Physical Education and Sport Adaptations for Students Who Are Hard of Hearing: Learning to Communicate with Students Who Are Hard of Hearing Is the First Step to Instructional Success

Article excerpt

At a Fourth of July celebration three years ago, a man threw a firecracker; Leanne was nearby and this noise caused her to lose a significant amount of hearing. Leanne, now 16, tries to keep her hearing loss a secret, especially from the other students, as she does not want to be viewed as "disabled" or "hearing impaired." Even though Leanne wears hearing aids, they are usually hidden by her long blond hair, and most of her classmates are not aware that she has a hearing loss. When she is not looking directly at the other students, she often does not respond to their comments and greetings, leading them to say that "Leanne is in her own world" or that she is "unfriendly." Her hearing issues are compounded during physical education because during many activities she cannot wear her hearing aids for fear that they will get damaged by sweat. When Leanne's teacher gives her instructions, she often misunderstands; when this happens, he will sternly ask her to "sit out of the game for not listening."

Leanne is hard of hearing (HOH), not Deaf. There is no obvious visual clue that Leanne has a disability. Conceptualizing a student's hearing loss is difficult and, to compound this, an instructor's preconceived beliefs about how individuals with hearing loss typically behave can influence his or her perception of what the student is like.

It cannot be assumed that all people with hearing loss have similar needs. Deaf children develop their communication primarily through sight. On the other hand, children who are HOH receive their speech and language primarily through their hearing. Most individuals with hearing loss do not use sign language (Hearing Loss Association of America [HLAA], 1997), and people who are HOH are often grouped together with people who are Deaf and referred to as "deaf" or "hearing impaired" (Gallaudet University 2007; HLAA, 2006b). This can be confusing for teachers and other professionals because communicating with students who are HOH, like Leanne, can be vastly different from communicating with individuals who are Deaf.

The purpose of this article is to help educators to recognize and address the needs of individuals who are HOH. Incident rates of hearing loss, the terminology used to refer to individuals with hearing loss, and indicators that a hearing loss may exist are also examined. Most importantly, this article provides readers with a variety of instructional strategies for adapting physical education and sport activities to meet the unique needs of individuals who are HOH.

Demographics and Distinctions

Hearing loss is the most common disability in the United States (HLAA, 2007). Three in every ten Americans (Kochkin, 2005), and three school-age children per 100, have a significant hearing loss (HLAA, 2007). Physical educators will very likely instruct at least one student with hearing loss during their career.


The proportion of people with deafness is small (less than 1%) when compared to the number of individuals who are HOH (Holt, Hotto, & Cole, 1994). The term "hard of hearing," when used to refer to the degree of hearing loss, indicates a difficulty understanding speech through the ears either with or without amplification (Lieberman, 2005).

The proportion of children and adults who are HOH is growing rapidly (Grace, 2005; Kochkin, 2005) due to a noisy environment, young people listening to loud music, and the growing number of older adults (Grace). Niskar et al. (2001) found that 12.5 percent of children in the United States between the ages of six and 19 are estimated to have noise-induced hearing loss in one or both ears.

While the number of individuals who are HOH is increasing, the proportion of those with deafness is decreasing. Two major causes of deafness, maternal rubella and Rh incompatibility (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2007), have been practically eliminated, and the growing number of cochlear implants is further decreasing the number of children and adults with deafness, thereby increasing the proportion of individuals who are HOH (Grace, 2005). …