Coping with Hearing Loss in a Music Education Setting
Teacher and Student
By NAfME Member Edward J. Ercilla
“I am not a deaf musician; I am a musician that happens to be deaf.”
—Evelyn Glennie, Percussionist
About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). In my case, I am part of that statistic of children who was born with congenital deafness in both ears. This also happens to be a hereditary trait in my family since several of my family members are also deaf. I would like to initially mention, however, that deafness or hearing loss can be described as a wide-range scale, and the degree of hearing loss cannot be specifically measured to a numerical equivalency. While I am profoundly deaf in both ears, I do not live my life in total silence as many would perceive of deaf people. We do hear sound to some extent, but the clarity of that sound can vary widely from one to another.
When I personally introduce myself, I often begin by saying that “I am deaf” and that “I am also a musician.” To their bewilderment and astonishment, people find that they must come to reason with these two separate statements that I had just made. How does a deaf person make music if they cannot hear? To make matters more interesting, I then proceed to mention that I am also a music educator, thus creating more confusion with the idea that a deaf person who cannot hear music is teaching music as well. This is where my session: “Coping with Hearing Loss in the Music Education Setting: Teacher and Student” is truly unique. It will be presented from the perspective of a deaf music educator who has gone through the traditional music education setting and is currently thriving in the profession. The session also serves as evidence that people with disabilities can certainly succeed with music and become effective music educators as well.
What Is Hearing Impairment?
Hearing impairment is the disability label used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to indicate a hearing loss that requires special education and related services. In other words, the hearing loss is so severe that the child’s ability to process linguistic information is affected (Hardman, Drew, & Egan 2016).
What Does It Mean to Be Deaf?
For students who are deaf, the primary means of communication is through the visual channel. Their residual hearing or remaining hearing is not sufficient to process speech. These students have a hearing loss that is 90dB or greater (Darrow 2006).
What Can a Student Expect to Hear as It Relates to Their Hearing Loss?
For a person with hearing loss, the chart below can illustrate what sort of sound type is associated at the respective decibel level. Please keep in mind that this chart is an approximation, and not all hearing loss is the same.
What Is It Like to Have Hearing Loss?
While it is not possible to measure the exact amount of hearing loss a person has, we can provide some generalizations based on ability to hear at various decibel levels. The session will provide an opportunity for the participants to engage in a listening activity that simulates hearing loss in various scenarios.
What Kinds of Adaptations Can I Make to Assist My Student?
While adaptations can be person-specific, there are some generalized suggestions that can be applied to all students who may or may not have a hearing loss. Many of them can be achieved through Universal Design to allow for effective communication with the whole class as opposed to just one specific student.
- Unnecessary noise, such as A/C, or outdoor traffic should be eliminated.
- If the D/HH child is wearing hearing aids, make sure they are positioned facing the teacher.
- The speaker’s face must be clearly seen.
- The classroom should have good lighting for speech reading facility.
- If necessary, additional assistive communication devices such as microphones, visual aids, tactile aids, sign language interpreters, and appropriate technological aides should be added to the physical environment.
- Look directly at the person when you speak.
- Use pantomime, body language, and facial expression to help communicate.
- Speak slowly and clearly, but exaggeration and over-emphasis of words distorts lip movements.
- Close captioning of your presentation can easily be achieved with many programs such as PowerPoint.
- Use of Bluetooth is highly encouraged to connect the student’s hearing aids. If the hearing aid is not equipped with Bluetooth, a Rogers mic would suffice for most models.
- The Apple watch is a great tool to use if the student has one. It would allow you to discretely speak to the student without creating a scene in the classroom. You can also use smart devices and tablets to transmit content and to use as tuning devices as well.
- Text messaging through Remind and other educational outlets like Google Classroom can provide you with a clear channel of communication. The conversation can also be stored in case a student needs to make a reference to something that was previously discussed.
This session will surely be a unique experience for all who attend. You will have an opportunity to interact with a clinician who can present to you from the deaf person’s perspective in the hearing world. Insight and anecdotal information will be shared that will bring a unique perspective of how your classes might be experienced. You will be reassured and made to feel confident with the provided resources and information, that you will be able to provide an equitable and memorable music education experience for all students in your classroom.
Evelyn, G. (2020). Professional Website. Evelyn Glennie. Retrieved September 18, 2022.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021). Quick statistics about hearing. National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Retrieved September 18, 2022.
Drew, C., Egan, M., & Hardman, M. (2016). Chapter 13—Sensory Disabilities: Hearing and Vision Loss. In Human exceptionality: School, community, and family (12th ed., pp. 315–317). Cengage Learning.
Darrow, A.A. (2006). The Role of Music in Deaf Culture: Deaf Students’ Perception of Emotion in Music. Journal of Music Therapy, 43(1), 2-15.
About the author:
NAfME member Edward J. Ercilla is a deaf music educator entering in his 19th year, and currently serves as the Director of Instrumental Music at Doral Academy Preparatory in Miami, Florida. His teaching responsibilities include band, orchestra, guitar, and music theory. He also serves as an instructor for Doral College where he teaches music appreciation. Aside from teaching, Mr. Ercilla is a freelance musician in the Miami area and serves as a music instructor/coach for various organizations such as the South Florida Youth Symphony. Being a deaf musician and educator, Mr. Ercilla has been actively presenting at the local, state, and national level as it relates to special learners and music. Mr. Ercilla received his B.M.E and M.M.E from Florida State University.
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October 3, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)
October 3, 2022
- Culturally Relevant Teaching
- Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA)
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October 3, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)