Self-Advocacy 101

By Elizabeth Boschini

Remember that your professors may have little to no experience working with students with hearing loss, and you will have to explain the accommodations to them.  Give them a simple, straightforward explanation of WHAT-HOW-WHY: what the accommodation is, how it works/how they can help you and why it is important.

For example:

“Professor, because of my profound hearing loss, I will need you to wear this FM microphone transmitter during class (what).  The microphone beams your voice directly to my hearing aids, making it easier for me to hear you (how).  This is important because it makes your voice louder than the background noise in the classroom, and it will help me to hear you regardless of where you stand in the class or if you turn your back to write on the board (why).

Remember to tell – not ask – what you need.  Don’t ask a question for which you don’t want an answer.  For example, asking, “Will you wear this FM system?”  could give you the answer, “No.”  Where do you go from there?  It is much better to say, “I would like you to …  Because …” (For example, “I would like you to provide captioning for videos shown in class because without captions I cannot fully access the content and cannot be responsible for it on exams without access.”)

Remember that the point of accommodations is ACCESS, not advantage.  This is important for you, as the student, to remember to be conservative in the accommodations you request.  College is about learning to function independently and gaining skills for adult life.  If your goal is to have a career in a majority hearing and speaking environment, think now about steps you can take to prepare yourself to meet that challenge.  Access, not advantage, is also an important concept to explain to faculty and staff members who may question your need for certain accommodations.  Help them to see that by providing accommodations, they are simply giving you the access that hearing students have and putting you on an even playing field, not giving you an unfair advantage or making classes easier.

Assess your attitude.  Absolutely everyone has anxieties about starting college.  Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may worry about how their hearing loss will be perceived.  Decide how you are going to “pitch” your hearing loss to all of the new people you meet at college.  What do you want people to know about you and your hearing loss?  Keep it short, simple, and positive.  Consider how your self-perception affect how others will see you – you are as “disabled” as you think you are, and others will take their cues from you about how comfortable you are with yourself and your hearing loss.  Telling people about yourself confidently with a matter-of-fact attitude makes hearing loss seem less intimidating.  Remember, hearing loss is part of who you are, but it does not define who you are.

Here are some examples:

“I’m hard of hearing, so if it seems like I’m ignoring you, please know it’s just because I didn’t hear you.  Just tap my shoulder to get my attention and say it again.”

“If you’re looking for me in the dining hall, please text me instead of calling – it’s a little difficult for me to hear on the phone with all of the background noise in there.”

“Professor, I know you’ve never taught a student with cochlear implants before, but I think we’ll be able to work together to come up with some good solutions that will be easy for you to implement but will really help me to get the most out of your class.”

“I’m so sorry, I missed your name.  Could you say it again for me, please?”

“It’s really loud in here.  Is there any way we could find someplace quieter to sit?”