only school that offers this service and the support needed to the students from this classroom. Jordan’s home school is Forest heights but she goes here because of the hearing program.” In addition, to my dismay, Mr. Taylor adds that for the kids in Cambridge, it takes them more than an hour to get to school and back, each way.

What are some difficulties faced by young students with hearing impairment in society? Pender: ” Going to the mall and public places, in general, is hard because many people talk so loud and then there are lots of noises, especially background noises, as they make my hearing harder.” What are some accommodations the school and community can make to help the minority of the hearing disabled? “In the classroom, We’ve put tennis balls on the bottom of every chair because every sound interferes with Jordan’s ability to hear you clearly. This is also a quiet part of the school with very little noise” said Mr. Taylor.  For Pender, she wanted mum fans in public places and the people to acknowledge and respect the hearing disabled by generally speaking quieter.

FM Transmitter

 

Resources:

St George & Sutherland Community College 

Study about Hearing Disabilities