Being deaf or hard of hearing can affect students in several ways. They may have difficulty following lectures in environments with poor acoustics or in which the speaker talks softly, rapidly or unclearly. They may find it difficult to simultaneously watch demonstrations and follow verbal descriptions, particularly if they are watching sign language interpreters, reading captioning or reading lips. In-class discussions may also be difficult to follow or participate in, particularly if the discussion is fast-paced.
You can help students who are deaf or hard of hearing by communicating clearly and directly, providing lectures and materials in alternative formats, and accommodating assistants, such as interpreters and captionists.
Suggested instructional strategies
Lecture and discussions
- Employ the principles of universal design for learning.
- Allow preferential or front-row seating. An unobstructed line of vision is necessary.
- Arrange for a convenient seating position for the interpreter or transcriber.
- The interpreter or captionist is in the classroom to facilitate communication. Do not engage the interpreter or captionist in class activities or ask him or her to take on unrelated tasks.
- When using an interpreter, speak directly to the person who is deaf, not the interpreter.
- Direct your comments to the front of the class, and try to avoid speaking when you write on the board or walk around the room.
- It is important to remember that a student who is using an interpreter, who is lip reading or who is reading real-time captioning cannot simultaneously look down at written materials or take notes. Describe the written or projected text.
- Repeat the comments and questions of other students, especially those from the back rows. Acknowledge who has made the comment so the student and/or interpreter can follow the conversation.
- Eliminate unnecessary background noise.
- Assist the student in locating a notetaker if requested.
- Face people with hearing impairments so they can see your lips. Avoid talking while chewing gum or eating.
- Speak clearly at a normal volume unless a student requests that you speak more loudly.
Media and communication
- Provide access to alternative formats for course materials.
- Provide videos or films with captioning. If captioning is not available, an interpreter is the next best option. If an interpreter is present, make sure he or she is visible. For post-production captioning, consult with the Disability Center for assistance
- Use e-mail communication as an effective, easy means of communicating.
- Be aware that for many deaf students, English is a second language. American Sign Language, which has a very different grammatical structure, may be the student’s first language. You may see grammatical and sentence-structure errors in written assignments.