Learning Together About How to Advocate!

By Teresa Kazemir

Our son, Jesse, is hard of hearing and uses hearing aids. Growing up, he had good support services throughout his education – but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t the occasional hiccup. 

Jesse used an FM system (also known as a remote microphone system or DM system) in school to allow him to hear the teacher over the noise of the classroom. Overall his teachers were very willing to use this equipment, as they understood it was one of several adaptations that helped to give Jesse fair access in the school setting. 

When Jesse was in middle school, however, he encountered a problem with one of his teachers. It was a slow build up to the actual event. Jesse was a bright student, very engaged in learning, but he wasn’t the best at remembering things, and that included remembering to bring his FM system from one class to the next. (The challenge of remembering things turned out to be due to unidentified ADHD, but that’s another story for another day!)

The students didn’t change rooms for every class in middle school, but they did move from one room to another at least a couple of times each day. And almost every day, Jesse would arrive at this one teacher’s classroom without his FM system. At some point, he or one of his classmates would realize he was missing his FM, and he’d ask the teacher if he could go to get it. This went on day after day, and the teacher didn’t understand that there was an underlying reason why Jesse had so much difficulty remembering. He also didn’t understand that it was Jesse’s fundamental right to access what was going on in the classroom. And so one day, when Jesse asked to go get his FM system, his teacher said no. Jesse then rolled his eyes at the teacher, who proceeded to call him lazy and send him out to the hall. 

Needless to say, when Jesse came home from school that day and told me this story, I was ready to march right up to the school and have a word or two with this teacher (who wasn’t one of my favourites to start with) and the principal and the Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and anyone else who would listen. I couldn’t believe that a teacher would call our hard-working, kind, well-behaved son “lazy”, and I also knew it was totally unacceptable to deny him equipment that enabled him to access what was being said in the classroom. 

However, Jesse did not want me to go to the school and get involved – he knew the teacher was wrong to call him a name and deny him his FM system, but he also recognized that the teacher was likely frustrated with him and he shouldn’t have rolled his eyes. He didn’t want his mom getting in the middle of something between him and his teacher. Luckily for me, Jesse did feel OK about me talking to his Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, whom we both trusted, so I called her and explained the situation. We agreed she would talk with Jesse and the school team the next day, and we’d proceed from there. 

The following day Jesse came home from school looking very happy. He told me he’d been called into the principal’s office, to meet with the principal, his Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the classroom teacher. They had discussed the situation as a group, and Jesse was told he would not be denied his FM system in future, even if he forgot. Jesse apologized to the teacher for rolling his eyes, and the teacher apologized to him for calling him lazy and not letting him get his equipment. Jesse was most pleased that his teacher, an adult in a position of power, had apologized to him, a kid!

We all learned some things from this experience. The teacher got a little more education on the importance of access for students who are D/deaf or hard of hearing.  Jesse came away feeling empowered, and really understanding that he had the right to advocate for himself – and also that rolling one’s eyes was probably not the best way to go about it. And I learned that advocating behind the scenes, leaning on our support people within the system, can sometimes yield the best results.

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