Accessibility Resource Center


The causes and degrees of hearing loss vary across the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community, as do methods of communication and attitudes toward deafness. In general, there are three types of hearing loss:

  1. Conductive loss affects the sound-conducting paths of the outer and middle ear. The degree of loss can be decreased using a hearing aid or by surgery. People with conductive loss might speak softly and experience ringing in their ears.
  2. Sensorineural loss affects the inner ear and auditory nerve and can range from mild to profound. People with sensorineural loss might speak loudly, experience greater high-frequency loss, have difficulty distinguishing consonant sounds, and not hear well in noisy environments.
  3. Mixed loss results from both a conductive and sensorineural loss.

Given the close relationship between oral language and hearing, students with hearing loss might also have speech impairments. A person's age at the time of loss determines whether one is prelingually deaf (hearing loss before oral language acquisition) or adventitiously deaf (normal hearing during language acquisition). Those born deaf or who become deaf as very young children might have more limited speech development.

Some Considerations

  • The inability to hear does not affect an individual's native intelligence or the physical ability to produce sounds.
  • Some deaf and hard-of-hearing students are skilled lip readers, but many are not. Many speech sounds have identical mouth movements, which can make lip reading particularly difficult. For example, "p," "b," and "m" look exactly alike on the lips, and many sounds (vowels, for example) are produced without using clearly differentiated lip movements.
  • Make sure you have the student's attention before speaking. A light touch on the shoulder, a wave, or other visual signal will help.
  • Look directly at a person who is deaf or hard-of-hearing during conversation, even when an interpreter is present. Speak clearly, without shouting. If you have trouble being understood, rephrase your thoughts. Writing is also a good way to clarify. Email and using a telephone relay service are good communication alternatives outside of class.
  • Make sure that your face is clearly visible. Keep your hands away from your face and mouth while speaking. Sitting with your back to a window, gum chewing, cigarette smoking, pencil biting, and similar obstructions of the lips can also interfere with the effectiveness of communication.

Common accommodations for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing include sign language interpreters, stenocaptioners, assistive listening devices, TTY/relay services, volume control telephones, signaling devices (e.g., a flashing light to alert individuals to a door knock or ringing telephone), priority registration, early syllabus, note takers, and captions for films and videos.

Modes of Communication

Not all students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing are fluent users of all communication modes used in the Deaf community. For example, not all deaf or hard-of-hearing students lip-read. Many individuals use sign language, but there are several types of sign language systems. American Sign Language (ASL) is a natural, visual language having its own syntax and grammatical structure. Fingerspelling is the use of the manual alphabet to form words. Pidgin Sign English (PSE) combines aspects of ASL and English and is used in educational situations, often combined with lip movements. It is important to assign interpreters who will match the communication needs and preferences of each student. Interpreters convey all information in a given situation, including instructor's comments, class discussion, and environmental sounds.

Instructional Strategies

The following strategies are suggested to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials, and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized reasonable accommodations.

  • Include a disability access statement on the syllabus, inviting students with disabilities to request accommodations.
  • Circular seating arrangements offer students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing the advantage of seeing all class participants, especially in a seminar setting.
  • For lecture settings, keep front seats open for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
  • Repeat comments and questions of other students, especially those from the back rows; acknowledge who has made the comment so the deaf or hard-of-hearing student can focus on the speaker.
  • Assist the student with finding an effective note taker or lab assistant if the student is eligible for these services.
  • If possible, provide transcripts of audio information.
  • Face the class while speaking. If an interpreter is present, make sure the student can see both you and the interpreter. Feel free to reach out to Accessibility Resource Center (ARC) for assistance and guidance in working with interpreters.
  • If there is a break in the class, note that you have the student's attention before resuming class.
  • Because visual information is a student's primary means of receiving information, films, overheads, diagrams, and other visual aids are useful instructional tools. Spoken dialogue and commentary in films, videotapes, DVDs, and online course websites should either be presented in captions or other alternate means, such as a transcript.
  • Be flexible; allow the student to work with audio-visual material independently and for a longer period of time.
  • When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask them.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students (i.e., avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class).