Teaching Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Provided by UMA Department of Learning Success


Students who are deaf or hard of hearing receive audio information in various ways: through speechreading, through an interpreter, through an assistive listening device (ALD), real-time captioning, C-Print ® or a similar system of speech to print transcription. 
In a face-to-face interaction, most students who are deaf or hard of hearing depend on their vision to either speechread the teacher or to watch an interpreter, so the physical aspects of the classroom become very important.
  • Standing in front of a light source puts your face in a shadow, making it very difficult to speechread you.
  • Try to avoid speaking any time the student can’t see your face, such as when you write on the board or walk around the room.
  • When using any type of technology, position yourself so the equipment will not block your face.
  • If a PA microphone is used in a large classroom, keep the microphone below the mouth to facilitate speechreading.
  • Use visual aids whenever possible.
  • When referring to items on the board, be specific about the word, phrase or image you’re making reference to by pointing directly to it.
  • When showing a video to the class, make sure it is captioned and that the television has a decoder.  Videos may be open captioned (always visible) or closed captioned (visible only when a decoder reveals them).
  • For small classrooms, arrange desks in a semicircle.
  • If that is not possible, the deaf or hard of hearing student may want to sit in front and to the side to better see you, the interpreter, and the rest of the class.
  • Be aware of noise level. Hard of hearing students, whether or not they are using an assistive listening device, may be very sensitive to environmental (background) sounds, which tend to ‘mask’ speech. Background noise should be kept to a minimum.

Assistive Listening Devices  (ALDs)

Many students who use hearing aids effectively in quiet environments have a difficult time following information presented in a classroom setting. In the classroom, the instructor’s voice is competing with background noise, room echo, and distance. Most Assistive Listening Device systems use a microphone/transmitter positioned close to the instructor’s mouth to send the instructor’s voice to the receiver worn by the student.  An ALD can provide clear sound over distances, eliminate echoes, and reduce background noise.

ASL (American Sign Language)

ASL is a visual language with its own rules for syntax and grammar unrelated to English. Extracting meaning from an English sentence is solely dependent on word order (syntax), thus making it a linear language. ASL is three-dimensional using space in conjunction with signs to convey meaning. There are many linguistic differences between English and ASL. As you evaluate your students’ work, keep in mind that students whose primary language is ASL may unwittingly follow some of the linguistic characteristics of that language when writing in English. 
It has been said that students who communicate through ASL read and write English as a foreign or second language. That is true, in that many times English is their second acquired language.  However, individuals who are deaf and communicate through ASL do not mentally process language in the same manner as do “second language” students. Deaf students who rely primarily on visual modalities to gain information (i.e. ASL) process this data in a different hemisphere of the brain than the hemisphere for the spoken word. Even the written form of a spoken language is based on sound.  Unlike other “second language” students, the student who is deaf must adapt to a different way of processing language when using English (both written and spoken). 
Note that many students who are legally deaf can speak and carry on a conversation with you one-on-one, but will use ASL in a classroom setting.

Working with Interpreters

An interpreter is someone who facilitates communication and conveys all auditory and signed information so that both hearing and deaf individuals may fully interact. 
Interpreters who work between English and ASL not only interpret the communication, but they also serve as cultural mediators. The interpreter understands the cultural variances between hearing culture and deaf culture, and works to make your interactions go smoothly.
When working with an interpreter, remember:
  • Look at the deaf or hard of hearing person, not the interpreter, when talking.
  • Speak directly to the deaf or hard of hearing person, using first person speech. 
  • Don’t stand in the student’s line of sight to the interpreter, or information on the board or screen.
  • The interpreter is there to facilitate communication. Don’t ask him or her to proctor a test or pass out papers, as this makes it impossible to interpret at the same time.
  • Avoid private conversations with the interpreter or others in the presence of deaf persons, as everything you say will be interpreted.
  • Speak naturally at a reasonable, moderate pace – the interpreter will let you know if you need to speak more slowly.  Also, be aware that the interpreter will lag behind you a few words in order to hear a complete thought before signing it.
  • For most classes, interpreters work in teams. Interpreting is taxing, both mentally and physically.  Without adequate breaks, an interpreter could develop a repetitive motion injury, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. 
  • The interpreter will usually stand or sit near the teacher. The student then has the option of viewing both you, the interpreter, and any visual aids at any time.
  • If you know a student uses an interpreter and you want to catch him or her in the hall but do not see the interpreter, communicating with written notes is usually feasible.  For lengthier discussion, schedule an appointment time with the student when an interpreter can be arranged.

Teaching Strategies to Consider

  • If working with an interpreter, when new material is to be covered which involves technical terminology not in common usage, supply a list of these words or terms in advance to the student and interpreter. Unfamiliar words are difficult to interpret.
  • Most students will require a note taker during class time, since it is not possible to take accurate notes while visually following an interpreter or trying to speechread the teacher. 
  • Students who use interpreters are receiving the information several seconds after the rest of the class. Allow enough time for the student to get the information from the interpreter before calling on someone. When asking the class to respond, have them raise their hands, rather than just shout out the answer. This will allow the deaf or hard of hearing student to participate.
  • Don’t talk to the class at the same time you’re having them read something.
  • When reading aloud, read at a pace that the deaf or hard of hearing student and interpreter can keep up with you and the rest of the class.
  • Repeat questions from the class before responding. Remember, a student using an ALD hears only what comes from the microphone, thus missing anything else spoken.
  • Remember deaf and hard of hearing students rely on visual cues such as body language and expressions to gather information.
  • Teach idioms. Many times, deaf and hard of hearing students have difficulty with idiomatic expressions because of the linguistic differences between English and ASL. Idioms don’t translate well, and therefore may not be understood by the student.


Captioning and CART

Individuals who do not use ASL need verbal or audio communication converted to print.  The University does not have an in-house process to do this.  If the conversion needs to be in real time, such as in a classroom lecture, Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) would be arranged.  CART involves a person using equipment similar to a court recorder who types what is being spoken, and the words appear on a computer screen in front of the student.  The transcriptionist may be in the same location as the student, or may be connected via technology from a distant location.
Captioning is used when text will be embedded in video that is viewed asynchronously such as an online course.  The transcription and embedding can be contracted out to a vendor with a 3 to 5 day turn around.  Video such as the recording of an ITV or video-conference broadcast can be captioned using this process.  For your own self-created video for an online course, most of the current video creation tools have the capacity to make captions as you record.  This allows the highest level of accuracy since you know the names and terminology in your field better than a 3rd party vendor.
If you use commercially available video, newer resources may have captioning built in but it is unlikely with older material.  YouTube video may have been captioned, but the accuracy is usually poor bordering on useless.  The best approach is to identify resources that have high quality captioning built in.


If you have questions about teaching a student who is deaf or hard of hearing, contact Don Osier, Director of Learning Success.  Other faculty who have worked with hearing impaired students may also provide useful perspective.  If your questions relate to course design or technology, the Instructional Design staff should be able to assist you.  Library staff can assist with locating captioned video resources.  
High quality course accessibility takes planning and time.  Done well, it benefits all students regardless of learning style, preference or challenge.