Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
You’ve taken all the necessary tests and paid the admission fees, packed away your high school letter jacket and padded your savings account with money earned at your summer job. You’ve learned how to do your own laundry. Your parents have even started transforming your bedroom into a study-slash-yoga studio. Looks like you’re really on your own now, kid. Before you head off to college, though, it’s time to do a little more homework and make sure you’re ready to fend for yourself on campus.
If you have hearing loss, your parents may have been your best advocates at school. And, while they were probably instrumental in helping you choose which post-secondary institution to attend, now it’s up to you to make sure your needs are being met once you get to campus.
- Learn from your parents. Up until now, your parents most likely worked with the school administration each year to create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) so your teachers could modify the classroom and their teaching styles to help you learn your best. Now that you’re an adult, you’ll have to request the services you need yourself. Ask your parents what worked — and what didn’t work — when they were putting together your IEPs. Use their experiences and insights to help you determine exactly what services to request at college.
- Know your rights. Having a hearing loss or being Deaf qualifies you to receive very specific learning resources under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Any institution of higher learning which receives federal funding must provide you with equal access to education and campus activities. Fair warning, though. Some colleges just do the bare minimum to meet the law’s requirements, while others are more committed to meeting the needs of students like you. Learn what you are entitled to, then find out exactly what programs and services your college offers.
- Do a little research. What specific services exist for students with hearing loss? Is there a dedicated student services office and where is it located on campus? Do you have to register for these services? If so, is there a deadline? Ask about technology, too. What specific assistive listening devices (ALDs) do they have for students with hearing loss — and are they available in every classroom? What type of interpretive services do they provide for the Deaf — and how far in advance do you need to request them? If you can’t find everything you need to know on the college website, send an email to whomever is in charge of these services on campus.
- Become acquainted with campus. Look at a map to identify where your classes will be held and where your instructors’ offices are located. If possible, visit campus ahead of time and walk to each building, noting how long it takes you to get from place to place. One afternoon of discovery can make the first few weeks a lot less stressful.
Make a plan
Now that you know what’s been done in the past to ensure your success in the classroom, what services are available and you have a feel for where you’re going on campus, it’s time to pull it all together. Mapping out a plan for success will help you once you get to campus and things seem unfamiliar.
- Plan for success. Register with the appropriate campus offices in a timely manner. Request the services you’ll need ahead of time. Purchase the study supplies you’ll need to be successful in each class.
- Communicate with your instructors. Send each of them an introductory email which includes a brief description of your hearing loss and exactly what you need to be successful in their classroom — a seat in the front row, for example. If possible, ask to meet with them individually before classes begin.
- Plan for your safety. If you’re staying in a residence hall, introduce yourself to the residence hall director and explain your hearing loss. Learn where the emergency exits are located are on your floor. Make sure you have an emergency alert device — such as a bed shaker — available in your dorm room.
- Talk with your parents. Make sure they have a copy of your class schedule, too. As an adult, your privacy is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, so they can’t see your academic records unless you sign a release form.
- If you’ve had a hearing loss since childhood, you’ve probably become well-acquainted with your pediatric audiologist or hearing care provider. If your campus is located a significant distance from home, use our directory to find a hearing health provider near campus that you can get to easily if you need help, hearing aid repairs or assistance with your technology.
Others may forget or make mistakes, so speak up if your needs aren’t being met.
Ask for what you need
Once you get to campus, don’t be afraid to speak up if your needs aren’t being met. People can sometimes forget or make mistakes or they may have other things on their minds. Technology fails or wears out. Advocating for yourself in a firm, respectful manner improves your chances for success in and out of the classroom. Here are a few tips for getting your voice heard without being viewed as annoying or pushy:
- Be prepared. Create a brief summary of your hearing loss that you can communicate in 60 seconds and practice delivering it. You’ll be meeting a lot of new people in the next few months. Some of them will have questions about your hearing and you’ll want to share your story in more detail. Others will be instructors or administrators who need to understand your story quickly so they can address your needs.
- Be considerate. Make appointments with instructors and administrators to show you are respectful of their time and position — then be prompt. Treat everyone with kindness and respect, no matter who they are.
- Be persistent. You won’t always get everything you ask for, but that shouldn’t prevent you from asking, especially if it’s something you need for success in school. Do the research and be prepared. Stay on topic and be specific — and don’t lose hope. If the first person you talk to can’t help you, maybe the next one can.
Finally — have fun
You’ll likely look back on your collegiate experience with fond memories and make friends you’ll know for the rest of your life. Be open to meeting people who have different perspectives and learn to balance fun with your studies. You won’t receive any college credits for learning to advocate for yourself on campus, but the lessons you learn will last you a lifetime.