Heather Stinson didn't want to write a blog post about what schools needed to do to keep children with hearing loss safe during an emergency.
"I don't want to think about a school shooting," said Hinson, an itinerate teacher of the deaf with Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, based in Massachusetts. "It's frustrating and infuriating that this is happening our schools. But the more I talked about it with colleagues the more everybody encouraged me to put it out there because we have to talk about it or we're not going to be prepared."
That blog post, Keeping Our Students Safe, was recognized with a SmartBrief Education monthly Editor's Choice Award in July, and Hinson said during a recent interview on Education Talk Radio, the awareness of the challenges faced by students with hearing loss in emergency situations has prompted some schools she works with to implement positive changes for every student.
"There's been this a-ha moment that it's not just the student with hearing loss who needs support, every student here needs something different and in particular are students with different learning needs," she said. "Some students can't be quiet. Some students are not mobile. Some students may have visual challenges when it comes to lining up and evacuating. So, a lot of schools I work in have really been proactive in making specific plans for all learners with different needs and I've seen a change in the mentality."
In her blog, Stinson recounts the confusion she witnessed one of her students go through when a lockdown drill was called during class. Hearing other stories of what students with hearing loss had encountered during such drills convinced Stinson that she needed to help schools come up with plans for students who may not be able to understand or react quickly during drills.
"We've been able to do some really simple things: putting dry erase boards in emergency kits so that teachers can write out instructions or draw a representative picture to help students understand they're safe," she said. "It's also really important for everyone in the building to know there's a student with hearing loss. Often times the teacher knows and maybe the school nurse, but everyone needs to know so that if something is happening and my student happens to be in the bathroom or in the hallway everyone can be aware."
This heightened awareness has led some schools Hinson works with to implement a buddy system so students with disabilities are not left alone in case of an emergency. One elementary school, Stinson noted, expanded on that idea, giving everyone in class a buddy.
"If it's a real emergency everyone is going to be scared and how much more comforting is it to have someone's hand to hold?" Stinson said. "That's the best-case scenario because it's not calling my student out or making anyone feel different. It's saying, 'Hey, we're all here to support each other.'"
Candace Chellew-Hodge is a freelance writer and contributing editor in SmartBrief's education department.
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