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The severity of a hearing impairment is ranked according to the additional intensity above a nominal threshold that a sound must be before being detected by an individual; it is (measured in decibels of hearing loss, or dB HL). Hearing impairment may be ranked as mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe or profound as defined below:
- for adults: between 26 and 40 dB HL
- for children: between 20 and 40 dB HL
- Moderate: between 41 and 54 dB HL
- Moderately severe: between 55 and 70 dB HL
- Severe: between 71 and 90 dB HL
- Profound: 91 dB HL or greater
- Totally Deaf: Have no hearing at all.
Another method for quantifying hearing impairments is a speech-in-noise test. As the name implies, a speech-in-noise test gives an indication of how well one can understand speech in a noisy environment. A person with a hearing loss will often be less able to understand speech, especially in noisy conditions. This is especially true for people who have a sensorineural loss – which is by far the most common type of hearing loss. As such, speech-in-noise tests can provide valuable information about a person's hearing ability, and can be used to detect the presence of a sensorineural hearing loss. A triple-digit speech-in-noise test was developed by RNID as part of an EU funded project Hearcom. The RNID version is available over the phone, on the web and as an app on the iPhone.
Hearing impairments are categorized by their type, their severity, and the age of onset (before or after language is acquired). Furthermore, a hearing impairment may exist in only one ear (unilateral) or in both ears (bilateral). There are three main types of hearing impairments, conductive hearing impairment and sensorineural hearing impairment and a combination of the two called mixed hearing loss.
Unilateral and bilateral
People with unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness (SSD) have difficulty in:
- hearing conversation on their impaired side
- localizing sound
- understanding speech in the presence of background noise.
In quiet conditions, speech discrimination is approximately the same for normal hearing and those with unilateral deafness; however, in noisy environments speech discrimination varies individually and ranges from mild to severe.
Inside the classroom, children with hearing impairments may also benefit from interventions. These include providing favorable seating for the child. This can be achieved by having the student sit as close to the teacher as possible so that they will be able to hear the teacher, or read their lips more easily. When lecturing, teachers should try to look at the student as much as possible and limit unnecessary noise in the classroom. If a student has a hearing aid, they are likely to hear a lot of unwanted noises.
Pairing hearing impaired students with hearing students is a common technique, allowing the non-hearing student to ask the hearing student questions about concepts that they have not understood. When teaching students with hearing impairments, overheads are commonly used, allowing the teacher to write, as well as maintain visual focus on the hearing impaired student. For those students who are completely deaf, one of the most common interventions is having the child communicate with others through an interpreter using sign language.
Globally hearing loss affects about 10% of the population to some degree. It caused moderate to severe disability in 124.2 million people as of 2004 (107.9 million of whom are in low and middle income countries). Of these 65 million acquired the condition during childhood.
Sign languages convey meaning by manual communication and body language instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns. This can involve simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's thoughts.
There is no single "sign language". Wherever communities of deaf people exist, sign languages develop. While they use space for grammar in a way that oral languages do not, sign languages exhibit the same linguistic properties and use the same language faculty as do oral languages. Hundreds of sign languages are in use around the world and are at the cores of local deaf cultures. Some sign languages have obtained some form of legal recognition, while others have no status at all. Deaf sign languages are not based on the spoken languages of their region, and often have very different syntax, partly but not entirely owing to their ability to use spatial relationships to express aspects of meaning. (See Sign languages' relationships with spoken languages.)