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Hearing Impairments


Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing experience a reduction in sensitivity to sound. Amplifications may not assist the individual in interpreting auditory stimuli. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing from birth may experience lags in the development of speech and most often have language-based deficiencies. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing rely upon visual input rather than auditory input when communicating. Using visual aspects of communication (body language, gestures, and facial expression) often feels awkward to those of us who are accustomed to auditory input; but it is essential for effective communication with students who have hearing impairments.

The characteristics of students who are deaf or hard of hearing vary widely. Some students have a measure of usable residual hearing and use a device to amplify sounds (such as an FM system). Some choose to speak; others use very little or no oral communication. Some students are adept at speech reading, while others have very limited ability to “read lips.” For some, sign language and/or finger spelling are the preferred means of communication; other communication choices include gestures and writing. Most students who are deaf or hard of hearing have experience communicating with the hearing population, and it is important to allow them to guide you on the best way to communicate.

Possible Characteristics

  • May be a skilled lip reader (only 30 to 40 percent of spoken English is distinguishable on the mouth and lips under the best of conditions)
  • May have difficulty with speech, reading, and writing skills due to the close relationship between language development and hearing
  • May use hearing aids and/or amplification systems to enhance oral communication
  • May be members of a distinct linguistic and cultural group; as a cultural group, they may have their own values, social norms and traditions
  • May use American Sign Language as their first language, with English as their second language


Gaining Attention: Be sure to have a deaf student’s attention before speaking. A light touch on the shoulder, a wave, or another visual signal will help.

Preferential Seating: Offer the student preferential seating near the front of the classroom so he/she can get as much from visual and auditory clues as possible, and can clearly see a sign language interpreter if one is used.

Effective Communication: Where possible, avoid talking with your back to the class, sitting with your back to a window, chewing gum, or otherwise blocking facial or speech reading cues. Speak and enunciate clearly and normally. Provide written information as much as possible.

Videos and Audiovisual Media: Insure that course media is captioned. For guidance on securing captioned media, or adding captions to your videos, see Access to Course Content; Guidelines for Captioning Audiovisuals on the SDS website under Faculty Information.

Class Discussion: When students make comments in class or ask questions, repeat the questions before answering, or phrase your answers in such a way that the questions are obvious.

Class Notes: Students may need your assistance in obtaining class notes. When a student is looking at a sign language interpreter or speech reading, it is difficult to take good notes.

Sign Language or Captioning Services: When a student uses a sign language interpreter, discuss with the student and the interpreter(s) where the interpreter(s) should be located to provide the greatest benefit. When a student uses a captioning service, discuss with the student and captionist the best location.

Role of Sign Language Interpreters and Captionists: Interpreters and captionists are in the classroom to facilitate communication between the instructor, the deaf or hard of hearing student, and other students in the class. They will not participate in the class, but will voice questions and comments from the deaf student. Always speak directly to the student, even though it may be the interpreter or captionist who responds. After class, the interpreter or captionist may ask you clarifying questions to insure that course information is conveyed accurately.

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