Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Hearing impairment is a broad term that refers to varying degrees of hearing loss from partial to total deafness. Age of onset plays a crucial role in the development of language; persons with prelingual hearing loss often have weaker oral communication skills than those whose loss occurred after speech development. Many students with hearing disabilities use a variety of communication methods, including: lipreading, amplification, American Sign Language (ASL) and Computer Assisted Real Time Captioning (CART).

Lipreading, experts say, can only make 30 to 40 percent of spoken English distinguishable under the most favorable conditions. Students with severe hearing loss (needing over 90 dB of amplification to hear “normally”) often cannot benefit much using hearing aids. These students may use ASL to communicate more effectively.

American Sign Language (ASL) uses hand shapes, positions, movements, facial expressions and body movements to convey meaning. ASL uses an alphabet (finger spelling), signs representing ideas and gestures. ASL is an independent language that has its own grammar and syntax; it is not simply a manual version of English. Sign languages vary from country to country in exactly the same way that spoken languages vary from country to country. (Source:

Students who communicate with speech and lipreading, as opposed to communicating manually with ASL, are referred to as “oral.” Students with manual communication skills may use interpreters with them in class; oral interpreters “mouth” what is being said, and manual interpreters use sign language. The two methods are often combined. At first the interpreter may seem a distraction, but this soon wanes as the professor and the class get accustomed to the interpreter’s presence. Some students with hearing loss may have enough residual hearing to benefit from personal FM transmitter/receiver units to which professors again can quickly adjust.

Suggested Modifications and Accommodations

  • Students who are hard of hearing often require front row seating to ensure an unobstructed view of the professor.
  • When an interpreter is used, speak to the student, not to the interpreter.
  • Speak naturally without exaggerating lip movement or volume.
  • During class discussions, ensure that no more than one person speaks at a time.
  • Repeat questions and remarks made by other students.
  • Use visual media as much as possible in presenting course-related information, including class announcements and schedule changes.
  • Avoid giving information while handing out papers or writing on a chalkboard.
  • Use captioned videos whenever possible. When showing uncaptioned videos, slides, or movies provide an outline or summary in advance.
  • If the classroom must be darkened, be sure that the student’s interpreter is clearly visible.
  • When reading directly from text, provide an advance copy and pause slightly when interjecting information not in the text.
  • When working with the chalkboard or an overhead projection system, pause briefly so that the student may look first at the board/screen, and then at the interpreter, to see what is being said.
  • When evaluating written material from students with hearing disabilities, take into consideration that their primary language may not be English.
  • Extended time may be necessary for testing.
  • Oral tests can be administered with the aid of an interpreter and/or the Center for Students with Disabilities.

For additional information, please refer to the following resource:

PEPNet-Northeast – based at the Rochester Institute of Technology, home of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, is one of four regional centers funded by the Department of Education. The mission of the PEPNet-Northeast is to assist secondary and postsecondary institutions to improve educational access and enhance educational opportunities for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Please visit: for additional information.