Deaf and Hard of Hearing

What does Deaf and hard of hearing mean?

‘Deaf’ (capitalised D) is used to describe individuals who use Australian Sign Language (Auslan) to communicate, and who identify as members of the signing Deaf community. Deaf people often do not consider themselves as ‘hearing impaired’. The Deaf community is more like a different ethnic group, with its own language and culture. Deaf people often interact with both Deaf and hearing communities.

In contrast to Deaf, the term ‘deaf’ (lower case d) is used to describe both the physical condition of not hearing, as well as people who are physically deaf but do not identify as members of the signing Deaf community (i.e. they do not communicate using Auslan).

‘Hard of hearing’ is used to describe individuals who have acquired a hearing loss in late childhood or adulthood, or who have a mild or moderate hearing loss. People who are hard of hearing typically use spoken language, lip-reading, and residual hearing (possibly with use of a hearing aid) to communicate. ‘Hearing impaired’ is also often used in Australia to describe people who are hard of hearing, but this is generally not the preferred term.

Using the wrong word to describe a person’s hearing can be offensive, so it is important to ask the child or their parent which group they identify with.

What might be some challenges in the dance class?

Kids who identify as Deaf, deaf, or hard of hearing may have different ways of communicating. In the dance class, these kids may not be able to hear spoken instructions well.

Get more information

  • Talk to the child or parent: Ask the child or parent what you can do to make communication as easy as possible. Ask them at the start of the term how they would like you to get their child’s attention when you speak.

Consider your communication style

  • Make sure kids can see your face when you talk: Kids who lip-read will understand instructions more easily if they can clearly see your face. Avoid walking around the room when giving instructions.
  • Make sure students have a clear view of the teacher: Encourage the child to stand where they can see and hear. Make sure they have a clear view of the teacher.  If you’re unsure about best location in class, ask the student what works for them.
  • Use visual aids to teach students the rhythm pattern: Deaf and hard of hearing students may not be able to rely on their hearing to learn the rhythmic patterns. Show the rhythm using visual aids, like beating a drum or finger counting.
  • Limit background noise when giving instructions: Often kids will have some level of hearing. Reducing background noise will make it easier for them to hear instructions.
  • Speak clearly: Speak clearly, but do not shout or change the inflection of your speech. Use short and clear sentences. Be careful not to talk down to the child.
  • Use simple signs to help students learn: When demonstrating a routine, use simple signs such as “slow,” “soft,” “light,” or “strong” to help students understand the quality of the movement. Simple signs can also help you provide clear and fast feedback in the moment, while dancers are in motion.
  • Learn some key Auslan signs: You can ask the Deaf kid to teach you some sign language of key dance signs. This can give Deaf kids a sense of pride of teaching sign language to their teacher and peers.
  • Use repetition:  Use extra repetitions when teaching  new movement skills.
  • Check in with the child to see if they have understood: Do this in a discrete way so that the child doesn’t feel singled out. Agree on this with the child at the start of the term. For example, you can ask the child to nod when they have understood instructions, or to put their hand on their shoulder if they have not understood.
  • Encourage participation with praise and positive feedback: Be supportive of each child’s effort. Support their participation with praise and positive feedback.

Think about the activity

  • Turn the music down or off. Explore dancing without strong musical cues: Consider doing activities where the other children learn about dancing without music as the primary source of rhythm. Children can practise dancing in unison by watching each other closely, using their peripheral vision.  Allow all kids to participate in the same way and understand how it might feel to not be able to hear well. Let the child lead the activity!

Use sensory aids to help communicate

  • Demonstrate new skills: Present demonstrations clearly and evenly. Make sure the student can see your whole body. Rather than relying on verbal instruction, you can demonstrate the new skills a child needs to learn.
  • Set beginning and end signals: Beginning and ending signals set up group control and focus students. Beginning signals could be: one beat of a drum or a or word cue like, “Go”. End signals could be: two beats of a drum or simply the words “freeze” or “stop”.
  • Use visual instructions: Display a list of class activities on the wall or an easel. This helps students understand what they will be doing first, second, third, and so on. Include words and/or pictures that show the activity sequence.
  • Use music or sound that maximises students ability to hear it: Loud music with a strong single beat played by bass and drum can help students understand the rhythm. Positioning the student near the speakers can also help. Speakers can also be put on the floor to enhance vibration effects.
  • Be aware of students’ sensory needs and adapt as dance classes as needed: Find out what colours, textures, sounds, or movements each student prefers or dislikes. Objects such as coloured scarves, soft balls and textured fabric can be used to enhance the child’s enjoyment.
  • Use a visual schedule and visual aids: Use a visual schedule that kids can see at all times so that they can easily transition from one activity to the next without having to be told instructions verbally.
  • Use pictures to help teach dance steps: Use pictures to teach basic dance elements: body positions, and the overall look of a dance style.

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