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Public exam component is discriminatory


I have recently heard of the Department of Education's decision to bring back a listening component to the English 3201 public exam. 

As a hard of hearing individual and soon to be audiologist, I am appalled.

This component would take place on May 31st and would require students to listen to a two to four minute passage of speech and answer questions based on that passage. If students do not complete this portion of the exam, the course would be considered modified and the students would not graduate with a high school diploma. The listening component was removed in the past because it clearly discriminates against individuals who are deaf and/or hard of hearing.

The Department of Education's website discusses "accommodations" that students with hearing loss can avail of, but to be completely honest, they simply aren't good enough. In order for this exam to be an equal testing experience for all students, those with hearing loss should be able to receive a copy of the written text and I'll tell you why.

One of the accommodations recommended is speech reading. First of all, not all hearing-impaired individuals are efficient at speech reading. Secondly, even those who are good at it struggle because many of the speech sounds in the English language have the exact same place of articulation, and thus look the same to someone who is relying on visual input only. Have a friend make a silent p and a silent b and I think you will understand better.

Also, individuals with hearing loss have to pay more attention to hear, even in a quiet background and with the use of their amplification devices. This effect is even truer for noisy environments, and I can guarantee you a gymnasium or any classroom in a school setting does not classify as quiet unless it had been specially modified (i.e. carpet, acoustically treated walls, ceiling tiles, drapes etc.).

The added listening effort required by individuals with hearing loss has been documented heavily by subjective reports but is recently being studied objectively using a dual-task paradigm. It is known that when an individual performs two simultaneous tasks, there is a competition for resources. As the cognitive demand for one-task increases, there are limited resources available for the competing task. To put this in context, as an individual with a hearing loss is straining to hear and lip-read, their cognitive resources become depleted and their ability to perform a second task such as extract pieces of information from the speech sample and recall it later is hindered. Given this information, you tell me how a hard of hearing student can effectively "listen" to a speech sample and respond to the same degree as a normal hearing peer.

There is another phenomenon that I have learned through Dalhousie's audiology program that I would like to educate you about. It is called desensitization and is a known problem among individuals with sensorineural hearing loss. As the degree of hearing loss increases, individuals become less able to extract meaningful information from audible speech. So, even if we were to wrongly assume that students with hearing loss could hear as well as their normal hearing peers with appropriate accommodations, there is still the issue of desensitization. This goes back to the common misconception that hearing aids allow individuals to hear normally. Hearing aids do not work this way; they cannot "cure" hearing loss. They can help manage but they never put a hearing impaired student on an equal playing field as their normal hearing peers.

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have my parents, my itinerant teacher and others advocating on my behalf to make school an inclusive experience for me. I feel that it is my time to give back to this population and to advocate for the needs of individuals with hearing loss. I have written a letter to the Department of Education about my concerns and am awaiting their response. I am usually not one to complain to social media but this particular situation has really struck home with me because I have struggled with many of the same issues in the past.

From the Prof. Ranee Panjabi incident at Memorial University to this careless decision, I have had enough with discriminatory actions against individuals who are deaf and/or hard of hearing in this province.

I hope that the Department of Education recognizes their mistake and reverses this decision before more damage is caused.

Michelle Edwards

St. Lawrence

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