Deaf/Hard of Hearing

Traditional college pedagogy presupposes that students will learn through two primary activities: reading and listening. This obviously creates a disabling learning environment for those who cannot see or hear adequately. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing, moreover, will be specially impacted in the realm of social interactions that take place inside and outside the classroom among students and between students and faculty.

The Impact of Deafness and Other Hearing Impairments

It is important for faculty to realize that there is great diversity among students who are deaf or hard of hearing. You may work with students who have been deaf from birth; others may have lost their hearing more recently.  Some have great skill at reading lips, while others do not. They may communicate using sign language, spoken language, gestures, and/or writing.  In class, you may find a deaf or hard of hearing student using a sign language interpreter, a real-time captioner (an individual who types what is being said so that the student can read it on a computer screen), or amplification technology. A student with partial hearing may ask you to wear a cordless microphone that transmits wirelessly to a receiver that they wear.

More often than is typical for individuals with other types of disabilities, deafness may carry important identity significance for Deaf individuals. Some deaf students will prefer the capitalized form, “Deaf,” to indicate their identification with the Deaf community and a culture that Deaf people share. This raises the issue of cultural literacy for faculty members who work with Deaf students.  Among the resources listed at the end of this document are some that will inform faculty about the Deaf cultural perspective.

Challenges and Strategies

The table below lists a variety of issues and suggests strategies – aside from accommodations determined by DRS – that faculty might deploy to minimize the barriers that these issues present to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Beside some of the strategies are the letters “UDL” highlighted in yellow; this indicates consistency with Universal Design for Learning.  The instructor implements the given measure for the whole class, so that not only the student with a disability benefits from it.  This also assures that a student with a disability is not unnecessarily singled out or identified as needing special provisions.

Potential Challenges Strategies

Some deaf students will use a sign language interpreter in class or in meetings with faculty.  To facilitate communication, the faculty member needs to be conscious of several issues:

  • Respect for the student.
  • The demands of simultaneous translation.
  • There may be unfamiliar or difficult-to-translate words in the lecture.

Always speak directly to the student, not to the interpreter.


During class discussions, ensure that no more than one person speaks at the same time. UDL

When someone in the class asks a question, repeat the question before answering, in case the interpreter did not hear the question. UDL

Pause often as you speak to let the interpreter communicate what you have said. UDL

When you intend to read from a text, give your students (and the interpreter) a copy in advance; indicate when you are deviating from the text to offer explanations, etc. UDL

When you are writing on the board or projected computer screen, pause so that the student may look first at the board/screen, and then at the interpreter for your words.

Prior to class, post your PowerPoint slides, an outline of your lecture, and/or a list of vocabulary and concepts. UDL

Visual contact is crucial for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Be sure that the student has visual contact with you before you begin speaking.

Do not give information while handing out papers or writing on the board. UDL

Avoid pacing around the room; it is difficult to lip-read when the speaker is moving.

Reserve seats near the front of the class so that students with hearing impairments can take full advantage of visual and auditory information.

Use visual aids as much as possible.  UDL

Write important announcements and instructions on the board, and post them on Blackboard.  UDL
Many students who are deaf or hard of hearing read lips.

Always face the student(s) when speaking.  UDL

Speak clearly and as you normally would – don't speak very slowly or in an exaggerated way -- and maintain normal volume.  UDL

Avoid pacing around the room; it is difficult to lip-read when the speaker is moving.

If a student has difficulty understanding what you have said, rephrase it.
Audio materials are not accessible to deaf and hard of hearing students.

Post a transcript of all audio materials (e.g., podcasts).  UDL

Make sure videos have captions.  If you must show an uncaptioned video, provide a transcript in advance.  UDL

If you show a video in a darkened room, be sure there is enough light for the student to see the sign language interpreter.

Allow a deaf student to view audiovisual material on his/her own, if requested. When possible, post the material on Blackboard so that all students can view/review it in their own time. UDL

If you send students to a website for information, make sure that the content is accessible to those with sensory disabilities. 


DeafLinx is a website that affirms and provides information on many aspects of deafness and Deaf culture

DO-IT Faculty Room, online brochure: “Effective Communication: Faculty and Students with Disabilities.”

DO-IT Faculty Room, Knowledge Base articles on hearing impairments, including case studies and information about issues in particular educational contexts, such as science labs.

DO-IT Faculty Room, information for faculty about Deaf/Hard of Hearing.  Includes links to:

  • a case study;
  • FAQs; and
  • an abundance of resources on deafness, hearing impairments, Deaf culture, captioning, and working with deaf/hearing impaired students.

Nakamura, Karen. Deaf Resource Library.  Nakamura is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and East Asian Studies at Yale University.  Her research focuses on disability culture, history, and political/social movements in Japan and the United States.

Northwestern University, Services for Students with Disabilities. “Hearing Loss and Central Auditory Processing Disorder.”  This page explains how professors can address the needs of students who are deaf or have other types of hearing impairment.

PEPNet Just-in-Time Trainings are multimedia presentations on deaf-related topics of interest to postsecondary educators.