Monday 22 July 2019

Help for People with Hearing Impairments

CAPE TIMES - 1933, 10 & 21 August

Have a look at the New FORTIPHONE for the Deaf, available in Cape Town, Johannesburg & Durban in 1933. This latest invention for the Deaf promised to arrest progress in Deafness, stop Head Noises and improve Natural Hearing – without any Buzzing, Crackling or Headband. 
(CAPE TIMES – 1933, 10 August)

An interesting experiment in the Education of Partially Deaf Children was taking place at Mowbray Primary School in 1933. The mentally retarded child presented a somewhat serious problem in South African Schools. According to DR. ALICE COX there were 32 818 cases in which sub-normality was implied – 2 674 of these were cases of mental deficiency. About 30 000 children had some or other disability. The problem of the partially deaf child had been to a very large extent ignored in the educational system. A teacher in a large class could not devote an inordinate amount of time to special treatment for individual pupils and the result was that a child who was hard of hearing simply floundered along in the wake of the class picking up what he could as best as he could. Slight deafness was often unrecognized by the teacher. The child would seldom admit to it, and as he could hear reasonably well at ordinary speaking distance the teacher never suspected that the pupil was losing half of what he heard in class. In many cases of partial deafness, the person so afflicted was deaf to high notes or to low notes only, so that a partially deaf pupil might hear one teacher perfectly and another not at all, or may hear part of a sentence only. Most deaf or partially deaf people unconsciously learned to lip-read and some partially deaf school children got along fairly adequately in ordinary classes by a mixture of lip-reading and hearing. In spite of this, however, the work of the pupil who was hard of hearing had invariably fallen behind in the standard of the normal class, especially in his written work and in his speech. Word endings were among the first things even the slightly deaf missed, and the partially deaf child in his written work would probably produce sentences such as “I finish my wor” yesterday,”… I have four brother,”…. “When I went home I wash the cup and saucer,”… invariably missing the inflections and causing the teacher to think that the child is simply stupid. This inability to express himself became a general handicap to the partially deaf child, increasing as he grew older. His vocabulary was extremely limited by the fact that he heard only part of what was going on around him, and without language it was impossible to think. Language was the only means of bringing thought into being, and the greater the command of language the greater is the capacity for thought.
It is scarcely that many partially deaf children were regarded as mentally deficient. They differed very importantly from the real mentally deficient, in that they had the brain to think, but not the means of putting that brain into action. This problem had for some time been interesting the National Council for the Deaf, and it approached the school authorities with the request that some provision should be made in the educational system for partially deaf children. This request was sympathetically received and in order to experiment in the matter audiometer tests were made of all the children in local schools. From these a number of particularly marked cases were selected, and they then formed two classes at the Mowbray Primary School, where under MISS MARY GILCHRIST they were receiving special instruction in voice production, lip reading and development of vocabulary. Miss Gilchrist trained at Manchester University as a teacher of the deaf and taught for some time at the Edinburgh Deaf Institution. She came out to Natal to teach deaf adults, and from there had come down to conduct this most interesting experiment at Mowbray.
Although the classes had only been in existence since the beginning of August 1933, it was obvious that marked progress had already been made by the children. All of them were deaf to a greater or less degree, and when a representative of the CAPE TIMES visited the class Miss Gilchrist demonstrated this by the simple method of making the pupils stand with their backs to her and about two yards away. She addressed them in the voice that a teacher would use in speaking to a class and those who heard what she said were told to repeat the sentence. Some heard nothing at all, others heard nearly correctly, and others again produces the most extraordinary garbled versions of the original sentence. One wondered what extraordinary travesties of fact some of these children must have made of their daily lessons. Almost every pupil, except the quite young ones, was obviously suffering in some degree from an inferiority complex, and this, combined with their defective speech and difficulty in expressing themselves, produced an effect very closely akin to real mentally deficiency. The progress they made in three weeks under Miss Gilchrist’s trained guidance was remarkable. They were given lip-reading tests, in which Miss Gilchrist used no voice at all, and they understood remarkably well all that she was saying. Voice-production was another important part of their training, and already children whose speech had previously been extremely difficult to understand, were pronouncing words clearly and correctly, and getting into their speech some of that animation which is so often lacking in the speech of a deaf or partially deaf person. The junior class received all their lessons from Miss Gilchrist, while the seniors had their lessons with the rest of the school, except for the special daily lessons in voice-production and lip-reading. They were finding already that their special lessons were helping them to follow the ordinary classes more easily and observers state that there was already a marked improvement in their attitude towards their lessons.
Still in the experimental stage, there were numerous difficulties to be surmounted in the class. Special tuition of this type in a large Government school was difficult to fit in to the normal curriculum. On the other hand, there were probably not enough partially deaf children in any one area to warrant the expense of a special school for them. It is not generally considered desirable to segregate such children, as it important that they should be treated as and mix with normal children. This was an exceedingly interesting experiment, for its success might lead to an extension of such work to cover various types of abnormality and to the establishment as an ordinary rule of special classes for sub-normal children in Government schools.  This step was believed by many to be the only possible way of dealing with this large number of sub-normal children in the Union’s schools at that time. Specialized education which would enable them to absorb knowledge on an equal footing with their normal fellows would prevent at any rate a marked proportion from ending their days as “poor whites,” dependent upon their parents or upon the community for their subsistence. (CAPE TIMES – 1933, 21 August)

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