Supporting our deaf and hard of hearing students

‘Deafness is not pathological, but merely another way of being normal, or possibly even a way of being better than normal, [some] claim. Despite such assertions, however, much of the hearing world remains unconvinced, and continues to think of deafness in negative terms.’

 (Cooper, 2007)

The categories deaf and hard of hearing cover a wide range of hearing losses, from a profound to mild loss. Most deaf or hard-of-hearing students will access some sound through hearing aids or cochlear implants and will communicate through spoken language but some will have no access to sound at all. For these students their first language will be sign language (BSL).

Many deaf or hard of hearing students will use lip reading too, but expect students to be able to understand roughly 30% of a communication when lip reading (p, b and m are particularly difficult to recognise).

To catch a deaf student’s attention, you may need to touch them lightly on the arm or shoulder. Aim to be facing the light when you talk and do not stand with your back to the window as that throws your face into shadow and makes lip reading difficult. Talk slightly slower than normal but without any exaggerated lip movements as this makes lip reading more difficult. You may need to repeat yourself several times.

If your student is using an interpreter, remember to look at the student: you are not talking to the interpreter.

Provide handouts, Powerpoints etc. in advance; and provide all feedback in written form.

‘As a deaf student, I’m used to being excluded. Universities must do better.’

Josh Salisbury

© Matthew Tizzard

If there are hearing loops in lecture rooms, check they are working. (They need to be checked once a week and thoroughly checked once a year.) Make sure you do not move away from the microphone while talking.

Some deaf students may have Roger pens or radio aids and will ask you to wear them. These devices send your voice directly to the hearing aid or cochlear implant and make it easier to follow in a classroom environment. (In group discussions, the Roger pen will sit in the centre of the group to pick up all the voices.)

If you are using videos/television in a lecture, where possible have subtitles; and if subtitles are not available provide a transcript of the video. Avoid talking while students are reading the subtitles since they cannot lip read and read the subtitles at the same time. 

Avoid timetable changes so that loops/other equipment can be in place and interpreters/lip readers can plan their own timetables.

The work interpreters do is tiring. If there is only one interpreter in a long lecture, make sure there is a 10-minute break in the middle. (It is preferable to have two interpreters working together swapping places after 20 to 30 minutes; the translation is likely to become less accurate over time.) Do not thank the interpreters: they work for the deaf student, and deaf students will do this themselves.

‘There is no universal deaf experience. But we’ve all experienced exclusion to some extent.’

It is useful for students to have a glossary/vocabulary list in advance since it is very difficult to lip read unknown words. (This list will support understanding for many other students too.)

Give an overview of a lecture in advance to help with lip reading, and make it clear when the topic is changing so that deaf students understand there is new language to come. (This holistic approach supports students with SpLDs and many other students too.)

In sessions where you may have discussions as well as talks, make sure that deaf students know when to join in, and make sure they are included in jokes and funny stories by repeating them back.

Top tips

  • Get the student’s attention before speaking to them – either by saying their name or tapping them on the shoulder.
  • Make sure they can see your face so that they can watch your mouth and see your expression. This will help them to interpret what you are saying to them.
  • Hearing aids and cochlear implants work best at a distance of 1 to 2 metres. Students using these devices will hear you best if you are close to them and in front of them.
  • Repeat words, requests and questions.
  • Repeat comments and questions from other students in the class.
  • Hearing aids and cochlear implants amplify all sound – if the room is noisy, a deaf or hard-of-hearing student will hear less and you may need to repeat yourself.

© Matthew Tizzard

Further reading: