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Now hear this: Project AMP aims to increase access for students with hearing loss

Project AMP poster

One in five college students are not getting all the information they need from their classrooms. It’s not teaching that is lacking—it’s merely a lack of amplification barring them from hearing everything said by their instructors.

Stage actors are instructed early on to imagine that their voice must reach someone at the back of the theater. This helps them project when they’re facing downstage and reminds them to really belt it out when they’re not.

But professors don’t receive such instruction, and for a student with hearing loss, it won’t make much difference whether they sit at the back or the front. Professors who assume their unamplified voice will reach every student in the room will be wrong at least 20 percent of the time. That’s a problem.

Project AMP (Amplify my Professor) is a UO-wide effort to improve the accessibility of lectures through the consistent and correct use of amplification devices in large classrooms. Led by the Communication Disorders and Sciences (CDS) program at the College of Education, the project aims to remind professors of their responsibility to students with hearing loss while encouraging those students of their right to comprehend the information—a critical part of their learning experience.

Rates of hearing loss on college campuses appear to be on the rise, affecting an estimated 20 percent of people over age 12. Some people aren’t aware of hearing loss because conversations in small rooms in close proximity to others don’t pose a problem. But the acoustics of a large classroom, coupled with environmental noise, can make hearing difficult. Amplification dramatically improves the signal-to-noise ratio, even if it doesn’t necessary sound much louder. It also maintains audio levels when the instructor is turned to the side or fully away from the class.

Karen McLaughlin, lecturer and undergraduate program director for CDS, says one of her students helped bring this issue to the fore.

“She told me that, in her experience, very few professors used the amplification equipment. As someone with hearing loss, she was always struggling to keep up with taking notes and comprehending everything, and this created a great deal of stress,” Karen said. “Students are understandably reluctant to ask that the equipment be used, so we decided to remind everyone, especially professors, to be mindful of those with hearing loss and use the microphone.”

Most classrooms at the UO with a capacity of 70 or more students have this equipment available, which consists of a small wireless transmitter and a lapel microphone, which connects to the room’s speakers and is controlled by the same Crestron panel that runs the room’s A/V.

“It takes about 30 seconds to put the mic on and adjust the levels. Many professors don’t like it or don’t think they need it, but in a 100-student class, at least 10-20 of them will struggle to hear. We’re asking professors to bear that in mind,” Karen added.

As part of its outreach efforts, Project AMP will post reminders near the control panel in all large classrooms at the UO. McLaughlin hopes these reminders, coupled with increased awareness about students with hearing loss, will result in better comprehension and more inclusive classrooms.

Instructions for professors are below.