Deaf or Hard of Hearing

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 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. Small group 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 presenter 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 or other presentation are useful.


Examples of accommodations for students who have hearing impairments include:

  • interpreters
  • sound amplification systems
  • note takers
  • real-time captioning
  • email for faculty-student meetings and class discussions
  • visual warning systems for lab emergencies
  • changing computer auditory signals to flash changes
  • 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 other presentation when possible.

Check Your Understanding

Consider the following example as you think about accommodating a student with a hearing impairment in your program. Suppose you use a video in a campus event. 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. Tell the student that watching the video is not that important.
  4. Provide the student with a transcript of the content to read.


  1. Have the videos 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 may be 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. Tell the student that watching the video is not that important.
    It is not reasonable to waive the requirement to view videos that present essential information. If the video presentation is not important then provide it as an option for all students, rather than make an exception only for the deaf student.
  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 the video. If this option is used, give the student the transcription to read before the video is presented. Be sure the transcript clearly reflects the visual content as well as the spoken words in the presentation.

Related Links

Working Together: Computers and People with Sensory Impairments (brochure)

More Information

Explore DO-IT Publications, Knowledge Base articles, and websites on this topic at Accommodation Resources: Deaf or Hard of Hearing. To learn about specific accommodations for an academic activity, select from the list below.