Hearing Disabilities


Approximately 28 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. Approximately 2 million are profoundly deaf. Individuals who have a severe or profound hearing loss that has existed since before they learned language will obviously have the most trouble with spoken language – as they have not experienced hearing it. The first language for these and many other Americans may be American Sign Language (ASL). They must learn English as a second or even a third language.

Strategies for Success

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people use a variety of devices and techniques to augment their aural capacity, including hearing aids, cochlear implants, and lip-reading. Depending on the nature of the impairment, however hearing aids and cochlear implants may not aid hearing speech. And no matter the level of the skill with which it is done, lip-reading aids in understanding only 30 to 40 percent of spoken English.

To maximize their college experience, deaf and hard of hearing students often utilize interpreting, captioning, and/or note-taking services for their classes, and extended time on exams. These services, which are mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, are usually coordinated through the Disability Services on campus in collaboration with faculty.

Best Practices

  • The interpreter should sit or stand near you so that you and the interpreter are within the deaf student’s range of vision.
  • Allow the student to sit where s/he can most easily see you, the interpreter, and the board or screen.
  • Provide copies of the syllabus, power point presentations, or other hand-outs for the interpreter, note-taker or captionist as far in advance as possible to insure that the interpreter has time to prepare and provide the best services for you and your students with the least inconvenience.
  • Make sure any films you show are captioned or subtitled.
  • Don’t speak and demonstrate by gesture or other visual demonstration in sequence. Just as you cannot hold a conversation and memorize a piece of music at the same time, a person using a visual language like ASL cannot take in verbal instructions and watch a demonstration at the same time.

It is certainly a unique experience to talk to someone through someone else, but if you follow some simple guidelines, your interactions with your deaf students can go quite smoothly. Speak directly to the student. Yes, it is the interpreter who is hearing what you are saying and to whom the student will look to for translation. But if you direct your words to the student, and listen to what he/she is saying as if it were coming from the student’s own mouth, you’ll find that you and the student — as well as the interpreter — will have much more productive interactions

For additional information on working with students with hearing impairments, please contact the Multi-Media Regional Center


MaryEllen Smolka
MMRC Project Coordinator
(718) 982-3341
Multi-Media Regional Center Webpage