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How to Teach: Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing are not all alike. Some are extremely adept at reading lips and others are not; some communicate orally and others use sign language, gestures, writing, or a combination of these methods. In class, students who are deaf may have sign language interpreters, or they may rely on real-time captioners (people who immediately type whatever is said so that the spoken utterance can be read on a computer screen). Students who have some usable hearing may use a device to amplify sounds: in class they may rely on hearing aids alone, or they may use an "assistive listening device." When students are using assistive listening devices, instructors may be asked to wear cordless mic or to place next to them on the podium.

Tips for professors

  • Obtain the student’s attention before speaking. A tap on the shoulder, a wave or another visual signal is usually effective.
  • Clue the individual who is hard of hearing into the topic of discussion. Students who are hard of hearing need to know what subject matter will be discussed in order to pick up words that help them follow the conversation. This is especially important to individuals who depend on oral communication.
  • Speak slowly and clearly; but do not yell, exaggerate, or over pronounce. Exaggeration and overemphasis of words distort lip movements, making speech reading more difficult. Try to enunciate each word without force or tension. Short sentences are easier to understand than long ones.
  • Avoid standing in front of a light source such as a window or bright light. The bright background and shadows created on the face make it almost impossible to speech read.
  • If the student indicates that they did not understand you, first repeat and then try to rephrase a thought rather than repeating the same words. If the person only missed one or two words the first time, one repetition will usually help. Particular combinations of lip movements sometimes make it difficult for individuals who are hard of hearing to speech-read. Do not be embarrassed to communicate by paper and pencil or computer, if necessary. Getting the message across is more important than the method used.
  • Be courteous to the individual during the conversation. If the telephone rings or someone knocks at the door, excuse yourself and tell the student that you are answering the phone or responding to the knock.
  • Slow down the pace of communication slightly to facilitate understanding. Many lecturers talk too fast. Allow extra time for the student to ask or answer questions.
  • Repeat questions or statements made from the back of the room. Remember that students with hearing differences are cut off from whatever happens outside their visual area.

"Do’s" and "Don’ts" of working with a deaf individual


  • Directly ask the deaf individual what is the best way to interact and communicate with them. If you must use pen and paper initially, use short, simple sentences.
  • Remember, the deaf individual may not read well in English and may not have perfectly correct grammar.
  • Position yourself 3-6 feet from the person.
  • Be aware of your facial expressions, eye gaze, etc. as well as the deaf individual’s.
  • Use appropriate gestures and facial expressions and speak at your normal rate.
  • Repeat yourself if necessary, and use simple-to-understand language.
  • Allow for more time in the communication process; you are crossing several language barriers.
  • Look directly at the person, keeping your hands and face toward the deaf individual you are speaking with, even when they are looking at an interpreter.


  • Don’t assume communication is occurring correctly - nodding doesn’t mean “I understand.”
  • Don’t pretend to understand if you don’t. Ask for clarification if you need it.
  • Don’t exaggerate your words, mouth movements, or yell.
  • Don’t have objects in your mouth, or cover your mouth while speaking.
  • Don’t repeat the same word if there is difficulty understanding it. Use a synonym.

Sourced from The University of Texas at San Antonio, 2022 and MVCC, NYS 2024

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