Disability-Specific Resources: Deaf / Hard of Hearing

The major challenge facing students who are deaf or hard of hearing is communication.  Students who are hard of hearing have residual hearing.  To understand speech they may use speechreading, which alone only allows for about 30% understanding.  Students who are deaf may or may not be able to hear any sounds at all.  Therefore, because communication is difficult, students who are deaf or hard of hearing use other strategies to participate fully.  Strategies include:

  • Sitting in front of (or near the front of) the classroom
  • Using hearing aids
  • Using Assistive Listening Devices (ALD's).  These are sound amplification systems (also called FM Listening Systems) that consist of a transmitter (worn by the professor) and a receiver (worn by the student).  The transmitter sends the professor's voice to the receiver's system via FM signals, thereby improving the student's ability to hear the professor.
  • Using interpreters.  Many, but not all individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate using American Sign Language (ASL).  In sign language, thoughts are expressed through a combination of hand and arm movements, positions, and gestures.  The intensity and repetition of the movements and the facial expressions accompanying the movements are also important elements of sign language.
  • Using note-takers.  It can be difficult to speechread or follow an interpreter and take notes at the same time. 
  • Using computer-assisted real-time transcription (CART) services

Assumptions should not automatically be made about a student's ability to participate in certain types of classes.  For example, students may be able to learn a great deal about music styles, techniques, and rhythms by observing a visual display of the music on an oscilloscope or similar apparatus or by feeling the vibrations of the music.  Some students will have enough residual hearing so that amplification through earphones or hearing aids will allow participation.  It is always best to discuss with the student the requirements of a class and to determine if there are ways that the materials can be modified so that the student can participate in what may become an exiting learning experience for all.


Tips for Instructors:

Good Communication Techniques

  • Look at the person when you speak.
  • If you are talking through the assistance of an interpreter, direct your conversation to the student, not the interpreter. 
  • Repeat or rephrase questions and comments from the class before responding.
  • Face the class and speak naturally at a moderate pace.  Don't exaggerate lip movements or volume.
  • Avoid the temptation to pick up the pace when time is short.
  • Do not speak while writing on the whiteboard.
  • Lecture from the front of the room - not pacing around.
  • Point out who is speaking in group discussions.
  • Do not drink or chew gum or otherwise block the area around your mouth with your hands or other objects while lecturing.
  • Do not stand or sit in front of a window where shadows will impede speechreading.  The glare from behind you makes it difficult to read lips and other facial expressions because it causes a shadow to fall on your mouth and face. 
  • Beards and mustaches make speechreading harder.  Keep them trimmed.
  • Use facial expressions, gestures, and other "body language" to convey your message.
  • Discuss concerns about the student's ability to hear privately, not in front of the whole class.
  • Encourage open communication from a student with hearing loss about your teaching style.
  • Be open to writing notes when necessary to communicate. 
  • Be prepared to speak with the student.  Many students who are deaf or hard of hearing can, and do, speak.  They have learned to use their speech organs in speech classes.  Some people cannot automatically control the tone and volume of their speech so the speech may be initially difficult to understand.  Understanding improves as one becomes more familiar with the speech of the person.


Good Classroom Techniques

  • Always use captioned films/videos.   Why Captioning Is Important....
  • Provide handouts such as syllabus, notes, and assignments.
  • Write announcements and assignments on the whiteboard (or provide handouts).
  • Write proper names, technical vocabulary, formulas, equations, and foreign terms on the whiteboard (or provide handouts).  It is best to provide this list in advance to the student and interpreter because unfamiliar words are difficult to speechread or interpret. 
  • Help find seating near the front of the the classrrom if requested by the student.
  • Be aware of lighting changes in your classroom.  If visual aids are used and the lights are dimmed, this may interfere with the student's ability to speechread or see the interpreter.
  • Be aware of, and know how to use, assistive listening devices.
  • Be familiar with oral, sign, and cued-speech interpreters and how to work with them in class.
  • Provide copies of your class notes if a notetaker is not available.
  • Be familiar with computer-assisted real-time transcription (CART).
  • Support the student in advocating for communication access in related academic activities such as study groups, labs, and internships.
  • If giving an oral exam, an interpreter can serve as the reverse interpreter for the student.
  • Refer the student to the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) when appropriate.
  • In large classrooms, use a microphone so that all can hear.


Working with an Interpreter

  • Introduce yourself to the interpreter.  Ask for a brief explanation of the interpreter's role in the classroom.
  • Discuss with the student and interpreter(s) where it would be best for the interpreter(s) to be located in order to provide the greatest benefit for the student.
  • Let the interpreter know if you expect to use any special audio-visual equipment for films or slides.  The interpreter will need adequate lighting in order to be seen by the student.
  • The interpreter's only job in the classroom is to facilitate communication.  She/he must not participate in the class in any way nor be used as "props" during lectures.
  • Speak directly to the student as you would any other student.  The interpreter is merely facilitating the communication.  The instructor, interpreter, and student should all feel free to ask for clarification to ensure accuracy of the information conveyed.
  • When discussions take place in the classroom, try to avoid situations where multiple people are speaking at the same time.  The interpreter will not be able to provide clear interpretation in this situation.
  • When questions are asked, repeat the question for the interpreter.
  • If two interpreters are scheduled for your classroom, they will alternate and need clear views of each other.  A triangle setting is needed to provide the best service.  The student will be able to see you and the interpreter while the interpreters will have a clear view of each other.
  • If you have problems or questions regarding the interpreting situation, wait until a break or after class when these problems can be discussed together with the student.

If you have questions or concerns about interpreters or students who are deaf or hard of hearing, please contact Cassandra Tex at the Student Disability Resource Center. 


Additional Resources:

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