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Speak Loud, Speak Proud - Learning to Advocate for You: The Classroom

By Lindsay Hutton

Speak Loud, Speak Proud

Since the age of five after a surgery to remove a cluster of cysts in my left ear, I was left with less than ten percent hearing in it. To top it off, I have very poor vision in my left eye. Things could get tough in the classroom and social settings, though I was the last person to admit it.

"High school is such a ridiculously easy place to get labeled," says Ana, a 17-year-old hard of hearing high school student in London, ON. "In middle school, I would wear my hair long to cover up my hearing aids, and I'd beg my parents not to tell the teachers I needed to sit up front in class. I was mortified."

Ana's not alone. For many of us, deaf/hard of hearing or not, high school is a time filled with being desperately aware of our perceived differences and quirks. However, being okay with ourselves means being real about what we need to be successful, and learning to advocate for ourselves in situations where our needs may not be met immediately, or with open arms.

Take me, for example. I was in grade ten, taking a grade-eleven math class where I didn't know anyone. At the beginning of a new semester, I had a teacher that assigned seats. To my annoyance, I was dumped way to the right in the second-to-last seat in the row. After class, I quietly approached him and said I needed to sit up front, as I couldn't hear him particularly well. His response? "Well," he boomed, with my classmates looking on, "I guess you'll have to pay extra attention." Nice.

"You would assume that teachers would be made aware, but often they don't have the resources and the knowledge," says Enza Iovio, a counselor with the Canadian Hearing Society. "It can be tough to get ahead. You have to learn to explain your situation to people, and get used to it."

"You're there to study, but there's always concerns about access," says Mike Cyr, the program director for child and family services at Silent Voice. "It's your right to be in the school system and learn just like any other student."

  1. Assess the territory. Some teachers make assigned seating charts at the beginning of the term. Check out the classroom and see if they use group or row seating, and decide where you want to be. If you require an interpreter, decide beforehand where he or she would best be located. If you are hard of hearing, make sure your "good side" is closest to where the teacher typically stands.
  2. Know your allies and your options. Make sure your teacher knows what you need, when you need it. "It's educational law to provide you with what you need to be successful: an interpreter, a notetaker, and requests to sit up front," says Wendy Yarr, a high school vice-principal and former special education teacher. "The best thing to do is to request a meeting with the special education teacher to discuss exactly what you need."
  3. Asking for help. It's understandable that going solo to face a teacher can be a bit terrifying. Says Cyr: "Talk to your parents, get a counselor on board, and have a one-on-one meeting with the teacher so they understand the best way to accommodate you."
  4. When to move on. Most of the time, knowing your options and getting a counselor and a parent to assist you in getting what you need is all it takes. However, this isn't always the case. Some schools or school boards might better be a better fit. Contact your local advocacy organization to get some help.

Silent Voice is a non-profit organization that offers a wealth of programming and advocacy for youth. (www.Silentvoice.ca).

The Canadian Hearing Society is a national advocacy organization offering a host of services, including counseling, ASL translation and more. (www.chs.ca).