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Working with Students with Sensory Disabilities

Deaf or Hard of Hearing


Individuals 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 people who are accustomed to the auditory; however, it is essential that faculty learn to effectively communicate with students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing do not all have the same characteristics. Some have a measure of usable residual hearing and use a device to amplify sounds (FM system). Some choose to speak; others use very little or no oral communication. Some students are extremely 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. Let them be the guide as to how to best communicate.



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

Effective Communication: Don’t talk with your back to the class (for example, when writing on a chalkboard). It destroys any chance of the student getting facial or speech reading cues. Your face and mouth need to be clearly visible at all times. Avoid sitting with your back to the window, chewing gum, biting on a pencil, or other similar obstructions. When communicating with a student who is utilizing an interpreter, look at the student, not the interpreter. The interpreter is there to facilitate communication between you and the student. Direct all your communications to the student as you would with any of your other students.

Videos and Slides: Provide videos and slides with captioning. If captioning is not available, supply an outline or summary of the materials covered. If an interpreter is in the classroom, make sure that he/she is visible.

Class Discussions: 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 getting class notes. When a student is using a sign language interpreter or captioning or lip-reading, it is difficult to take good notes simultaneously.