Success for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

What is Hearing Impairment

Hearing Impairment is a broad term that refers to hearing losses of varying degrees from hard-of- hearing to total deafness. Students with a hearing impairment may be hard to recognize in the classroom. They may use hearing aids, lip-read, sign language or a combination of these three. The two major challenges facing students with hearing impairments are communication and discrimination. Students with hearing impairments vary widely in their skill level and methodology of communication. The most frequently used method at Saginaw Valley State University is a combination of lipreading and residual hearing, which is often amplified by hearing aids. Hearing impaired refers to any person with any type of degree of hearing loss. Deaf refers to individuals with nonfunctional hearing. In most cases their English skills will be deficient. Hard of hearing is used to define a hearing impaired person whose sense of hearing, although defective, is functional and whose language skills will be developed through an auditory base.

LIPREADING Not all students with hearing impairments can read lips (speech reading). This is a difficult skill to master and only a partial solution. Experts estimate that only about 30-40% of spoken English is distinguishable on the lips under the most favorable conditions.

SPEECH Many students with hearing impairments can and do speak. They have normal speech organs and have learned to use them through speech therapy. Most cannot monitor or automatically control the tone and volume of their speech, so it may be initially difficult to understand. Understanding improves as one becomes more familiar with the student's speech pattern.

MANUAL COMMUNICATION Students who use manual communication skills will have an interpreter in the classroom. American Sign Language (ASL) is the most common language used for students at Saginaw Valley State University. In ASL, thoughts are expressed through a combination of hand and arm movements, positions, and gestures. The intensity and repetition of the movements and facial expressions are also important elements of manual communication. Faculty should be aware that ASL is not the exact equivalent of the English language. It is a concept-based shorthand method; its syntax is quite different from English. As a result, many deaf students have not mastered the grammatical subtleties of English, which is their second language.

RESIDUAL HEARING Some students with residual hearing will rely on this for cues such as who is talking and with what kind of intensity, however, information is not received auditorial (this comes from lipreading or manual communication). Hearing aids can amplify sounds which may or may not be within the speech range. An individual's amount of residual hearing does not determine their speech capability; it is possible for a totally deaf person to have excellent speech.


  • An estimated 15 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. Two million five thousand are congenitally deaf or lost their hearing before age five.
  • Very few people are totally deaf.
  • A hearing aid does not correct a hearing loss like the glasses correct vision problems. Most deaf persons have sensory neural hearing losses and the clarity of speech is affected. The hearing aid does not make speech more clear; it merely amplifies the sound.
  • Deaf students, just like hearing students, vary to some degree in their communication skills.
  • A deaf student's English skills are not related to intelligence. Problems are similar to those experienced by other students, for whom English is a second language.

Students with Hearing Impairments Should...

  • Provide the Office of Disability Services (Curtiss 112) with current documentation and schedule an initial interview.  Course schedules need to be turned in each semester requesting specific accommodations.  At least 6 weeks notice is needed for contracted services, such as interpreters or real time caption.
  • Introduce yourself and inform the instructor before class begins what accommodations you will be using.
  • Remind the instructor to recruit a volunteer note taker on the first day of class unless you plan on finding one yourself  be sure to pick up your NCR note taking paper from the Office of Disability Services prior to class.
  • Sit toward the front of the classroom to maximize eye contact and reduce distractions. 
  • Do not be afraid to ask the instructor to repeat or rephrase questions from other students or any information you feel you may have missed.
  • Study new vocabulary and technical terms before class.

Tips for Faculty

  • Provide a detailed syllabus and lecture outlines to aid the hearing impaired student in your class.
  • Write technical terms on the chalkboard as they are introduced because new words may be difficult to lip read initially.
  • Hearing impaired students are very sensitive to room acoustics and background noise. Eliminate extraneous noises by closing doors and windows and asking students to refrain from talking during lecture.
  • Try a circular arrangement in a small discussion session. This will aid in lip reading.
  • Do not hesitate to ask the hearing impaired student to repeat statements until the communication is complete. It may be necessary to use pen and paper.
  • It is necessary for the hearing impaired student who lip reads to see the instructor's face. Beards and mustaches which are not trimmed away from the mouth may make it difficult to read lips, and the student may miss more of the communication.
  • Students may not be familiar with idioms and colloquial expressions. Also, they may not be able to tell when someone is "just joking".
  • If necessary, assist student in finding a volunteer note taker the first day of class. Paper will be provided.
  • It is important to speak clearly, audibly, expressively and sometimes slightly slower than normal, especially if the hearing impaired student is utilizing lip reading.
  • Avoid standing in front of a window or bright light source.
  • Videos, and films need to be captioned or transcripts provided.

Interpreters in the Classroom

  • Treat interpreters as you would other professionals.
  • Speak clearly and in a normal tone of voice.
  • Permit only one person to speak at a time during group discussions.
  • Remember that the interpreter is a few words behind the speaker. Give the interpreter time to finish so that the hearing impaired student can ask questions or participate in discussions.
  • If material is being read, provide the interpreter with a copy.
  • Upon request, provide good lighting for the interpreter. If the room must darken for viewing slides, video-tapes, or films, auxiliary lighting or dimming of the room lights may be necessary so that the hearing impaired students may see the interpreter.
  • Speak directly to the hearing impaired student not to the interpreter.
  • In the absence of an interpreter, questions or comments from the back of the room should be repeated. Hearing impaired students are cut off from what ever happens that is not in their visual area. It is often necessary to know the question in order to fully understand the answer.

Interpreter Code of Ethics

Interpreters are governed by a set of ethical rules established by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Inc. The rules include:

  1. Professionalism
  2. Impartiality
  3. Confidentiality

Interpreter Responsibilities in the Classroom

  • The interpreter will transmit information between hearing impaired students and hearing persons quickly and accurately.
  • The interpreter will sit in a position where the instructor can be heard and the hearing impaired students can watch both the interpreter and the instructor.
  • The interpreter will assess and adjust to the hearing impaired person's language level and mode of communication.
  • The interpreter will sign to voice interpret for the hearing impaired student.
  • The interpreter will use effective ways to convey subtleties, nuances, innuendos, and other non- verbal communication through the use of body language and facial expression.
  • The interpreter will determine the necessity of inclusion of peripheral sound and other modifications which apply to communication in the classroom.
  • The interpreter will speak in the first person when voicing for the deaf person.
  • The interpreter is not responsible for the student's academics or social problems that arise in the classroom.