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How to Teach: Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Source: UC Berkeley DSP

For obvious reasons, students who are deaf or hard of hearing face enormous obstacles in an academic setting. It is essential that instructors maintain effective communication with these students, though instructors may sometimes feel awkward working with sign language interpreters or resorting to visual communication techniques (body language, gestures, and facial expressions).

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 lapel microtransmitters.

Following are suggestions for improving the academic situation of students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  • Always speak directly to the student, not to the student's sign language interpreter.
  • During class discussions, ensure that no more than one person speaks at a time. When a class member asks a question, repeat the question before answering
  • Loss of visual contact may mean loss of information for some students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Unless the students are using sign-language interpreters or real-time captioners, be sure that the students have visual contact with you before you begin lecturing. Avoid giving information while handing out papers or writing on a chalkboard.
  • Provide seats near the front of the class so students with hearing impairments can get as much from visual and auditory clues as possible.
  • Use captioned videos whenever possible. When showing uncaptioned videos, slides, or moviesprovide an outline or summary in advance. If the classroom must be darkened, be sure that the student's interpreter is clearly visible.
  • When reading directly from text, provide an advance copy and pause slightly when interjecting information not in the text.
  • When working with the chalkboard or an overhead projection system, pause briefly so that the student may look first at the board/screen, and then at the interpreter, to see what is being said.