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Letter: Change to exam format is unfair

Originally published in The Telegram Tuesday, May 3, 2016 In 2005, I appeared on the local television show "Out of the Fog" to discuss the challenges facing hard of hearing students. I was a grade 12 student at Gonzaga High School in St. John's preparing for my upcoming public examinations.

Telegram letters

One of those examinations was a listening test which was part of the 3201 English public examination. It was mandatory element of the English course and required students to listen to an essay and answer questions. This was an extremely stressful event as I was to be examined on the subject matter of my disability, my hearing loss. A short while later this particular exam was removed through advocacy efforts.

Fast forward to today and you can appreciate my frustration, anger and disappointment when I learned that this exact discriminatory examination is now a component of this year's English 3201 public exam. And not only is the listening test a part of a public examination, but the decision to make it mandatory was done without the involvement of advocates for the hard of hearing.

So why is this type of examination so discriminatory? Requiring hard of hearing students to take this examination falsely assumes that technology and lip reading enable hard of hearing students to hear as well as their peers. This is false.

Technology does help in amplification and clarity of sounds, but it does not replace the hearing that is lost. Lip reading is a coping skill that hard of hearing people develop to assist them in "filling in the blanks," but it is not an exact science and is subject to speech differences between individuals and the environment. It is by no means a skill to be solely relied upon.

This listening test is created to examine students on their ability to listen and to properly hear and understand what they are listening to. Hearing loss is not just about being unable to hear certain sounds, it is also about being able to understand what those sounds mean (i.e. clarity). It is a complicated disability which is misunderstood, unappreciated and often ignored due to its somewhat invisible nature. Accommodations such as hearing aids and assistive listening technology as well as modifications to the environment and coping skills do help in school, work and at home, but those items can never replace the hearing that is not there. Therefore, testing the ability to answer questions stemming from strictly audio information is discriminatory.

To use a metaphor, if an individual has an impairment of any of the other senses (such as touch, sight, smell) would they be tested on their ability to make use of this sense? No. So again I ask, why are persons with a hearing loss being required to be examined on their ability to hear and understand?

As a result of the foregoing, I demand that the Department of Education reevaluate the benefit and risks of this component with the involvement of audiologist and itinerant teachers. These professionals understand the limitations of the accommodations available to hard of hearing students and should have been heavily involved in this decision-making process as advocates for the group of students most negatively affected by this type of decision.

Erika Breen Hearn


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