Deaf or Hard of Hearing

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Functional hearing loss ranges from mild to profound. 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." When these two groups are combined, they are often referred to as individuals with "hearing impairments", with "hearing loss", or who are "hearing impaired". When referring to the Deaf culture, "Deaf" is capitalized.

Accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing can be classified as "visual" and "aural." Visual accommodations rely on a person's sight; aural accommodations rely on a person's hearing abilities. Visual accommodations include sign language interpreters, lip reading, and captioning. 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 as a result of 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.

Accommodations for Hard of Hearing and Deaf Students

Examples of accommodations for students who have hearing impairments include:

  • Interpreters.
  • Sound amplification systems.
  • Note takers.
  • Real-time captioning.
  • Electronic mail for faculty-student meetings and class discussions.
  • Visual warning systems for lab emergencies.
  • Changing computer auditory signals to flash changes.

There are also several ways you can direct your speaking style and adjust the "pace" of instruction 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, or other materials.
  • Repeat discussion questions and statements made by other students.
  • Write discussion questions/answers on a whiteboard or overhead projector.
  • Speak clearly and at a normal rate.
  • Use visual aids with few words and large images and fonts.
  • 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 videotapes to present essential instructional content. How would you accommodate a student who is hearing impaired? Choose a response.

  1. Have the videos open-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.

Check Your Understanding Responses

  1. Have the videos open-captioned.
    It is best if videos are captioned for hearing impaired students. Check with the publisher to see if this option is available. If not, encourage them to have the tapes captioned for future use. This may take time but demanding that publishers provide their products in accessible formats is the best long-term solution.
  2. Provide a sign language interpreter.
    This is a reasonable option. However, it may be difficult for the student to watch the interpreter as well as glean the important visual content from the video. The interpreter should stand close to the projected screen. Be sure that there is adequate lighting so that the student can follow the interpretation. Allow the student to choose a suitable seating location.
  3. Waive the requirement to watch the videos for this student.
    It is not reasonable to waive the requirement to view videos that present essential course content.
  4. Provide the student with a transcript of the content to read.
    It will be difficult for the student to read the script as well as glean the important visual content from a video presentation. If this option is used, give the student the transcription to read before a video is presented. Be sure the transcript clearly reflects the visual content as well as the spoken words in the presentation.

For more information consult the DO-IT publication Working Together: Computers and People with Sensory Impairments.

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:

Questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices can be found in the searchable AccessSTEM Knowledge Base.