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A teacher talks with two students using sign language

Sign Language has its own 'technical jargon.'

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Deaf or Hard of Hearing

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Often, people who have very little or no functional hearing refer to themselves as "deaf." Those with milder hearing loss may label themselves as "hard of hearing." There are also people who may have an auditory processing disorder (APD), which causes difficulty in processing verbal information. When these two groups are combined, they are often referred to as individuals with "hearing impairments," or "hearing loss," or are "hearing impaired." When referring to the Deaf culture, "Deaf" is capitalized. Accommodations for students who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have APD can be classified as "visual" and "aural." Visual accommodations rely on a person's sight; aural accommodations rely on a person's hearing abilities. Examples of visual accommodations include sign language interpreters, lip reading, and captioning. Examples of aural accommodations include amplification devices such as FM systems.

Hard of Hearing
Some students who are hard of hearing may hear only specific frequencies or sounds within a certain volume range. They may rely heavily upon hearing aids and lip reading. Some students who are hard of hearing may never learn, or only occasionally use, sign language. Students who are hard of hearing may have speech impairments due to their inability to hear their own voices clearly.

Being deaf or hard of hearing can affect students in several ways. They may have difficulty following lectures in large halls, particularly if the acoustics cause echoes or if the speaker talks quietly, rapidly, or unclearly. People who have hearing impairments may find it difficult to simultaneously watch demonstrations and follow verbal descriptions, particularly if they are watching a sign language interpreter, a captioning screen, or a speaker's lips. In-class discussions may also be difficult to follow or participate in, particularly if the discussion is fast-paced and unmoderated, since there is often lag time between a speaker's comments and interpretation.

Students who are hard of hearing may use hearing aids. Students who use hearing aids will likely benefit from amplification in other forms such as assistive listening devices (ALDs) like hearing aid compatible telephones, personal neck loops, and audio induction loop assistive listening systems. Some students use FM amplification systems which require the instructor to wear a small microphone to transmit amplified sound to the student.

Students who are deaf may have little or no speech depending on the severity of the hearing loss and the age of onset. They will often communicate through a sign language interpreter. American Sign Language (ASL) is widely used and has its own grammar and word order. Other students may use manual English (or signed English), which is sign language in English word order. A certified interpreter is used for translation into either language. Students who are deaf may also benefit from real-time captioning, where spoken text is typed and projected onto a screen.

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. Describing written or projected text is therefore helpful to this student. Handouts that can be read before or after class are useful, but create challenges when referred to during the class session.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
People with APD may intermittently experience an inability to process verbal information. When people with APD have a processing failure, they do not process what is being said to them. People with APD do not often recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even though the sounds themselves may be loud and clear. Problems in processing information are more likely to occur when a person with APD is in a noisy environment or when he or she is listening to complex information. Therefore, it is important to reduce background noise in the classroom whenever possible. As with other hearing impairments, supplemental text materials that accompany a lecture may be helpful.

Accommodations for Students Who Are Hard of Hearing, Deaf, or Who Have APD
Examples of accommodations for students who have hearing impairments include:

  • Interpreters.

  • Sound amplification systems.

  • Notetakers.

  • Real-time captioning.

  • Electronic mail for faculty-student meetings and class discussions.

  • Visual warning systems for lab emergencies.

  • Changing computer auditory signals to flashes or contrast changes.

There are also several ways you can direct your speaking style and adjust the "pace" of the classroom to make information more accessible to a student with a hearing impairment.

  • When speaking, make sure the student can see your face and avoid unnecessary pacing and moving.

  • When speaking, avoid obscuring your lips or face with hands, books, etc.

  • Repeat discussion questions and statements made by other students.

  • Write discussion questions/answers on the board or overhead projector.

  • Speak clearly and at a normal rate.

  • Use visual aids with few words and large images and fonts.

  • Allow for preferential seating.

  • Eliminate unnecessary background noise.

  • Provide written lecture outlines, class assignments, lab instructions, and demonstration summaries and distribute them before class when possible.

Check Your Understanding
Consider the following example as you think about accommodating a student with a hearing impairment in your class. Suppose you use several commercial videos that do not come with a captioning option to present essential instructional content. How would you accommodate a student who is hearing impaired? Choose a response.

  1. Have the videos captioned.

  2. Provide a sign language interpreter.

  3. Waive the requirement to watch the videos for this student.

  4. Provide the student with a transcript of the content to read.

Appropriate accommodations vary greatly among students who are deaf or hard of hearing and by academic activity. For specific information related to accommodations by academic activity, consult the following content:

Large lectures
Group/work discussions
Field work
Science labs
Computer labs
Adaptive technology
Writing assignments
International/travel programs
Work-based learning