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Working with a Student who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing

Hearing Impairments

The causes and degree of hearing loss vary across the deaf and hard of hearing (HOH) community, as do methods of communication and attitudes towards deafness.

Given the close relationship between oral language and hearing, students with hearing loss might also have speech impairments. One’s age at the time of loss determines whether one is prelingually deaf (hearing loss before oral language acquisition) or adventitiously deaf (normal hearing during language acquisition).  Those born deaf or who become deaf as a very young child might have more limited speech development.  Because the basic form of communication of the deaf community is sign language, many persons who are deaf have not mastered the grammatical fine points of their “second” language – English.  This certainly does not indicate a lack of intelligence. Most individuals who are deaf do learn English usage, but they may find it easier to communicate in their native language.


  • The inability to hear does not affect an individual’s native intelligence or the physical ability to produce sounds.
  • Some students who are deaf are skilled lip readers, but many are not. Many speech sounds have identical mouth movements, which can make lip reading particularly difficult.  For example, “p”, “b” and “m” look exactly alike on the lips and many sounds (vowels for example) are produced without using clearly differentiated lip movements.
  • Make sure you have the attention of a student who is deaf before speaking. A light touch on the shoulder, a wave or other visual signal will help.
  • Look directly at a person with a hearing loss during a conversation, even when an interpreter is present. Speak clearly, without shouting.  If you have problems being understood, rephrase your thoughts.  Writing is a good way to clarify.
  • Make sure that your face is clearly visible. Keep your hands away from your face and mouth while speaking.  Sitting with your back to a window, chewing gum, cigarette smoking, pencil biting and similar obstructions of the lips can also interfere with the effectiveness of communication. 
  • Common accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing include sign language or oral interpreters, assistive listening devices, TTY’s volume control telephones, signaling devices, priority registration, early syllabus, note takers and captions for films and videos.
  • Maintain eye contact. If you turn away from a person who is deaf, hold your conversation until eye contact is re-established.
  • Use facial expressions and gestures to help clarify your message. Pointing to appropriate objects or using visual aids can also be very helpful.
  • If you are in a group situation, only one person should be talking at a time.

Mode of Communication

Not all students who are deaf are fluent users of all the communication modes used across the deaf community, just as users of the spoken language are not fluent in all oral languages.  For example, not all students who are deaf lip read; many use sign language, but here are several types of sign language systems.  American Sign Language (ASL) is a natural, visual language having its own syntax and grammatical structure. 

Instructional Strategies

The following strategies are suggested in order to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials and activities.  They are general strategies designed to support individualized reasonable accommodations.

  • Circular seating arrangements offer students who are deaf/HOH the best advantage for seeing all class participants.
  • When desks are arranged in rows, keep front seats open for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their interpreters.
  • When appropriate, ask for a hearing volunteer to team up with a deaf student for in-class assignments.
  • If possible, provide transcripts of audio information.
  • Face the class while speaking; if an interpreter is present, make sure the student can see both you and the interpreter.
  • If there is a break in class, get the attention of the student who is deaf before resuming class.
  • Because visual information is a primary means of receiving information for this population, films, overheads, diagrams, and other visual aids are useful instructional tools.
  • Be flexible: allow a student who is deaf to work with audiovisual material independently and for a longer period of time.
  • When in doubt about how to assist the student, just ask.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students; avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class.

Guidelines for Working with Interpreters

Interpreters are bound by the code of ethics development by the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, which specifies that interpreters are to serve as communication intermediaries who are not otherwise involved.  Thus, when an interpreter is present, speak directly to the person who is deaf rather than to the interpreter and avoid using phrases such as “tell them” or “ask her”.

  • Relax and talk normally, noting that there may be a lag time between the spoken message and the interpretation. Interpreters listen for concepts and ideas, not just words, to render an accurate interpretation.
  • When referring to objects or written information, allow time for the translation to take place. Replace terms such as “here” and “there” with more specific terms such as “on the second line” or “in the left corner”. 
  • Be aware of the fact that the student who is deaf cannot read or write at the same time the instructor is talking, since their eyes cannot be watching the interpreter and looking down at the paper or book.
  • Reminder: If videos are shown, they must be closed-captioned. Interpreting a video is a major challenge to both the interpreter and the student.

Last Modified: 4/26/23 3:13 PM | Website Feedback