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Office of Student Disability Services > Information for Faculty > Types of Disabilities > Deaf/Hard of Hearing

Deaf/Hard of Hearing

Terminology:

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing require different accommodations depending on several factors, including the degree of hearing loss, the age of onset, and the type of language or communication system they use. They may use a variety of communication methods, including lip reading, cued speech, signed English and/or American Sign Language.

Characteristics:

Deaf or hard of hearing students may:

  • be skilled lip readers, but many are not; only 30 to 40 percent of spoken English is distinguishable on the mouth and lips under the best of conditions
  • also have difficulties with speech, reading and writing skills, given the close relationship between language development and hearing
  • use speech, lip reading, hearing aids and/or amplification systems to enhance oral communication
  • be members of a distinct linguistic and cultural group; as a cultural group, they may have their own values, social norms and traditions
  • use American Sign Language as their first language, with English as their second language

Considerations and Instructional Strategies:

  • American Sign Language (ASL) is not equivalent to English; it is a visual-spatial language having its own syntax and grammatical structure.
  • Look directly at the student during a conversation, even when an interpreter is present, and speak in natural tones.
  • Make sure you have the student’s attention before speaking. A light touch on the shoulder, wave or other visual signal will help.
  • Recognize the processing time the interpreter takes to translate a message from its original language into another language; the student may need more time to receive information, ask questions and/or offer comments.

Accommodations (may include):

  • Seating which allows a clear view of the instructor, the interpreter and the blackboard
  • An unobstructed view of the speaker’s face and mouth
  • Written supplement to oral instructions, assignments, and directions
  • Providing handouts in advance so the student can watch the interpreter rather than read or copy new material at the same time
  • Visual aids whenever possible, including captioned versions of videos and films
  • Using a small spotlight to allow view of the interpreter while showing films and slides
  • Repeating questions and comments from other students
  • Note taker for class lectures so the student can watch the interpreter
  • Test accommodations may include: access to word processor, use of interpreter for directions
  • Providing unfamiliar vocabulary in written form, on the blackboard, or in a handout
  • Use of e-mail, fax, or word processor for discussions with the instructor
  • Visual warning system for building emergencies
  • A real-time transcription requiring instructor to use a microphone The text transcript is visible on a computer screen for student.

Communicating with Students who are Deaf:

Students who are deaf communicate in different ways depending on several factors: amount of residual hearing, type of deafness, language skills, age at onset of deafness, speech abilities, speech reading skills, personality, intelligence, family environment and educational background. Some are more easily understood than others. Some use speech only or a combination of sign language, finger spelling, and speech, writing, body language and facial expression. Students who are deaf use many ways to convey an idea to other people. The key is to find out which combination of techniques works best with each student. The important thing is not how you exchange ideas or feelings, but that you communicate.

To communicate with a person who is deaf in a one-to-one situation:

  • Get the student’s attention before speaking. A tap on the shoulder, a wave, or another visual signal usually works. Clue the student into the topic of discussion. It is helpful to know the subject matter being discussed in order to pick up words and follow the conversation. This is especially important for students who depend on oral communication.
  • Speak slowly and clearly. Do not yell, exaggerate, or over enunciate. It is estimated that only three out of 10 spoken words are visible on the lips. Overemphasis of words distorts lip movements and makes speech reading more difficult. Try to enunciate each word without force or tension. Short sentences are easier to understand than long ones.  Look directly at the student when speaking. Even a slight turn of your head can obscure the speech reading view. Do not place anything in your mouth when speaking. Mustaches that obscure the lips and putting your hands in front of your face can make lip reading difficult.
  • Maintain eye contact. Eye contact conveys the feeling of direct communication. Even if an interpreter is present, speak directly to the student. He or she will turn to the interpreter as needed. Avoid standing in front of a light source, such as a window or bright light.  The bright background and shadows created on the face make it almost impossible to speech read.
  • First repeat, and then try to rephrase a thought rather than repeating the same words. If the student only missed one or two words the first time, one repetition will usually help. Particular combinations of lip movements sometimes are difficult to speech read. If necessary, communicate by paper and pencil or by typing to each other on the computer email or fax. Getting the message across is more important than the method used. Use pantomime, body language, and facial expression to help communicate.
  • Be courteous during conversation. If the phone rings or someone knocks at the door, excuse yourself and tell him or her that you are answering the phone or responding to the knock. Don’t ignore the student and talk with someone else while he or she waits.
  • Use open-ended questions, which must be answered by more than “yes”, or "no." Do not assume that the message was understood if the student nods his or her head. Open-ended questions ensure that your information has been communicated.

Participating in group situations with people who are deaf:

  • Seat the student to his or her best advantage. This usually means a seat opposite the speaker, so that he or she can see the person’s lips and body language. The interpreter should be next to the speaker, and both should be illuminated clearly. Be aware of the room lighting.
  • Provide new vocabulary in advance. It is difficult, if not impossible, to speech read or read finger spelling of unfamiliar vocabulary. If new vocabulary cannot be presented in advance, write the terms on paper, a blackboard, or an overhead projector. If a lecture or film will be presented, a brief outline or script given to the student and interpreter in advance helps them in following the presentation.
  • Avoid unnecessary pacing and speaking when writing on a blackboard. It is difficult to speech read a person in motion and impossible to speech read one whose back is turned. Write or draw on the blackboard, then face the group and explain the work. If you use an overhead projector, don’t look down at it while speaking. Make sure the student does not miss vital information. Provide in writing any changes in meeting times, special assignments, or additional instructions. Allow extra time when referring to manuals or texts since the student who is deaf must look at what has been written and then return attention to the speaker or interpreter.
  • Slow down the pace of communication slightly to facilitate understanding. Allow extra time for the student to ask or answer questions. Repeat questions or statements made from the back of the room. Remember that students who are deaf are cut off from whatever happens outside their visual area. Use hands-on experience whenever possible in training situations. Students who are deaf often learn quickly by doing. A concept, which may be difficult to communicate verbally, may be explained more easily by a hands-on demonstration.
  • Use of an interpreter in large, group settings makes communication much easier. The interpreter will be a few words behind the speaker in transferring information; therefore, allow time for the student to obtain all the information and ask questions.

Using an Interpreter:

  • Speak clearly and in a normal tone, facing the person using the interpreter (do not face the interpreter).
  • Do not rush through a lecture or presentation. The interpreter or the deaf student may ask the speaker to slow down or repeat a word or sentence for clarification. Allow time to study handouts, charts or overheads. A deaf student cannot watch the interpreter and study written information at the same time.
  • Permit only one person at a time to speak during group discussions. It is difficult for an interpreter to follow several people speaking at once. Since the interpreter needs to be a few words behind the conversation, give the interpreter time to finish before the next person begins so the deaf student can join in or contribute to the discussion.
  • If a class session is more than an hour and a half, two interpreters will usually be scheduled and work on a rotating basis. It is difficult to interpret for more than an hour and a half, and following an interpreter for a long time is tiring for a deaf student. Schedule breaks during lengthy classes so both may have a rest.
  • Provide good lighting for the interpreter. If the interpreting situation requires darkening the room to view slides, videotapes, or films, auxiliary lighting is necessary so that the deaf student can see the interpreter. If a small lamp or spotlight cannot be obtained, check to see if lights can be dimmed, but still provides enough light to see the interpreter. If you are planning to present any video taped materials in your classroom, please order tapes that are closed captioned. Please request equipment that will display closed captioning, or request a VCR with a closed captioning decoder from Information Technology.
  • You may ask the student to arrange for an interpreter for meetings during office hours. Often your classroom interpreter can schedule this time with you. For field trips and other required activities outside of regularly scheduled class time, the student must make a written request to the DS office as soon as possible, but at least two weeks before the event.
  • Some courses require frequent use of a textbook during class time. Providing a desk copy to the interpreter for the semester will often facilitate communication. For technical courses, it can allow interpreters time to prepare signs for new vocabulary before interpreting the lecture.
  • Bound by a professional code of ethics, interpreters are hired by the University to interpret what occurs in the classroom; interpreters are not permitted to join into conversations, voice personal opinions, or serve as general classroom aides. Do not make comments to interpreters that are not intended to be interpreted to the deaf student.


Adapted from: Communicating with a Student who is Deaf, Seattle Community College; Regional Education Center for Deaf Students.

An Online Orientation to serving students who are deaf or hard of hearing is available through the Postsecondary Education Programs Network (PEPNET) at: http://www.pepnet.org/. The training takes about one hour and upon completion, participants may download and print a certificate issued by PEPNet.

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