By incorporating assistive technology like baby cry signalers and strobe receivers with Realityworks’ RealCare Baby infant simulators, Deaf students at the Rochester School for the Deaf have been able to experience the responsibilities of caring for infants just as hearing students do.
“This is the… closest we can come to giving our Deaf and hard-of-hearing the same experience as their hearing peers,” said Pam McInerney, a family and consumer sciences teacher who has been using the infant simulators with her high school child development classes for six years. “The journal entries that my kids have written are very much the same as any other high school student – the emotions, the feelings of pressure, wanting to do this right, being overwhelmed and not wanting their own children very soon.”
Like real babies, the infant simulators cry when they require care: feeding, burping, rocking and changing. While hearing students can simply listen for this warning, Deaf students struggle to interpret these subtle auditory cues. By using sound monitors and personal tactile signalers in conjunction with each Baby, however, those sounds can be relayed to Deaf students so care opportunities are not missed: When a monitor picks up the sound of an infant simulator crying, it sends a signal to the pager that is worn by the student, who can then begin care. Students can even experience what it is like caring for the simulators overnight, thanks to the use of baby cry signalers and strobe receivers.
The details of each student’s interaction with their Baby – whether they correctly responded to care situations, how long it took them to respond, whether there were any episodes of neglect, etc. – are recorded for review and grading once the simulation is over. As McInerney explained, these reports motivate her students to care for their Babies promptly and appropriately.
“Being a mom of four and a techie, I love helping my students to prepare for this potential path in their future in such a hands-on and sneaky way,” said McInerney. “I love that the students do not believe me when I tell them that the Babies can ‘talk’ through the reports I am able to download… The ability to show my students how they have done in such a data-driven world is very important.”
According to McInerney, most of her students already have experience with assistive technology for other purposes, like doorbells and light indicators, and are comfortable using the additional technology that’s required to make this experience as “realistic, meaningful and successful” as possible. The classroom disruptions that are sometimes caused by the Babies – disruptions which, according to McInerney, are important to minimize in an environment where maintaining eye contact is key – become manageable once other teachers understand their students’ assignments. Parents also understand if additional help is needed when students take their Babies home, since their children are learning just what it takes to care for real infants.
“I have been thanked many times by involved parents who were happy to have lost a little sleep for a weekend, helping their students to wake up to care for the Babies. They have seen the weekend care as a safe way to show their son or daughter how demanding a baby is,” said McInerney. “It feels really good to hear that a student didn’t feel as overwhelmed during the weekend as he or she might have because of this hands-on experience in a safe, supported setting.”