Including Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Hearing impairment is an invisible disability that affects communication. It may occur in one or both ears, and hearing loss may range from mild to profound. Individuals with a hearing impairment are grouped into two major categories: those who are hard of hearing and those who are Deaf.
Most common types of diagnoses
The term Deaf refers to a group of persons who share a common culture, including means of communication (signs) which provides the basis for group cohesion and identity. While there may be variation in degree of hearing loss within this group, it is usually so severe that everday speech and environmental sounds cannot be heard, even with the use of a hearing aid. Visual cues are often mandatory for the comprehension of speech, and sign language is frequently the main means of communication.
Many individuals who use sign language as a means of communicating use English as a second language and may have difficulty with written communications. These secondary effects of hearing disabilities need to be understood as physical limitations rather than as mental or intellectual weaknesses. The person’s clarity of speech can vary, depending on the age at which the hearing loss occurred. Sometimes a person who has no hearing may still choose to speak and lip read.
Hard Of hearing
Persons who are hard of hearing may rely on visual cues and the use of assistive listening devices, although adaptations vary with each individual. Some hard of hearing persons, particularly those with hearing loss from early childhood, may have speech and language irregularities or difficulties.
Many factors can contribute to a student’s inability to use residual hearing. For example, a student who has no difficulty functioning in a quiet environment may have difficulty in a room in which there is ambient noise (e.g., a hum produced by an air system or an overhead projector), in a room that has poor acoustics (e.g., a room that has a bank of windows that cause sound to reverberate), or in following conversation when more than one person is speaking (such as in a seminar course). Level of fatigue may also dramatically alter a person’s ability to discriminate language.
Assistive listening devices
Many hard of hearing persons use one or two hearing aids that help to amplify sound. In addition, many persons use an assistive listening device that blocks out background noise. There are several types of such systems, each consisting of a transmitter and a receiver. As an instructor, your cooperation in wearing the transmitter, when necessary, will assist the hard of hearing student to participate in the classroom.
To allow students to concentrate on information presented orally or visually, some persons with hearing loss, and all Deaf students, may need supplemental note-taking. Your assistance will be of help in finding appropriate volunteer note-takers. An Advisor from the Accessibility Services will advise instructors if note-takers are required and will provide guidance on how to arrange for the note-taking accommodation.
Interpreters belong to a professional occupational group bound by a Code of Ethics. They are trained to provide Sign Language interpretation services for communication between Deaf and hearing persons. Some interpreters also do oral interpreting. Visual and verbal communication by instructors and students should be directed to the Deaf or hard of hearing person, not to the interpreter. While initially attention may be drawn to the interpreter in a group situation, the interpreter’s role soon becomes accepted as an integral part of the communication process between Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people.
Transcribers are hearing persons who use a laptop with specialized software to type, at speech rate, what is said in class into text, which can be read by the student on a second laptop. The text is saved and provided to the student in “meaning-for-meaning” format which reduces the size of the transcripts. The transcriber and the student do not have to be sitting near each other.
Suggested instructional strategies and accommodations
- Reserve a front-row seat for the student. If an interpreter is necessary, the student should be positioned in such a way as to see both the instructor and the interpreter.
- Insure that you have the person’s attention before speaking. If not, tap the person’s shoulder or arm, or wave your hand gently.
- Maintain eye contact with the person. Do not turn away in the middle of a sentence.
- Re-phrase a word or sentence if not understood the first time, rather than repeating the same words.
- Speak normally without ‘over-enunciating’ or speaking loudly unless the circumstances require it. If you tend to speak quickly, try to moderate your pace.
- Avoid communicating when moving, as facial visibility may be reduced and background sounds may be distracting.
- Repeat questions or statements from other students.
- Make available in printed format as much of the lecture material as possible.
- Use a chalkboard or overhead to reinforce spoken presentations as much as possible. Remember that students with hearing loss will likely be relying on visual cues (e.g., lip reading), so do not turn your back and continue talking when using a chalkboard.
- Provide the student with printed class outlines, lecture notes, lists of new technical terms, and transcripts of audio and audio-visual materials whenever possible.
- Do not hesitate to communicate with the student in writing when conveying important information.
- If an Interpreter is needed, make students aware during the first class that lectures will be interpreted during the course.
- The interpreter may request a list of course-related terms before classes begin in order to prepare new signs for use in the course.