One of the nice things about our campaign for schools that sound good is the positive response it’s got from other organisations and from individual parents and teachers of the deaf. We seem to have struck a chord and that lots of people feel that our classrooms are awfully noisy places in which our children are expected to listen and learn.
Obviously though, not everyone is supportive and one of the interesting things that has been said is that FM systems or personal microphone devices between a teacher and a deaf child overcome the disadvantage of poor acoustics. The implication always given, whether intended or not, is that you shouldn’t bother spending any money on improving the listening environment just for the benefit of deaf children – just give them a microphone.
One of the reasons why I’m good value for money as a campaigns officer is that I can rebut this quite easily just by talking about me. I had a microphone system in school when I was growing up. It was really important, yes, and allowed me to pick up what the teacher was saying more easily. Teachers would often forget to turn it off and my peers would be amazed that I could hear was going on in the staff room.
Unfortunately, microphones don’t just pick up what the teacher is saying. They pick everything else that was going on the classroom. If it was noisy, I would get a blast of amplified noise that made my head hurt. And the microphones were useless for group work or for picking up what other children were saying. And, like a lot of other deaf children, I used to personally loathe having to give it to teachers and to draw attention to my deafness. I often “forgot” to hand it over in assemblies. To this day, I don’t know how the Lord’s Prayer goes even though my hearing peers used to recite it every morning in primary school in assembly. No wonder I’m an atheist.
Anyhow, it seems like an obvious point. Yes, FM systems are needed. Yes, technology has moved on a bit. And good classroom management and deaf awareness / empowerment go a long way. But FM systems are a complement to good acoustics. They sure don’t solve bad acoustics. They amplify it! And, of course, not all deaf children use FM systems, particularly children with a mild hearing loss. What are they meant to do if the classroom is noisy? I personally dare anyone to makes this claim to speak with deaf children directly and to listen to what they tell them about their experiences.
We’ve made this point to the Government, as have other professional bodies, like the British Society of Audiology. The hope is that they do not use this alternative, flawed argument as a pretext for arguing it needn’t bother doing anything to improve acoustics.