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February 3, 2006

Changing the Face of Education

From: RIT News, NY - Feb 3, 2006

Volta Voices Magazine- Jan/Feb 2006 - February 6, 2006

By Marianne Gustafson, M.S., CCC-SLP

From the time he was six months old, Jason Webb was trained in the Auditory-Verbal method by a public school teacher of the deaf. He continued his speech training through middle school and was tutored in high school. By the time Webb went to college, he was confident with his communication skills.

“I felt my speech and language skills were fairly strong for an individual with hearing loss before I arrived at college,” said Webb, 29, who graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) with a bachelor’s degree in 2001 and a master's degree in fine arts in 2003.

Like Webb, each of RIT’s 1,100 students with hearing loss arrives on campus with a range of communication skills and preferences. Some feel no need for communication assistance; whereas others want to continue the spoken language training they started at home or even take advantage of training for the first time.

RIT is home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), the world's first and largest technological college for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Through NTID, students can gain access to a variety of services designed to accommodate each student’s communication skills and preferences. In one convenient location, students with hearing loss take advantage of audiology, speech-language therapy and cochlear implant services. They also enjoy using the spoken language practice lab, hearing aid shop, and telecommunications lab and eye and ear clinic.

“The audiologists were very helpful and friendly and allowed me to select what I felt I wanted, even if it wasn't what they recommended,” Webb said. “I never liked larger hearing aids even though the NTID audiologists felt they would help me hear better than the smaller ones I wanted. Yet, they did help me find the best one for me, and I've been very happy with the two different hearing aids I got during my time at NTID.”

George and Candance Webb, Jason’s parents and longtime members of AG Bell, were equally pleased. “Having audiological services on campus made it very convenient and easy to have ear molds made and hearing aids checked,” said Webb’s father. “He was somewhat spoiled when he returned home and couldn't get an appointment for a week to see an audiologist!”

Students who are interested in improving their speech find NTID’s Spoken Language Learning and Practice Lab very helpful. “Students take advantage of the technology and expertise offered in the lab,” said Lawrence C. Scott, chairperson of the NTID Communication Studies and Services Department. “They usually start with an evaluation to assess their communication skills and then schedule ongoing individual speech language instruction or receive instruction on a walk in basis.” Faculty and students work together in the lab using specialized technology, such as the Visipitch III, which converts speech sounds into images that students with hearing loss can see and, therefore, more readily emulate.

The Kay Elemetrics Computerized Speech Lab (CSL), a hardware/software package that displays images on a monitor to show sounds, pitch, airflow and tongue and lip movements, uses techniques similar to biofeedback to help students develop the skills they need to meet their communication goals. Students also can use automatic speech recognition technology, telecommunications devices and audio and video recording equipment to work on job related communication skills, pronunciation and vocabulary, as well as to practice making presentations and participating in group discussions.

Many students, including those with highly intelligible speech and strong communication skills, take advantage of speech language instruction and the resources available at NTID. “I started going to the lab because my family and friends told me my speech was becoming sloppy, and I wanted to keep it sharp,” said Adam Brownfeld, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2005 and is pursuing graduate studies. The CSL’s spectrogram displays speech in a way that allowed Brownfeld to actually see what a sound or word looked like when a faculty member said it. Then, Brownfeld tried to approximate that same sound or word using the visual feedback.

The computer program saves students’ speech attempts and uses the information to show progress. “Not only did my speech get sharper,” said Brownfeld, “but I also learned to say sounds and words I've had problems with my whole life."

Some students come to the lab as first year students and continue until graduation. Others choose to take advantage of the lab as the need arises - for presentations, job interview practice and feedback. “No matter how students choose to use the lab or audiological services, we're here to help them enhance their skills, whether it's for the classroom, on the job or in their personal lives,” said Scott.

The NTID Cochlear Implant Center

NTID’s cochlear implant center is one of 300 across the nation that provides services such as consultations, evaluations, fittings and speech therapy, and NTID boasts the largest population of people with cochlear implants in one place. Nearly 180 students, faculty and staff have them and that number is expected to rise steadily. In addition, a small but growing percentage of the 90,000 people worldwide who have a cochlear implant are getting a second implant.

Adrean Mangiardi, a 25 year old film major at RIT, was first implanted in his right ear when he was 15 and received his second implant in 2005. By accessing NTID’s consultation, cochlear implant programming and aural rehabilitation services, Mangiardi has been able to maximize the benefits he receives from his implants while on campus rather than having to wait or take time away from his studies to go home for audiological services.

“I have a weekly schedule with Catherine Clark,” said Mangiardi. “It's nice knowing that whenever I have a problem with my cochlear implants, she'll find a solution, and she resolves the problem while I'm attending classes and such. Without NTID, my life would be difficult because I would have to find a way to help myself even though I don't know how to program my own processor and other things,” he said.

Audiologist Catherine Clark, MS., CCC A, NTID’s cochlear implant coordinator, explained that she and other NTID audiologists and speech language professionals provide a wide array of services to students with cochlear implants, like MAPping, troubleshooting, adjustments, auditory and speechreading training and speech and language therapy. Clark and her colleagues enjoy facilitating interactions among cochlear implant users, resolving issues for students who come with questions and problems and tracking the progress of students who seek to improve their listening and speaking skills.

Learning the High-Tech Way

“Technology has played a huge role in our success of providing unprecedented access,” said Dr. T. Alan Hurwitz, vice-president of RIT and the CEO/dean of NTID. “I have brought my vision and first-hand experience as a person with hearing loss, an engineer and professor to provide access to BIT students who today enjoy fully networked dorms and classrooms, complete with new computers and multimedia technologies.”

Hurwitz was particularly instrumental in increasing student access to a speech-to-text transcription program called C-Print, which provides meaning for meaning translation of spoken English. Developed originally by NTID researchers to provide communication access, C Print can be found national¬ly both in educational settings and business meetings involving people who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have visual impairments or learning disabilities.

BIT students also have access to note takers, tutors and Interpretype machines that allow instant communication between people with and without hearing loss. Innovative classroom designs feature new computers with internet access, videophones, video projection, DVD/VCR and white boards spanning 24 feet, some with “smart board” display, write and print capabilities. They also offer updated FM systems for assistive devices, speakers with surround sound, sound boards on the wall for acoustical bal¬ance and a separate monitor for students with special visual needs.

Sharron Webster, assistant professor in the math and science department, is thrilled with the new classroom design. “Generally, most students enjoy the benefit of receiving information two ways: they see it and hear it, which emphasizes and reinforces the information,” Webster explains. “But for students with hearing loss, providing information visually becomes an even more critical component for comprehension.”

Although deciding where to go to college was Webb’s decision, his parents say they were happy with Jason’s choice. “We were not about to put Jason in a situation where no one would be responsive to his needs and our concerns,” Webb’s father added. “NTlD/RIT never let us down. They were there and responsive both to us and to our son’s needs.” “Overall, I felt the NTID/RIT experience was an invaluable one,” says Webb, who now does freelance design work for a variety of companies. “I learned a lot in and out of the classroom, and I improved my language skills because I was exposed to new situations.”

NTID incorporates feedback from employers into courses that assist students in developing competencies needed to enhance their professional and personal success. Given the career oriented focus of all education at RIT, NTID has established communication outcomes expected for all graduates that focus on those skills critical to success at work.

Students are provided opportunities to experiment with established and emerging technologies in telecommunications, voice to text software end presentation software to enhance their communication effectiveness.

NTID recognizes the diversity of skills and preferences that students bring to college and will work with each student to develop a set of skills that will serve them well in their professional and personal lives.

Humanities end Social Sciences course offerings include:

• Intercultural Communication

• Group Dynamics and Effective Teams

• Interpersonal Relationships

• Communication Technologies

• Effective Presentations

• Foundations of Critical Thinking

• Organizational Communication and the Deaf Employee

• Internet Communication

Other instructional activities:

• Individual Speech-Language Therapy

• Individual Listening and Speechreading Practice

• Pronunciation Rules and Strategies

• Vocabulary Development

• Communication for a Job Interview

Marianne Gustafson, M.S., CCC-SLP,is an associate professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of Rochester Institute of Technology. She has worked with college students who are deaf and hard of hearing in individual speech-language therapy and communication courses for more than 20 years. Her areas of interest and expertise include computerized visual feedback for speech-language instruction, student outcomes assesment, critical thinking and curriculum development.