TOOLS FOR SALE
It was advertised that the devil was going to put his tools up for sale. On the date of the sale, the tools were placed for public inspection; each tool being marked with its sale price. They were a treacherous lot of implements: Hatred, Envy, Jealousy, Deceit, Lying, Pride, and so on. Laid apart from the rest was a harmless looking tool, well worn and priced very high.
"What is the name of this tool?" asked one of the purchasers, pointing to it.
"That is Discouragement," replied the devil.
"Why have you priced it so high?"
"Because it is more useful to me than the others. I can pry open and get inside a man's heart with that when I cannot get near him with my other tools. Once I get inside, I can make him do what I choose. It is badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since very few people know that it belongs to me."
The parable above starts this month's discussion on disabilities because it seems to address the feelings many individuals with disabilities have because they live in a world of people who do not understand or who will not understand. The battle to pass the Americans With Disabilities Act was a hard one. Unfortunately, it is not over. We must continue to fight the battle as the court system whittles away at our rights with each decision made. We cannot afford to become discouraged; nor can we become complacent or acquiesce to the system.
The letter below sent to me by one of the readers of this newsletter expresses some of the frustration individuals with disabilities feel. My response reinforces the need to continue the fight:
Hello, I am a 52-year-old elementary school teacher. I am totally deaf in my left ear, with severe tininitis. This is a result of surgery for an acoustic neuroma that was removed 7 years ago. This, of course has caused some difficulties in teaching. I often must ask my students to repeat what they have said or to speak up. I cannot determine the direction from which a voice or noise is coming, so I must always be twice as vigilant in regard to keeping an eye on the class at all times. Turning my back to write on the board is always a problem. I have great difficulty hearing when there is even a small amount of background noise surrounding me. Large social gatherings or school assemblies are a total disaster for me because I cannot respond to what I am unable to hear. People with accents are another problem. I find myself becoming very embarrassed when I must ask people to repeat themselves over and over again. Many of my students' parents are foreign born, and have heavy accents. I wish there were some answers for me, in regard to how I can improve some of these situations.
Recently, a teacher left on sick leave, and I was told that I would have to fill her job, since the program she teaches is a state mandated and funded program and must continue in her absence. Unfortunately, the program is "teaching Spanish " to grades contract-3. The state does not require a teacher to be certified in Spanish in grades contract-3, because the children learn only vocabulary, no conversation. I have no background in Spanish (I took Latin), but worst of all, due to my hearing problem, I absolutely cannot tell if a child is pronouncing words correctly, unless it is absolutely silent in the room and in the hallway outside my room. This of course is not going to happen. Children cough, sneeze, whisper, shuffle feet, drop pencils, turn pages, move chairs and desks, and just basically make noise. I do not know how to emphasize to my superiors that this assignment is not a good idea. I am afraid they will think I am a whiner or complainer. I wish I had some valid information that I could present to them, that would help them to realize the severity of my disability. Any help you can give me, would be very much appreciated.
I left off the name of the writer to protect her anonymity. My answer:
Many people with hearing losses must fact the world every day just as you do. I realize that knowing that information is no comfort to you. However, the fact that you can learn from their techniques and suggestions should be comforting.
Helen Keller was asked once which of her disabilities was greater--her blindness or her deafness. She replied that deafness was a much more severe disability because the inability to hear cuts you off from the world. You cannot hear radio announcements, television, the voices of friends, etc. if you have a severe hearing loss.
Individuals with milder losses also suffer. Crowd situations are terrible! For example, a classroom composed of students on hard floors and metal desks is not only annoying, it's an impossible working situation. Anyone who has this sort of loss knows that hearing aids only increase the noise and, often distorts it. So, how does one live with such a loss? Let's explore your particular situation.
First, you have admitted that you have a loss. You have soared over the first ten hurdles. So many individuals with hearing losses choose to ignore it or deny the loss. Since you are aware of the problem, honesty helps. Talk to your students. Set rules that they must follow so that you can hear. If they do not follow those rules, then you do not have to respond. You will be teaching them that some individuals have disabilities and that they someday may find themselves in a similar situation. They need to develop empathy and compassion. This lesson from you may be the first step for many of them. (You will be helping with the battle against ignorance and thoughtlessness.)
What rules do you establish?
- Everyone must raise their hands to speak.
- Children must look at you when they are speaking.
- If you do not hear them well, then they may approach your desk, look at you and talk in a normal voice.
- Students may have to repeat themselves. (Have a notepad ready for them to write. They can improve their writing skills and their speech skills by learning to write and to speak clearly.)
- Note writing to the teacher is permissible.
- No talking while the teacher is speaking to another student.
- No talking when the teacher's back is turned.
- Do not yell. It won't help.
- If you cannot speak clearly or write well enough, then you may bring an interpreter with you. Bring someone with a good speaking voice.
- . Everyone must abide by these rules.
** Do not expect me to hear you in the cafeteria, in an assembly or in any noisy area. If you must speak to me in one of these areas, please come over to me to speak. Be sure to look at my face when you speak.
Next, teach the children some sign language. It will be a good thing for them to learn and it will help them communicate with you. Teach them things like "bathroom," "water," "help." Have them use the main signed word while they speak. It will be a fun project. Believe me.
If you can possibly do it, have the children put their shoes in a special place when they come into your room. Shoes are noisy.
Now, you need to request some reasonable accommodations from your superiors. Do not whine. Request reasonable accommodations (in writing). You can do the job; you just need some small changes in the classroom. The first thing you must request is a rug. Rugs lower the ambient noise in the room. You will hear much better. Place mirrors over the board, at the corner of each room and in other locations to improve your ability to monitor the children even when your back is turned.
Request an overhead projector. Teachers of the deaf use overheads; not a black board or dry erase board. You must be facing the children to hear them so you need an overhead projector and screen. Put your requests in writing. If the district will not make the accommodations, get what you can for yourself, keep receipts and then go through the grievance process from the principal on up the ladder. Hopefully, that process will not be necessary.
Please let your superiors know that your hearing is limited at assemblies. You will be able to help everyone better monitoring the hall outside the assembly or just controlling your class. Explain that you cannot monitor an entire auditorium. Or, maybe you can think of a way to better serve your school during assemblies. See if you can make a switch with someone--a counselor, a vice principal, etc. Maybe there is some job you can do in exchange for another person going to the assembly in your place.
Teaching Spanish is not a good idea. However, you need to present the school with reasons that benefit the school like you teaching Spanish is not in the best interest of the children. Perhaps if you had an aide and could take each child aside to hear, you could teach the class but it would be difficult. And, the district may not have the money to pay an aid. You are not whining when you make a request in the best interest of the children. You are considering the children's need to learn. They have a right to a free, appropriate public education whether or not they are disabled. The district will not be best serving the children by forcing a teacher with a hearing impairment to teach Spanish. So, make your request in writing. Express yourself clearly. Say that you are considering the learning needs of the children. Do not emphasize your hearing loss. Rather emphasize that you know that the district is committed to providing their children with a good education. Therefore, the children would be better off if the district assigned someone else to that position. However, if the district assigns you that job then you will do your very best. Then do your best if you cannot persuade them.
A class that is carpeted would help if you are definitely being assigned to teach Spanish. You can also sit the children on the floor facing you. Have the children sit in a semi-circle. Then have one child come up to you and sit directly in front of you, looking at you. Make sure the other children know to be quiet while you work with the one child. Again, explain that you have a hearing loss. Children can be much more understanding than adults at times.
Crowds and parties. Try to find quiet corners in which to talk. Honestly tell people you cannot hear them. Do not use the "deaf nod" to indicate you understand when you do not. Tell people you cannot hear then take their elbow and go to a quiet corner if you wish to continue the conversation. Go outside. Stay away from loud music. Make sure you ask people to look at you when they speak. Most people will understand.
Try these suggestions and let me know if they work. You brought up an important topic to discuss this month. Thank you. And do not be discouraged.