The technical issue regarding closed captioning during a presentation over a Zoom call Monday at Owensboro Innovation Middle School was an eye-opening experience for Wendy McLevane, who organized the call to Anita Dowd, an executive staff advisor at the Kentucky Commission on Deaf and Hard of Hearing, as part of a project her students are completing that focuses on issues for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing.
McLevane, iMiddle sixth-grade language arts teacher, said her students witnessed first-hand a situation that is unique for deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) individuals, when program organizers struggled to pull up closed captioning for Dowd, who has hearing loss.
The issue was eventually resolved and the program resumed, but McLevane said it was definitely a teaching moment.
“This has all been eye-opening for myself, and for my students,” she said. “People who are deaf and hard of hearing have to go through things like this every day, and you really just don’t understand it until you witness it for yourself.”
Dowd was speaking with students about her experiences growing up with hearing loss. She also spoke with students about advocacy and about the work she and others at the KCDHH do to help Kentuckians who have hearing loss.
The presentation was part of a project sixth-grade students are working on, in which they were tasked with developing programs, devices or services to help people in the DHH community. As part of the project, some iMiddle students have also been working with Owensboro Innovation Academy students to develop prototypes with 3D printers.
Dowd told students that when the pandemic first began and Virginia Moore, executive director of the KCDHH, interpreted for Gov. Andy Beshear’s daily press conferences, that was the first time a Kentucky governor had an American Sign Language interpreter during such an event.
Including Moore in those press conferences sparked a “snowball effect” of people calling in to the KCDHH office and inquiring about its services and how to be more inclusive to the hard of hearing community, Dowd said.
“So while COVID has been bad, it also was good, because it brought the needs of people who are deaf and hard of hearing to the public eye,” Dowd said.
About 95% of children who have hearing loss are born to hearing parents, so many of them don’t meet other deaf children or people, Dowd said.
That’s why it’s important to be inclusive and provide public services for people with hearing loss, she said.
According to the KCDHH, 48 million Americans have significant hearing loss. Approximately two-to-three out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. are born deaf or hard of hearing. In Kentucky, there are about 700,000 deaf or hard of hearing residents, ranking it third — per capita — nationally in people who identify as deaf of hard of hearing.
In Daviess County, the KCDHH reported, there are 15,465 individuals who identify as deaf or hard of hearing.
Taylor Shockley, 12, is a sixth-grade student who has hearing loss. She appreciated the program because it provided her peers and teachers with more information about what it’s like to be deaf and hard of hearing.
Shockley has an American Sign Language interpreter who works exclusively with her at iMiddle. She also has an interpreter that specifically works with her in language arts classes, who exclusively focuses on grammar and core content.
“I like being here at iMiddle because I have someone working with me always,” she said, adding that having her interpreter with her allows her to stay in the classroom with her peers. “It’s good not to have to leave my class to receive services.”
Shockley’s project for her language arts class deals with providing better closed captioning services for individuals who are DHH, so she thought the technical difficulties were relevant.
“It was good for my classmates to see this program so they can understand my situation,” said said, “and others who have to go through this as well.”
Bobbie Hayse, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7315