Supporting Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

The barriers to learning for a student with hearing impairments broadly fall within these distinct categories:

Degrees of hearing loss

  • Mild Deafness - A student with mild deafness may experience difficulties when following speech, especially if there is background noise. They may or may not wear a hearing aid.
  • Moderate Deafness - Without a hearing aid, a student with moderate deafness will experience difficulties understanding speech even in quiet conditions.
  • Severe Deafness - A student with severe deafness is likely to rely more on lip-reading. Even with hearing aids they may find it difficult to understand speech. Some individuals with this degree of deafness may use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate.
  • Profound Deafness - A student with profound hearing loss may not experience any benefit from wearing hearing aids. However, if the onset of deafness occurred later in an individual’s life (after language development), English is likely to be their first language and they are therefore likely to use hearing aids and lip-reading to receive information, possibly coupled with some sign language. An individual with acquired deafness is likely to their own voice to interact.

If a student was born deaf (or is pre-lingually deaf), BSL is more likely to be their first language and preferred means of communication. The student will probably access lectures through a BSL interpreter, and may not use their own voice. Some individuals who are profoundly deaf may still prefer to lip-read, and make significant use of this.

Providing appropriate support

Below are some specific examples of some potential adjustments which could be made to overcome barriers to learning encountered by a deaf or hard of hearing student.

Delivery of teaching and learning

  • students will require visual information. Make sure that you are facing the class when speaking, so that your lips can be seen at all times. Use natural lip movements. Make sure the student has a clear view of the interpreter.
  • Context is essential for students who lip-read, so it is important to structure sessions clearly. Use plain English when speaking, and always try to provide glossaries of terminology/write new terms or topics on the board. Check understanding. Always try to incorporate pauses into sessions, so that students have time to assimilate information and respond. Such pauses will also enable interpreters and note-takers to keep up.
  • It may be difficult for the student to easily discern questions or comments from the audience, and so staff should repeat any contributions before responding to them. Hearing aids will amplify all sound equally, not only the speaker´s voice, so it is important to ensure that background noise is kept to a minimum. In some cases, staff may be required to wear a microphone to enable a student to easily discern what is being said, and students should be permitted to record lectures.
  • Where possible, lecture notes and copies of PowerPoint slides should be made available to the student and any support workers at least 24 hours before taught sessions, to enable time for preparation. When working with any written material handouts, staff should to allow the student time to read sections before starting to speak: it is not possible to read and lip-read at the same time. If Audio Visual material is presented in teaching sessions, it may be necessary to subtitle or transcribe it for students with hearing impairments. Please contact the Disability and Dyslexia Support Service if you require help or information.
  • In group work, staff should ensure that only one person speaks at a time and allows time for deaf or hard of hearing students to contribute to discussions. Arrange chairs in a semicircle or circle so that the student can see everyone. Also make provision for the student to sit next their note-taker so they can pick up any missed points of discussion and easily follow changes in subject.
  • When in a practical session staff should bear in mind that a student who lip-reads will be unable to do so whilst continuing with work tasks/observations simultaneously. Therefore, ensure the student can follow both what you are saying and what you are doing.
  • Special provision may need to be made for field trips or placements. The student may cope well in a lecture but may need additional support in the open air or in a noisy workplace. Be prepared to be flexible and discuss possible options with the student well in advance.

Coursework and Assessments

  • Clearly differentiate between primary and secondary reading: deaf and hard of hearing students may have a slow reading speed.
  • Language modification. The student may have difficulty in extracting meaning from text, and thus information may be misinterpreted. When setting coursework, be aware that the student may require the language of exam papers and assignment briefs to be modified – especially if their first language is BSL. As deafness can significantly affect language acquisition, a student´s written work may appear to lack depth and maturity. It may also take them longer to read, understand and retain information, so they may require additional time to complete assignments. Tutors should treat any deadline requests sympathetically.
  • Many adjustments can be made to examinations in order to ensure that deaf or hard of hearing students are not disadvantaged. Adjustments include extra time, reserved seating at the front of the exam room and additional reading time at the start of timed assessments.
  • Deaf students are also given the option of affixing a sticker to any assessed work which they complete. These stickers do not activate differential marking: they are solely intended to indicate to markers that the student could benefit from more detailed formative feedback, highlighting areas which could be improved.

Fire Safety

If unable to hear a fire alarm, the student will require a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) in order to ensure that they can evacuate a building safely in the event of an emergency. The Disability and Dyslexia Support Service also encourages students to carry vibrating pagers that are linked to university fire alarms. Please refer to us if you feel a student requires information or equipment.