John Schick

Tailoring education through technology

Amy Baxter is a determined young woman. Just ask her former coaches and teammates at Roosevelt High School, where she played four years of varsity volleyball and was on the varsity basketball squad for three years.

The accomplished athlete is now a master’s-degree student in the Deaf Education and Hearing Science program in the School of Health Professions (SHP). This program is one of only a handful in the country that provides intensive training in how to help children with hearing loss learn to communicate with speech and language, rather than by using lip reading or sign language. The auditory-oral approach helps children use residual hearing, high-powered hearing aids and cochlear implants to develop language skills.

Baxter understands what it’s like to grow up in a quiet world. She was born profoundly deaf in both ears and was not diagnosed with a hearing loss until age 2. “I had amazing support from my family, especially my mother who wouldn’t let me fall behind, but I did have to take extra steps, such as sitting in the front of the class, wearing a special amplified hearing-aid system for school, lip reading and note taking, as well as having a sign-language interpreter,” she said. Despite a cochlear implant in one ear, Baxter said that understanding what is said in the classroom is still a challenge.

She is one of 43 Health Science Center students who receive special accommodations because of a learning disability or mental, physical or medical condition. “Most of the students are in the medical and nursing schools,” said Bonnie Blankmeyer, Ph.D., the Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for the Health Science Center, and the executive director of the Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office. “The majority of our accommodations are for students with learning disabilities or for those who have a chronic disease such as diabetes, who may require flexible testing arrangements,” she said.

Finding an accommodation to help Baxter involved creative technology adapted by employees in the Health Science Center’s Office of Information Management and Services (IMS). Taking advantage of existing videoconferencing capabilities available in some classrooms, Baxter was able to use the Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) service, a captioning software program that translates conversations into the written word on her computer screen.
Before class begins, Baxter activates the CART program by sending an instant message to her interpreter in Jacksonville, Ill. The interpreter connects to the classroom’s audio system via telephone, then sends Baxter an instant message with a link that connects to the screen on her laptop, where the words spoken by her instructor and classmates are displayed.

The tricky part was taking the CART technology to Sunshine Cottage School for the Deaf, where Baxter works with young students as part of the master’s program. “Sunshine Cottage has hearing technology in their classrooms, but we had to adapt our videoconference equipment to tie into the CART system,” said John Garcia, manager of media operations, part of IMS.

The result is a more beneficial learning environment for Baxter. “The CART system helps me concentrate much more on the content of my classes instead of trying to hear what is being spoken,” she said. “These amazing technologies give children with hearing impairments many more opportunities than I ever had growing up; however, the students still need a specific and strong foundation for learning in order to be successful. My experience with the Deaf Education and Hearing Science program will allow me to help build that needed foundation for them.”

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