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Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The photo shows a close-up of somebody wearing a hearing aid.

A hearing impairment is a condition involving the entire range or spectrum of hearing loss. Deafness refers to a severe hearing loss, and a person suffering from it may use sign language, speech reading, and other non-verbal means of communication. “Hard of hearing” refers to a less severe condition of hearing loss. The main mode of communication for a person hard of hearing may be audio-verbal. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing tend to define themselves by their choice of communication. It is not uncommon however to encounter students who are hard of hearing using sign language or students who are deaf preferring oral communication. Signs of hearing loss include the following behaviors:

  • Giving inappropriate responses
  • Speaking in an unusually loud or soft voice
  • Not hearing or responding when someone speaks from behind
  • Appearing to pay attention but not actively participating in class discussions
  • Asking for something to be repeated
  • Responding with smiles and nods but no further comments
  • Withdrawn, introverted, shy, or, conversely, demanding and frustrated behavior
  • Immature or awkward social skills
  • Broad range of communication systems, from exclusively manual sign language to exclusively spoken language and all variations in- between
  • Functional Limitations

  • Hearing loss ranging from mild to profound
  • Relying on visual cues
  • Miscommunications
  • Limitation in effective hearing, speaking, reading, and writing communications
  • Accommodations

    In order for their accommodation services to be fully effective, deaf and hard-of-hearing students require professors to be sensitive and responsive to their needs so that they can fully participate in the educational experience.

    Individuals who are deaf and hard-of-hearing use a variety of devices, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, and strategies, such as lip reading, to augment their aural and communication abilities. Offices of disability services provide accommodations such as:

  • Such assistive listening devices (ALD), as infrared, FM, or audio loops
  • Sign language/oral interpreters
  • Captioning
  • Note-takers
  • Extended time on exams
  • Teaching Strategies

  • Be natural when working with a sign language interpreter.
  • Allow the student to sit where he can most easily see you, the interpreter, and the board or screen simultaneously
  • Be aware that the interpreter lags slightly behind the speaker and that any comment by the student is also a few minutes behind. It is important to give time for the student to catch up so that any question can be clarified before the topic has passed
  • Provide copies of the syllabus, PowerPoint presentations, or other handouts for the interpreter, captionist, or note-taker in as far advance as possible
  • Have all audio/visual media, such as movies, DVDs, video, visual/audio internet media, captioned or subtitled
  • Remember that a student with a hearing loss cannot watch someone speak or sign while something is being demonstrated
  • Talk and listen directly to the student, not to the sign language interpreter or listening device
  • Lecture from the front of the room, and do not pace around.
  • Do not obscure your face or mouth (e.g., with hands, mustache and/or beard, or a face covering)
  • Do not speak while writing on the board
  • Identify who is speaking during classroom group discussion
  • Repeat or rephrase questions or comments from the class before responding
  • Avoid incomplete sentences, colloquialisms, and slang
  • Avoid prolonged pauses in your sentences
  • Do not exaggerate the speed or enunciation of your speech as this distorts the lip patterns
  • Repeat and then paraphrase if the student does not understand
  • Provide a note-taker and/or copies of notes and transparencies, since most students who are deaf or hard of hearing cannot take notes while they are lip reading or watching an interpreter
  • Limit the amount of background noise
  • The photo shows two women who are communicating in sign language.

    Our Sources and Additional Resources:

  • PEPNet2: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Responsibilities for Postsecondary Institutions Serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students: Questions and Answers Book—2nd edition:
  • PepNet2 Tipsheets:
    http://www.pepnet.org/search/node/PEPNet Tipsheet
  • Hearing Impairment (University of Calgary):
  • Registry of Interpreters of the Deaf:
  • Center for Hearing and Communication:
  • National Association of the Deaf:
  • Hearing Loss Association of America: