Ask the Audiologist: Not Deaf Enough for Regional Programs

By Mallorie Evans, M.A., FAAA

California Hands & Voices Board Member

Q: What about children/students who want to go to the regional Deaf/hard of hearing program in their community and are told they are not “deaf enough” or have “too much hearing?” It seems some people in the educational community judge this by audiograms.

This is a topic that comes up frequently in educational settings. In order to answer this question, we must first look at the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to give us the legal basis for determining educational placement.

Least Restrictive Environment is explained in IDEA as follows:

“. . . To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities . . . are educated with children who are nondisabled; and . . . special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. [§300.114(a)(2)(i)]”

“When looking at placement options, consideration must be given to any potential harmful effect on the child or on the quality of services that he or she needs. [§300.116(d)]”

Additionally, placement options regarding Deaf and Hard of Hearing (D/hh) students must consider the following.

  1. Communication needs
    • What does this student need in order to communicate?
    • Does this student use residual hearing efficiently?
    • Does this student need training in specific communication mode?
  2. Language and communication mode
    • What is this student’s proficiency in spoken English (or other spoken language)?
    • What is this student’s proficiency in written English (or other written language)? <l/i>
    • What is this student’s proficiency in manual communication (signed English,ASL)?
  3. Academic level
    • What academic skills does this student have?
    • Does this student have the academic skills to compete with hearing peers?
  4. Full range of needs
    • What other needs does this student have that will affect academics, socialization, and emotional development?
    • What are the social and emotional implications of an educational placement for this student?
    • What are the specific needs of this student based on age?
  5. Opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode
    • Can the student communicate effectively with the teacher?
    • Can the student communicate effectively with other staff in the school?
    • Are there opportunities for direct communication with peers and professionals?

Remember, placement is an IEP team decision. It is NOT up to the audiologist to determine where a child is educated. It is also important to remember that eligibility does not determine placement. In some states, “Deaf” and “Hard of Hearing” are two separate eligibilities. In other states, there is not a distinction between the two. The audiogram answers the question about eligibility related to hearing loss levels and types as the state regulations dictate. That is the ONLY thing that the audiogram should be used for in the discussion of eligibility and placement. The audiogram alone should not be used to determine placement. Placement is based on the educational needs of the student. For D/hh students, that includes placement in a language-rich environment, regardless of whether it is a spoken or signed language (i.e. spoken English or American Sign Language, etc.) Educational audiologists are considered a member of the related service providers on the IEP team. It is important to remember, however, that audiologists are experts in all things hearing and balance related, so their information only provides one piece of the educational puzzle. No one piece is more important than another, so to give the audiologist and/or the audiogram enough weight to determine placement is unwarranted and an overreach.

Therefore, the common argument that a student is “not deaf enough” to be placed in a regional D/hh program is based on the misapplication of eligibility determining placement. It is not legally valid, and it can be detrimental to a D/hh child’s overall language development.

Remember, as parents, you have rights regarding your child’s educational placement. Should parents disagree with the placement decision, they have recourse to IDEA’s procedural safeguards, which include continuing the IEP discussion, Independent Educational Evaluations, mediation and due process procedures as a way of resolving the conflict. A parent of a child with a disability can also file a state complaint.

Editor’s note: Evans is an educational audiologist and a Board Member for California Hands & Voices.

Source: Individuals with Disabilities Act Amendments of 1997. (IDEA ’97). Children, youth, and families.Inter-governmental relations. 20 USC 1400 note [Section 614(d)(3) (B)(iv)]