Hard of hearing students can get help at DC

Kelly Balkisoon is an accessibility coach for the Accessibility and Support Centre at Durham College. She works with hard of hearing and deaf students, as she is hard of hearing as well. Photo credit: Courtney Mcclure

College is meant to be fun, says accessibility coach, Kelly Balkisoon.

For Durham College (DC) students who are deaf and hard of hearing, Balkisoon also believes the post-secondary experience can be more fun with the help of the Accessibility and Support Centre (ASC).

The ASC is doing a lot to help students with all kinds of disabilities, but there is always room for improvement, says Balkisoon.

Balkisoon loves her job. She enjoys working with students with various degrees of hearing loss — because she herself is hard of hearing.

The challenges for deaf and hard of hearing students are different from what other students may face, she says.

For example, it is a lot harder for them to understand what is being said by their professors if the professor turns away from the student, Balkisoon says.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing have a few different ways they can be supported to improve their college experience, according to Balkisoon.

Students who have hearing loss who have transferred to DC from other colleges or universities have told Balkisoon they have received little support at their previous campuses.

According to Balkisoon, one improvement DC can add to help deaf and hard of hearing students is to install a sound-field system into classrooms and lecture halls.

A sound-field system is an amplification system than can be installed into a room, providing people with an even-spread of sound.

This would help students with hearing difficulties understand what is going on during lectures, Balkisoon says.

Students who are deaf and hard of hearing and wear hearing aids or have a cochlear implant have a setting on their device that can be tuned into the sound-field system.

According to Balkisoon, installing a sound-field system also helps students with ADHD and other attention and focusing disorders.

“Every time that teacher turns their back to their student, they might not be hearing them at all, or they might be missing…like three out of ten words…or missing seven out of ten words,” she says.

Balkisoon’s hearing loss was caused by Usher syndrome, which is caused when two parents are both carriers of the Usher 1 recessive gene. The syndrome causes hearing to degenerate over time.

With her hearing loss constantly dropping, she was becoming increasingly frustrated.

“Hearing loss sucks,” she says.

Her advice to students who think they may be losing their hearing is to get their hearing checked and to not crank up their music. She says there have been studies that have shown a tie between loud music and loss of hearing.