Guide for Assessing Persons with Disabilities - How to determine and implement assessment accommodations - Hearing disabilities

What do you need to know about the disability?

Persons who have hearing loss usually refer to persons who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing:

  • Persons who are deaf have severe or profound hearing loss. They have lost their hearing at birth or soon afterwards, before developing spoken language.

    Since most individuals who are deaf do not acquire linguistic skills through their auditory channel, they normally rely on a visual communication mode, such as sign language, lip or speech reading, or writing. However, some individuals, who were trained in the "oral method" of communication in school may rely solely on speech and hearing as primary methods of communication and do not use sign language. For most individuals who have severe or profound hearing loss, speech is not an effective mode of communication even with the use of adaptive technologies. This is also true even if some individuals who are deaf use technology to amplify any residual hearing. Depending on the educational background and a number of other factors, the literacy skills (reading and writing) of the individuals may also be affected.

    The majority of people who have severe or profound hearing loss rely on sign language to communicate, and consider their first language to be American Sign Language (ASL) or Langage des signes québécois (LSQ).
  • Persons who are deafened. They have experienced a severe or profound loss of hearing after having developed speech and language skills. Some of these individuals may have had a progressive loss of hearing, while others may have experienced a sudden onset of deafness. Most members of this group are no longer able to hear speech, even with the use of adaptive technology. However, with appropriate amplification, some are able to communicate using speech and hearing. More recently, some individuals have been able to benefit from the use of cochlear implants.

    Individuals who are deafened are often not proficient in sign language, although there are exceptions, and they may use lip or speech reading as a means of understanding speech. They also frequently communicate by means of writing, especially if their speech has been significantly affected by their hearing loss. Their literacy (reading and writing) skills are not normally affected, since the onset of the hearing loss follows the acquisition of these skills.
  • Persons who are hard of hearing. They have hearing loss that does not preclude an understanding of spoken language - most often with the assistance of technology. The hearing loss may range from mild to severe, but, with the use of a hearing aid, these individuals can still communicate primarily by speech. As well, they may often rely on speech reading and assistive listening devices to communicate; sign language may or may not be used. The extent of hearing loss may not be the same in both ears; some persons may have a significant hearing loss in one ear but have usable hearing in the other.

    The level of hearing loss will not normally be so severe as to have affected the acquisition of a spoken language. The speech intelligibility of these persons will vary depending on individual and environmental circumstances, and literacy will show the same variation as is found in the general population.

What information or professional documentation is needed?

Persons with hearing disabilities do not typically need to provide documentation from a professional. In most cases, those who are in charge of determining assessment accommodations can get all of the required information on the nature and extent of the applicant's hearing-related functional limitations by consulting with that individual directly.

What are the key elements to consider?

When determining assessment accommodations for persons with hearing functional limitations, the following three elements should be considered:

1. The nature and extent of the person's functional limitations must be clearly understood. The following questions may help to gather useful information:

  • What is the extent and the time of onset of the applicant's hearing loss?
  • What is the applicant's preferred means of communication for instructions and spoken components of the assessment, both receptive and expressive?
  • To what extent are the applicant's literacy skills (reading and writing) affected?
  • What are the communication technology/methods that the applicant normally uses?

It is important to reiterate that persons with disabilities are the first source of information on the way their limitations affect them and on how to accommodate their specific needs. Consequently, this information is usually gathered through exchanges with the person. To help you to gather these details in a discussion, you may wish to refer to the questionnaire available in appendix 2.

2. A thorough knowledge of the assessment tool to be used is required. Depending on the assessment tool's characteristics, accommodations which are necessary for one tool may be unnecessary for another. Here are some considerations to help you identify the characteristics of your assessment tool.

For an interview:

  • Are written documents provided before or during the interview? If so, how much reading is involved?
  • Is there time to prepare responses prior to the interview?
  • What is the expected length of responses to be given orally?
  • Is there a written component? If so, how much writing is involved?
  • What is the time allotted?

For a written test:

  • Is it an essay style-exam, short answers or a multiple choice test?
  • Is it a case study, an in-basket exercise?
  • Is it an open book test?
  • How many questions are there?
  • How much reading and writing are involved?
  • What is the time allotted?
  • Will the instructions be provided orally or in writing?

For an interactive situation:

  • Is it a group setting? If so, how many participants are there? Is it advisable to inform other participants of the person's functional limitations? If so, who tells them, the person or the individual administering the interactive assessment session?
  • Is written documentation provided before or during the situation? If so, how much reading is involved?
  • What is the expected length of exercise to happen orally?
  • Is there a written component? If so, how much writing is involved?
  • What is the time allotted?

3. Knowledge of the qualification being assessed is essential. This information will help you ensure that accommodations do not modify the nature or level of the qualification being assessed. Considerations include:

  • What qualification(s) is (are) assessed by the instrument? It is knowledge, abilities/skills, aptitude or personal suitability? How is it defined?
  • Is there a speed requirement?
  • Does the level of the qualification assessed reflect the job requirement?

Determining appropriate assessment accommodations necessarily requires research and analysis of all three elements above; of the impact they have one another, and the application of the Principles for assessment accommodations. This analysis is the foundation of the rationale for the accommodations. This rational has to explain how the accommodations are enabling the demonstration of the person's qualifications, preventing his or her functional limitations from being a disadvantage. It also has to explain how the person is not being given an advantage compared to others in the appointment process, therefore, that merit is preserved.

Examples of assessment accommodations and considerations

The following are examples and considerations that may be helpful in determining assessment accommodations. It also includes a number of specific examples of assessment accommodations relative to possible functional limitations.

While reviewing these examples, keep in mind that accommodations are determined on a case by case basis and their appropriateness will depend on the nature and extent of the individual's functional limitations, the assessment tool to be used and the qualification to be assessed. Also, accommodations must resemble, if possible, the usual way in which the person would perform the task requested as if he or she was on the job, and must not alter the nature or level of the qualification being assessed. For more details, please refer to Determining and implementing assessment accommodations.

Mode of communication: Ensuring effective communication with persons with hearing loss is the first concern. Applicants are usually the best source of information as to how to accommodate their needs through sign language interpreters, communication technology or other means.

Importance of instructions: Ensuring that instructions and sample questions are thoroughly understood is often the principal assessment accommodation. Allowing adequate time for instructions and using the appropriate communication resource is important.

Additional time: Additional time is generally required in oral assessment situations to allow adequate time for communication. This is not necessarily a standard assessment accommodation for persons with hearing loss on written tests.

Communication technology: It is important to provide applicants with the devices or software that they use on a regular basis, both for reading test material and for writing responses. If necessary, applicants' own equipment may be brought into the assessment environment and used, or they may be tested in their office in a supervised session. For listing and brief description of adaptive technologies commonly used, see the glossary of adaptive technology and services in appendix 4.

Literacy level of a written examination: The level of literacy that is required for success on an assessment tool should not exceed the level of literacy required on the job; this is true for all applicants. When the job requirements include high-level verbal skills, it is appropriate that these be reflected in the assessment tools or methods.

When modifying instructions:

  • Instructions normally delivered orally may be written down on paper or on a flip chart.
  • A pad of paper may be provided to enable the applicant to pose questions.
  • An oral interpreter may be used.
  • Allow the extra time that it may take to communicate instructions.
  • It may be appropriate to simplify the language of the instructions.
  • It may be appropriate to have the applicant repeat the instructions in his or her preferred means of communication so that comprehension can be monitored.

For oral assessments:

  • In an interview, communication can be accomplished by means of a laptop computer.
  • Depending on the qualification being assessed, an applicant may submit a written composition instead of an oral presentation.
  • In a group-evaluation setting, communicating with a person who is deaf can be done through real-time captioning.
  • For a group administration, when applicant has mild hearing loss, it may only be necessary to seat the applicant at the front of the room and to verify that instructions are clearly understood.
  • For interviews, if the applicant has a "good" ear, speak to that side.
  • Use a normal speaking volume, check to see if you are clearly heard by the applicant, and adjust accordingly.

When modifying the assessment environment:

  • The environment should be visually non-distracting with good lighting, and the examiner's face should be free of shadows and glare.
  • The use of curtains on windows, carpets on floors and fabric in the furniture can help reduce the reverberation of sound and therefore improve the listening environment.
  • Indicate the start and finish of a written examination visually, for example: turning the light off and on.

When the applicant is lip or speech reading:

  • The best distance for lip or speech reading is two to three feet between examiner and applicant.
  • Avoid standing directly in front of a light source (for example: a window) to avoid having your face in shadow.
  • If possible, you should be at the same level as the applicant (sitting or standing) when communicating with him or her.
  • Provide a clear view of your mouth. Face the applicant when you speak. A mustache, beard, or chewing gum, as well as hand movements or glasses held near the mouth, make speech reading much more difficult.
  • Speak expressively; a person who is speech-reading relies on your facial expression, gestures, and body movements to understand you.
  • Speak clearly and distinctly, but do not exaggerate. Verify your speed with the applicant and slow down if necessary.
  • Provide time for the applicant to read the instructions and the examples after each has been read aloud. The applicant cannot receive instructions using lip or speech reading and read at the same time.
  • Watch for signs of lip or speech reading fatigue, such as an increase in misinterpretation by the applicant, restlessness, fidgeting with a hearing aid, irritability or a tired appearance.
  • Use round or oval tables to improve sight lines in a group evaluation situation.

When a sign language interpreter is used:

  • Discussions with the interpreter on assessment procedures should be conducted with the applicant present before and not during the assessment session.
  • Before the assessment session, the interpreter should become familiar with the test instructions and the terminology used in the test that he or she will be interpreting.
  • An interpreter always lags a few words or phrases behind the person who is speaking. It is a good idea to allow short pauses for the applicant to respond or to ask questions.
  • The interpreter must avoid standing directly in front of a light source (for example: a window) to avoid having your body in shadow.
  • As the test administrator, remember to speak directly to the applicant even when an interpreter is present.
  • Allow extra time for the instructions phase. The applicant may first need to receive the instructions through sign language, and then read them. Remember that, unlike persons who can read the instructions at the same time as the test administrator is reading them aloud, the applicant cannot simultaneously receive the signed instructions and read them.
  • Have the applicant sign back the instructions to the sign language interpreter so that comprehension can be monitored.
  • For written tests with a number of sub-tests where instructions vary, consider a tutorial session where the instructions are reviewed and comprehension is ensured.
  • Allow the candidate to use sign language to deliver an oral presentation, with a sign language interpreter to interpret. In this case, rating the applicant should be based on content, not on style of communication.
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