One of the most exciting, yet stress-inducing, times for high school students is the research, application and eventual decision-making process for college. Choosing where to pursue their post-secondary education can be the single most important decision young people make until that point in their lives. Having a hearing disability presents some unique wrinkles when searching for prospective schools. After narrowing them down based on general preferences including location, size, potential course of study, financial feasibility, etc. there are several other things to consider. Make the college process less anxiety-ridden by following these tips.
1. Plan Ahead
Whether in person or by phone, schedule a meeting with the office that handles disability services at prospective universities. Appointments can be set up either in advance of applying to the school or immediately upon notice of acceptance.
Before the meeting, determine what types of accommodations and/or services your student may need and put together a list of pertinent questions. Some schools may decline to have a direct discussion about services until a student has been admitted. If that is the case, be sure to set one up very soon after acceptance. This will help you gauge not only the availability of necessary services but also how organized and experienced the school is. This meeting should also give your student a better understanding of the level of self-advocacy that will be required of them in college. A good outline of accommodations and services to consider are available here.
2. Inquire About Unique Accommodations
Aside from the usual accommodations such as assistive listening devices, CART, testing modifications, etc., there are other things to discuss. Does the school offer any unique accommodations for students with disabilities? For example, are students able to pre-register for classes so that they are able to get particular professors or smaller class sections? This can be beneficial to ensure the best listening environment with professors who have clear speech, don't talk too fast or cover their mouths, etc. Class size can also be important as some courses may be taught in both large and smaller section sizes. Some lecture halls can be quite large with poor acoustics. This can usually be compensated for with appropriate accommodations but it is helpful to be aware in advance.
Another question to ask is about the availability of dorm rooms that are already equipped with alert devices for smoke and fire alarms and door knock signalers. If they're not, will the housing department ensure these are in place upon dorm move-in or does the student need to move in and wait for safety equipment to be installed? How long does this process take?
3. Visit Schools, Observe and Ask Questions
Use the college information session and campus tour to discover all the things that may not be on the school's website or in college guidebooks. Go prepared with a list of questions.
If your student is comfortable, have them alert the tour guide that they have hearing loss and walk close to them. College tours offer a lot of useful information and opportunities to ask questions. If they use an assistive listening device they can bring it on the tour and ask the guide to wear the microphone.
While on tour, observe the immediate surroundings. Are buildings situated close to busy streets or highways? Is there a lot of ongoing construction nearby? When you're inside classrooms, libraries and dorms is your student hearing a lot of noise from the outdoor environment? Ask about the percentages of classes that are small, medium and large sized. For classes that are very large, do they break up into smaller sections a few times a week?
4. Connect with College Students with Hearing Loss
Ask the university if they can pass your student's contact information to a current student with hearing loss who would be willing to speak with them. Getting an insider's view of the college journey of a student with the same disability can be beneficial. Not only can they share the ease or difficulty with which they obtained services and/or accommodations, they may also provide insight into options you may not have thought of. Plus, these students are the inside track to finding particular faculty and administrators who have been helpful to them.
If your student has any local friends or acquaintances with hearing loss who may be older and in college or recently graduated, encourage your child to reach out to them. You can reach out to people you know as well. Many kids are only too happy to share their experiences with their peers. While this may be more of a general college discussion, it is still valuable information before they head into college.
5. Research College Scholarships
There are many college scholarship opportunities specifically for deaf and hard of hearing students as well as general scholarships for students with any type of disability. Eligibility requirements vary and some are specific to certain schools or states. Begin your scholarship search as early as possible. Creating a spreadsheet to organize the information will help to keep from being overwhelmed during this process.
The following links offer scholarship opportunities specifically for deaf and hard of hearing students.
Links to both hearing loss specific as well as general disability scholarships can be found here:
There are many more resources for scholarships available online. Use a variety of search terms (deaf, hearing impaired, hearing loss, hard of hearing, etc.) in conjunction with the term, "scholarship" for best results.
Determining which schools will set up your student with hearing loss for success in college requires careful planning and consideration. These tips will go a long way to help the process go more smoothly and the scholarship links will hopefully save you money.
Paula Rosenthal, J.D. (she/her) is deaf and uses cochlear implants to hear. Her husband and one of her three children also use cochlear implants. Paula is an award-winning advocate for people with hearing loss and their families. She blogs at PaulaRosenthal.com and is available for speaking engagements. To contact her, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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