Queen's University

Instructor's Handbook: Accommodating Students with Disabilities

7.3 Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Hearing loss may range from a mild to a profound impairment. For example, a "hearing impairment" may extend from a mild hearing loss in one ear to complete Deafness. An individual may be unable to hear certain pitches, environmental sounds or everyday speech. In fact, by some estimates, hearing loss is the most prevalent chronic health problem in this country, affecting 1.5 million Canadians.

Hearing impairments can have dramatic ramifications on communication. For those born with profound deafness, language development may not reflect intelligence or knowledge, as each word must be taught separately, along with its meaning. Communication by the deaf occurs through American Sign Language (ASL), Signed English, lip-reading, speech, and/or writing. Lip reading can only convey 30-50% of spoken information. The most commonly used method of communication among the deaf is ASL, a language unto itself, with its own grammatical structures, and is the basis on which a very strong deaf culture is predicated. Members of this culture do not consider themselves to be disabled by their deafness and use of ASL.

Instructional Strategies

Many students who are hard of hearing rely on lip-reading. Students who read lips will seat themselves in the best position in order to watch as you speak. Please do not speak with your back to the class. Avoid pacing around the room as it is difficult to lip-read a moving target. Speak in a normal (and not exaggerated) manner; use of short and simple sentences are best.

  • Use visual aids whenever possible. A blackboard outline may be helpful and will help the student focus on the topic of the discussion. People who are hard of hearing need to know what subject matter is to be discussed in order to pick up words which help them follow the conversation.
  • It may be necessary to repeat answers or discussion given by other students in the class for students who have hearing impairments, particularly if the speaker does not speak clearly or is seated in another part of the room.
  • Write important announcements and instructions on the blackboard.
  • Encourage the student to request repetition if he or she has missed something or to clarify with you after class.
  • If videos or slides are used, provide the student with a summary.
  • Some students may do well in a quiet room but encounter difficulties with noise when the air conditioning is on. A particular room may be appropriate as a learning environment in one season but not in another.
  • If the classroom is in a laboratory setting, a "buddy system" may be most beneficial for the student. This will permit the person to obtain the required information and still work within a safe environment.
  • Lab instructors should write down all instructions, especially about lab safety, and clearly label instruments, machines and chemicals.
Communication Strategies
  • Approach the individual so that he or she can see you. Ask if you can be of assistance.
  • Since there are varying degrees of hearing impairment, please ask the student to tell you what he or she cannot hear.
  • Face the individual when you speak to him or her, even when others are present. If an interpreter is present, look and speak at the person who is Deaf or hard of hearing and not at the interpreter.
  • Since many individuals who are hard of hearing rely on lip-reading and facial expressions, do not speak with your back to the class at any time. Ensure adequate light falls on your face and keep hands, glasses, and other objects away from your mouth when talking.
  • Speak clearly and naturally, though perhaps more slowly than usual. You do not need to shout, exaggerate, or over pronounce words. Pausing slightly after technical terms is helpful.
  • If the person does not understand you, rephrase your sentences or questions using different words. Use paper and pencil if necessary. Getting the message across is more important than the medium used.
  • Use body language and facial expressions to supplement your communication.
  • Reduce the background noise level, if possible.
  • Do not make assumptions. Not everyone with a hearing loss uses American Sign Language or is able to read lips.
  • Do not assume that you understand and are understood. Use open-ended questions which must be answered by more than "yes" or "no".
  • Be patient.
Technological Accommodations
  • Cooperate if you are requested to use an FM amplification system. It uses a wireless microphone system and receiving unit that should not interfere with your lecturing style. You may feel slightly uncomfortable in the beginning, but it will greatly increase the learning opportunity for the student.
Assignment Accommodations
  • For oral assignments, allow students who use a sign language interpreter to give their presentation in sign language with an interpreter. If appropriate, allow these students to hand in written assignments rather than presenting orally.
Examination Accommodations
  • Oral examinations are difficult for some students with a hearing loss. Allow for written exams.