Disability Services for Students

302 Memorial Union Univeristy of Rhode Island Kingston, RI 02881


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Hearing Disabilities

(Includes definition, how disability affects participation, and helpful strategies.)


“The term hearing disability is generally used to describe the entire range of hearing loss, from mild through profound (Greenberg & Kusche, 1989). Two terms, deaf and hard of hearing, are sometimes used to distinguish between levels of hearing impairment” (Human Exceptionality p. 393). Sometimes these terms also denote cultural or communication preferences, such as use of American Sign Language (ASL)/deaf culture or use of speech with the dominant culture as primary communication.

Persons who are deaf, regardless of amplification, primarily use the visual channel for acquiring language and communication.

“A person who is hard of hearing is one who, generally with the use of a hearing aid, has residual hearing sufficient to enable successful processing of linguistic information through audition” (Brill, MacNeil, & Newman, 1986) (Human Exceptionality p. 394).

FM Listening Systems, Hearing Aids, Speech reading and Sign Language interpreters, or transcription specialists may assist hard of hearing and/or deaf students to better understand class presentations. Only 30-40% of spoken English, however, is intelligible when relying solely on speech reading (lipreading).

How hearing disabilities may affect student participation:

With appropriate auditory aids, deaf and hard of hearing students can be as effective and capable as their hearing peers.

In cases where a student is using an interpreter, there may be a 1-2 second (translating) delay in receiving the message; as a result, student responses may appear delayed.

If students were prelingually deaf or hard-of-hearing, the syntax of spoken or written language may be different from that of peers. There may be a range of impact, from little or no effect, or the effect may be significant.

Students may appear to use the visual channel heavily; students may do little or no writing during a lecture which is received visually.

A student who is deaf or hard of hearing may have reduced auditory feedback when speaking so that speech may be different from that of peers. There is great individual variation: there may be little or no effect or speech may be clearly impacted.

Helpful strategies for instructing students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing:

Assume that the student has adequate social skills and can be as effective and confident as his/her peers.

Whenever possible, allow the student to see your face and gestures during the lecture. Anything said while facing away from the student may be lost.

Try to avoid lecturing in front of bright windows as they tend to be a distraction to visual communication.

Use of visual aids during the lecture is very important.

Always ensure that audio-visual materials, such as films or DVDs are closed-captioned.  If the material is not captioned, it should not be used for that course in which a deaf or hard-of-hearing student is enrolled.  Transcripts of the DVD or film are acceptable but are much less effective than captions.

Help students to follow lectures with three steps:>preview>lecture>review.

Include deaf or hard-of-hearing students in classroom discussion by repeating questions from other students, particularly if you are using the microphone of a FM assistive listening system (by which only your voice is audible, not the voices of the other students).

Avoid placing obstructions in front of your mouth (e.g., hands, notes) when speaking with a student who is hard-of-hearing or deaf.

Never hesitate to ask students to repeat themselves if you are having difficulty understanding their speech. In some instances, you may even request that they write their comments down to facilitate a clear understanding. Accurate communication is important.

During group conversations or seminar classes, all participants should raise hands and be called on to speak. In this way, the student with the hearing loss can identify the speaker in order to focus their speech reading and listening.

Speak directly to the student in a normal voice, look at the student when you speak, and enunciate clearly. Do not speak loudly or over-enunciate.

When using an interpreter, it is helpful to speak at a normal rate (about 120 words per minute); very rapid speech can be difficult to interpret.

When using an interpreter, speak directly to the class or student. The student will watch the interpreter while you speak. If the student asks a question (directly or through the interpreter), it is helpful to respond directly to the student or class, as though the interpreter were not present.

If you are unsure of the students’ needs, feel free to ask them about their particular needs for participation. This should be a private discussion.

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