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.

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

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 sign language. 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.

Students with hearing impairments may have difficulty following lectures in large halls, particularly if the acoustics cause echoes or if the lecturer speaks quietly, rapidly, or unclearly. They may find it difficult to simultaneously watch demonstrations and follow verbal descriptions, particularly if they are lip reading or watching screen captions. They may not be able to follow or participate in group discussions.


Accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing can be classified as "visual" or "aural." Visual accommodations—including sign language interpreters, lip reading, and captioning—rely on a person's sight; aural accommodations—including FM amplification systems and assistive listening devices (ALDs)—amplify sound.

Typical accommodations for students who have hearing impairments include:

  • interpreters
  • sound amplification systems
  • assistive listening devices (ALDs)
  • note takers
  • real-time captioning
  • email for faculty-student meetings and class discussions
  • visual warning systems for lab emergencies
  • changing computer settings from auditory signals to flash signals
  • captioned video presentations

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 outlines, assignments, instructions, and demonstration summaries, and distribute them before the class or presentation.

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 take notes or look down at written materials. Therefore, you should describe written or projected text and provide handouts that can be read before or after class.

Specific Academic Activities

Related Links

Working Together: Computers and People with Sensory Impairments

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