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September 27, 2004

OSU adds help for hearing-impaired

From: Corvallis Gazette Times, OR - Sep 27, 2004

University provides listening system, captioning on videos

Gazette-Times reporter

For many students, sitting through a 50-minute lecture is a monumental task, involving every ounce of strength to merely stay awake. But for some students with hearing impairments, paying attention isn't enough. It takes special accommodations for them to simply hear what the professor is saying.

Luckily, those students have a champion in their corner who is attempting to make every classroom accessible to every student, regardless of physical limitations. Ron Stewart is the technology access manager at Oregon State University, and the philosophy driving his team is inclusion and accessibility.

"You should not have to go to a separate place to get your stuff," he said.

Instead, students with special needs should be able to sit in a classroom that accommodates their needs, as well as their classmates. And Stewart believes it is the institution's responsibility to make every classroom as accessible as possible.

There are 500 students at OSU with registered disabilities, according to the university's disabilities services office. Of those, 25 students are either deaf or hearing impaired.

That's why Stewart's team is installing special assisted listening system transmitters in 119 of the most heavily used classrooms at OSU. The transmitters are set to FM frequencies and project the professor's voice either into a receiver held by the student, or directly into their t-coil hearing aids or cochlear implants.

"They can go from room to room and change the channel (of the receiver)," Stewart said.

That means if a student is in a building with several transmitting classrooms, they can tune their receiver into the correct frequency to pick up their own professor's lecture, not one from an adjoining classroom.

Instructors are informed if they have a hearing-impaired student in their class, and are required to switch their classroom to one equipped with a transmitter, if one is available. They're also required to use a microphone during class, so that their voice can be amplified.

Some professors dislike using microphones or have what Stewart called "mic fear," but they receive support from the technical staff to get over their aversion, because it's for the students' benefit. If the class involves group discussion, either each speaker has to speak into the microphone, or the classroom can be equipped with a conferencing microphone.

In addition to installing the transmitters, staff is also placing decoder units in rooms that use VCRs and data projectors, which are not equipped with close captioning devices.

"We meet the needs of both deaf and hearing-impaired students," Stewart said.

There is also an ongoing program at OSU which involves trained transcriptionists and students who team up to caption instructional videos that are frequently used in classrooms. The transcriptionists view the videos and transcribe scripts, and then students are paid to turn those scripts into captions which will be displayed on the video screen when those videos are played in class.

In addition, professors can request captioning for their own videos, either ones they've purchased or ones taped from television that may not include captions. There's a five-day turn-around time for students to caption the videos.

In combination, the work is allowing greater access for hearing-impaired students to the same kind of classroom learning that their hearing peers already receive, and the work is not going unnoticed.

"We're looked at as one of the forerunning institutions in the country," Stewart said.

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