A TODHH’s Perspective on Alternative Services and Settings for DHH Students

The issue


Securing appropriate settings and services for deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) students is often a challenge.  Alternative programs can offer a range of educational and treatment services (e.g., direct instruction, pull-out programs, co-enrollment, therapeutic programs) to meet the individual needs of students.  Once a need is identified, there is an full diagnostic evaluation.  A team of parents and professionals then reviews the results and writes an Individualized Education Program (IEP) listing needed services and the settings based on the evaluation.  Before, during, and after these meetings, teachers of the deaf and hard-of hearing (TODHHs) deliver clear information about the effects of hearing loss. They provide compelling documentation of each student’s unique strengths and needs.  A DHH learner is frequently the only student with hearing loss in their school or district. Often, such a student is the only young person with a hearing loss that the decision-making team members have ever met.  TODHH advocacy and education is essential.

What we know

DHH students are uniquely diverse.  Schools are required to implement programs and supports in response to learners’ individual strengths, weaknesses, and needs.  School decision-making teams must consider the full continuum of alternative school settings to design programs that are most enabling for each DHH student. The ability of DHH learners to communicate with teachers and peers is a major component of academic success and the primary means of classroom learning. Students who have difficulty accessing spoken communication in the classroom may choose not to participate in classroom activities, which can limit learning and academic success.  In any placement or setting, most DHH students need a TODHH to directly address the learning characteristics specific to their hearing loss.

The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that communication at school be as effective for DHH students as for their hearing peers. They are entitled to equal opportunity to reach the same level of achievement as their hearing peers. Schools are required to provide auxiliary aids and services, as well as assistive communication devices, so DHH learners have equal communication access to all aspects of school life. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that schools give serious consideration to how DHH students communicate. In the words of the law, a child’s program design must show meaningful educational benefit. A TODHH evaluation will identify language and communication needs and barriers that prevent or limit full access to spoken communication, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode.  Parents must be informed of the full continuum of placement options available to meet the needs of children with disabilities, including instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions.

Experienced and highly skilled TODHHs are an integral part of DHH student success.  TODHHs educate team members about hearing loss, educational law, and the full continuum of alternative settings and services.  They make connections and build relationships, develop alliances and partnerships, and find fellow advocates for children.  They comprehensively assess each student to provide relevant data to support alternatives.  Developing a strong IEP based on clear evidence of student strengths and needs helps the team determine settings and services to match.  Understanding that individual differences among DHH students are much greater than among hearing students, TODHHs educate others about a range of factors including implications of the presence of additional disabilities, cognitive abilities, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, age at time of intervention, and type and quality of intervention.

What we don’t know

Just as our students benefit from instructional practices that are evidence-based, team education and advocacy practices should be evidence-based as well.  We need to know which TODHH education and advocacy practices are most effective with school decision-making teams. Can research tell us how best to advocate and educate teams?  Which strategies are most successful in helping decision-making teams understand the effects of hearing loss?  What information has the greatest impact on those teams?  How can we best target our knowledge, skills, and time with decision-makers for our students’ lasting gain?  Which approaches with decision-making teams have the most enabling result for our students?


TODHHs have unique and valuable insights to contribute to decision-making teams and planning processes.  Their specialized training, knowledge of both the range of alternative settings and services, and understanding of the complexities of diverse factors among DHH students make them powerful advocates. The research community can help establish which of our advocacy and education tools are most effective for making the case with decision-making teams to secure the settings and services our students need.


Posted on Jan 5, 2017 by
Linda Haley
Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
lhaley {at} gstboces.org

Jennifer Buckley-Thompson
Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
jennifer_buckley-thompson {at} boces.monroe.edu


Further reading