FM Devices In Our Schools

Mindful of the Mild to Moderate Hearing Impaired Students


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Types of Loss & Area of Impact

Speech Banana

This Diagram Shows The Following:

  1. Degree of Hearing Loss (right - rainbow color)
  2. Loudness in Decibels (left)
  3. Letter sounds and combinations
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Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

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Step Into Their Sound World

Hearing Aid - FM Simulation

Laura L. Nielsen

Library & Media Science

Education, Post Baccalaureate

Special Education - Emotional Disturbance, Endorsement

Behavioral Science, B.A.


Two research explorations were considered in Flynn, Flynn, and Harvey’s study of FM system usage: oral comprehension improvement within the classroom and identification of benefits per students, families, and teachers. An FM system is a wireless device utilizing FM radio waves that projects sound from the receiver to the recipient. Prior to conducting the study, baseline data was collected on speech perception. Each subject environment was equipped with a Lexis ear level receiver and Lexis handheld directional transmitter. Protocol was followed and verified with fitting the FM systems to the hearing aids. This study took place over a three-month period gathering data on eleven students. The level of noise in the testing classrooms varied between 50 to 80 dBA during work time.

Results of the study indicated that every student benefited from the use of the FM system. With only the use of the aid alone, students averaged 10 corrected answers. The same test group utilizing the FM system could identify and answer 17 responses correctly demonstrating a higher rate of speech recognition and understanding. The main benefit identified was the students’ perceptions were significant speech recognition and understanding while using the system versus no system. Situations identified were group work and listening to lectures.

Again the evidence spoke for itself as to the benefits of utilizing an FM system. This study assured that students’ systems were fitted and verified properly to their actual aids increasing likeliness of optimum results. Some ambiguity remained however in that the study referred to the device as binaurally, meaning both ears. If there was an increase in group work, did the microphone travel with the speaker? What is not disputable is the need for students with hearing disabilities to have access to FM devices within the school setting.

Instructing my teachers, Board of Education, and top administration on the necessity utilizing FM systems goes without saying. An added note that this study further supports is the need for the appropriate staff, in this case an audiologist, to assure that the system is aligned and verified with the particular aid in use. With statistics as glaring as a 100% increase in speech perception, or correct identification of words said, it is my recommendation that any student with hearing impairment should have accessibility to the system. To ensure Free Appropriate Public Education we must first identify that a student does indeed have a disability. A defined hearing loss in one or both ears is considered a disability. If a school is given this medical diagnosis it is our responsibility to determine the best educational plan. Some students would benefit from an Individualized Education Plan where others a 504 plan would suffice. In either interventional process, it is easily supported that a school should provide the system.


Students with mild to moderate hearing loss and normal cognitive abilities stand a significantly higher risk of experiencing difficulties than children with normal hearing. One common intervention to aide hearing impaired students with speech perception is for educational institutions to provide FM amplification systems. Identifying if there is an improved signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) within classroom settings through the use of FM application settings drove this study of fourteen children. All children were between the ages of five and eleven years and functioned within the normal cognitive range. Participants in the study were placed in traditional classrooms within the general education setting. It was not identified if the students were on Individual Education Plans or 504 Plans. Two outlets were used for accruing the results: teacher questionnaires and self-reports. Teachers were expected to complete the Screening Instrument for Targeting Educational Risk (SIFTER) prior to the start of the study and following each two-week period during the six-week study for a total of four measures. Students completed the eight-item self-report following each two-week period for a total of three measures. Perception of speech produced by teachers, classmates, and self as well as comparative desirability was queried is the self-report.

Comparisons were made in the results on the SIFTER in the five categories: academics, attention, communications, participation, and behavior. Only behavioral improvement showed insignificant improvement where the other four categories revealed noticeable improvement after utilizing the FM system within the classroom setting. Of significance is the data comparison of students in the failure or marginal level (54%) during the baseline gathering and upon completion of the study (26%). The self-report revealed the differences in using the FM System in both ears, one ear, and non-use. Hearing the teacher utilizing the microphone resulted in students scoring 90% easy / very easy while using the receiver in both ears. Hearing classmates resulted in a scoring of 67% in the hard to okay range. Of more significance 90% of the students, a large majority, of the student participants cited a preference in using the FM system and 100% preferred the one-ear versus two-ear option.

More than one study has revealed that students with mild to moderate hearing loss are ten times more likely to experience academic failure than normal hearing peers. Bess and Tharpe conducted experiments in 1984 and again in 1986. Oyler and Matkin, in 1988 revealed identical findings according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Evidence within this study provides further support that FM systems offer students a more equal opportunity to hear the teacher and improves the overall listening and learning environment. Although the study had a limited participants with only 14 pupils, the evidence still spoke volumes not only from self-reports but teacher evaluations as well. To further expand on the study, a longitudinal study tracking students over several years would offer further information. Due to ethical reasons, it would not be advisable to conduct a two-way study with a control and experimental group in that all hearing impaired students deserve appropriate intervention. Potentially longitudinal data could be collected on the benefits of a unilateral verses bilateral system in academic and social implications.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 offer clear interpretation of a school’s obligation to supporting hard of hearing students. Schools are to remove communication barriers. Not always are teams in agreement on the most appropriate resources and accommodations. In such cases the benefit must honor the choice of the student or representative of the student. “Free, appropriate public education” encompasses architectural accessibility, extracurricular activities, services, and personnel.

As a leader within a school it is my obligation to assure students receive the most appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. It is not merely a consideration; it is the law. Whether a student is placed on an Individual Education Plan, a 504 plan, or no plan at all, it is a district’s ethical obligation to offer accommodations suitable to student need including but not limited to FM systems. Because I am not the audiological / speech expert, I must rely on a team to help establish the most beneficial system for an individual. Several things should be considered when determining system options: appropriate circuitry and processing schemes with the type and degree of hearing impairment, economic factors, environmental setting, acoustics, mobility, and adaptability to aid type of student.

What is the educational setting of the hearing impaired student? According to our Government, the educational setting is anywhere the educational experience takes place. (, August 2010) With this guiding our parameters, I must conclude that not only should hearing impaired students have access to the FM system within the general education classroom of the elementary school, but in all extra-curricular locations as well.