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Hearing disabilities are often invisible, but have a major impact on adolescents

Published in the Nov. 10, 2021 Stow and Bolton Independent

Hearing disabilities are often invisible, but have a major impact on adolescents in schools

Eliza Wachtel is currently a senior at Nashoba Regional High School. She is a member and officer of the DECA program at her school. Her project this year is to raise awareness about children with hearing disabilities as well as the struggles of being a student with any disability in the school setting. Eliza writes from her own experience and research she completed on the subject.

Eliza is completely deaf in her right ear and, as a student herself, understands the immense struggle that students can go through behind the scenes. Students with any disability that may not seem noticeable at first can go through emotional turmoil on the inside because others around them don’t know or understand what they are dealing with and experiencing. Although Eliza’s disability is a hearing impairment, students with other disabilities, especially learning, must work extremely hard in a way that is not always noticeable or understandable.

Our society has a major stigma around any deviation from the norm. Although circumstances have certainly changed and improved, overall, it is not close to ideal for anybody who may feel different. Disabilities are something that we are born with and cannot change.

The website states, “The hearing impaired children want to be like their friends with normal hearing, and they often feel inadequate when drawing attention to their hearing problem.” Students have a fear of advocacy because it’s incredibly difficult to put yourself out there, even if you know it’s something that you need. This fear is one of the largest reasons that students with any disability are plagued with a lack of aid. also states how the extent of the student’s need to conform and make their disability camouflaged can go so far as to, “never ask the other pupils to repeat themselves, and some even tell the teacher that no special microphone is required even though sound amplification would make it easier for them to hear properly.” By not allowing help to be given, students fall behind in schoolwork because they are exhausting their energy when trying to learn, hear what the teacher and peers are saying, take notes, and understand content at the same time.

Another major conflict for students with hearing and other disabilities is the money put in for systems and microphones based on their home community. Equipment for hearing has a high price tag and schools with low funding will be less likely to have access to something of higher quality. In turn, it creates challenges for these students because they are trying to learn and are put at a disadvantage. Laura Schifter from The Century Foundation emphasizes that “students from low-income families are more often identified in more subjective disability categories, and that once identified as such, students from low-income families are more often placed in substantially separate classrooms where expectations for success tend to be lower, education outcomes tend to be worse, and stigma associated with special education is higher.”

By often being separated from other students because of hearing difficulty, the students may be given work loads that are not appropriate to their disability’s needs. It is often misunderstood that if everything taught to a student with only a hearing disability is in the appropriate volume, they can learn and do everything just like their peers.

Socially, the struggles can be very significant for a student with a hearing problem. When in a social environment, a student is prone to exclusion because other students will speak quietly and don’t repeat themselves either. If a student is at a large event with many people nearby, it takes a massive toll on their energy due to the need to constantly work much harder than those nearby to hear what’s happening. It is hard to advocate, as well, because other kids are often unable to fully understand what the child is going through internally.

For many disabilities, people are able to see and identify that a person has an obstacle that they are facing, but a hearing impairment is not visible at first. Most people don’t know that somebody has a hearing impairment unless they are using a system or tell them personally. A student with a hearing impairment will also feel intense lethargy from trying to thrive in a social environment or the classroom setting.

Bess, Gustafson, and Hornsby did a study which was published in the Journal of Educational Audiology in 2014 that evaluated some of these issues. Fatigue is common among people with disabilities. Fatigue in adults impacts work performance. Jane Madell from Hearing Health Matters states that “fatigue in children is associated with reduced academic performance, increased absences, and increased stress to name a few.” This lack of energy and motivation will then lead to a student’s grades or an adult’s work performance to not accurately reflect their intelligence or abilities. This is not only unfair, but needs change.

Society in the modern-day is working towards having more acceptance of children with disabilities, but it is far from the ideal. We must all take the time to listen and understand the experiences and struggles that people go through on a daily basis that we may be completely unaware of. By doing this, we are creating a healthier and more welcoming environment in which everybody can learn and be the best version of themselves.