Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The causes and degrees of hearing loss vary across the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, as do methods of communication and attitudes toward Deafness.

Types of Hearing Loss

In general, there are three types of hearing loss: conductive loss, sensorineural loss, and mixed loss.

  • Conductive loss affects the sound-conducting paths of the outer and middle ear. The degree of loss can be decreased through the use of a hearing aid or by surgery. People with conductive loss might speak softly, hear better in noisy surroundings than people with normal hearing, and might experience ringing in their ears.
  • Sensorineural loss affects the inner ear and the auditory nerve and can range from mild to profound. People with sensorineural loss might speak loudly, experience greater high-frequency loss, have difficulty distinguishing consonant sounds, and not hear well in noisy environments.
  • Mixed loss results from both a conductive and sensorineural loss.

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Some Considerations

  • Given the close relationship between oral language and hearing, students with hearing loss might also have speech impediments. One's age at the time of the loss determines whether one is prelingually Deaf (hearing loss before oral language acquisition) or adventitiously or postlingually Deaf (hearing loss after oral language acquisition). Those born Deaf or who become Deaf as very young children might have more limited speech development. The inability to hear or process language quickly does not affect an individual's intelligence or the physical ability to produce sounds.
  • Some students who are Deaf are skilled lip-readers, but many are not. Many speech sounds have identical mouth movements which can make lip-reading particularly difficult. For example "p," "b," and "m" look exactly alike on the lips, and many sounds (vowels, for instance) are produced without using clearly differentiated lip movements.
  • Make sure you have the visual attention of a student who is Deaf before speaking directly to him/her. A light touch on the shoulder, a wave, or other visual signals may be helpful.
  • Look directly at a person with a hearing loss during a conversation, even when an interpreter is present. Speak clearly, without shouting. If you have problems being understood, rephrase your thoughts. Writing is also a good way to clarify.
  • Make sure that your face is clearly visible. Keep your hands away from your face and mouth while speaking. Sitting with your back to a window, gum chewing, pencil biting, mustaches, and similar obstructions of the lips can also interfere with the effectiveness of communication.
  • Common accommodations for students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing include using American Sign Language (ASL), interpreters, assistive listening devices, volume control telephones, signaling devices, (e.g., a flashing light to alert individuals to a door knock or telephone ring), priority registration, notetakers, captioned videos, and time extensions for assignments and exams.

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Modes of Communication

Just as users of spoken language are not fluent in all oral languages, not all students with a hearing loss are fluent users of all of the communication modes used across the Deaf community. For example, not all students who are Deaf can read lips. Many use American Sign Language, a natural, visual language having its own syntax and grammatical structure. But there are several types of sign language systems that people in the Deaf community might use:

  • Cued Speech is a method of communication in which the mouth movements of speech are combined with a system of hand movements to facilitate understanding and use by people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. 
  • Tactile Sign Language is used by individuals with both hearing and vision disabilities. The Deaf-Blind individual places their hands over the signer's hands while they sign. 
  • Signed Exact English (SEE) is a manual system which utilizes English syntax and grammar.
  • Fingerspelling is the use of the manual alphabet to form words.
  • Pidgin Sign English (PSE) combines aspects of ASL and English and is used in educational situations often combined with speech.

American Sign Language (ASL) is not universal. Nearly every spoken language has an accompanying sign language. This means Spanish Sign Language (SSL) Korean Sign Language (KSL), British Sign Language (BSL) are different. 

ASL interpreters will attempt to interpret all information in a given situation, including instructors' comments, class discussion, and pertinent environmental sounds.  

For students who have a documented profound hearing loss or Deafness and for University-sponsored events that require an interpreter, DRES will schedule qualified sign language interpreters or TypeWell/CART services.

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Instructional Strategies

  • Invite students to self-identify on the first day of class by making a public statement such as: "Please contact me to request disability accommodations."
  • Include a disability access statement in the course syllabus such as: "To obtain disability-related academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids, students with disabilities must contact the course instructor and the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) as soon as possible. To contact DRES you may visit 1207 S. Oak St., Champaign, call 333-4603 or e-mail
  • Circular seating arrangements offer students who are deaf or hard of hearing the best advantage for seeing all class participants.
  • When desks are arranged in rows, keep front seats open for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their interpreters.
  • Repeat the comments and questions of other students, especially those from the back rows. Acknowledge who has made the comment so students who are deaf or hard of hearing can focus on the speaker.
  • When appropriate, ask for a hearing volunteer to team up with a student who is deaf or hard of hearing for in-class assignments. Assist the student in finding effective notetakers from the class (see Note Taking Services).
  • If possible, provide transcripts of audio information.
  • Allow several moments extra for oral responses in class discussions.
  • In small group discussions, allow for participation by students with hearing impairments.
  • Face the class while speaking; if an interpreter is present, make sure the student can see both you and the interpreter (see Interpreting/CART).
  • If there is a break in the class, get the attention of the student who is deaf or hard of hearing before resuming class.
  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing often use vision as a primary means of receiving information. Captioned videos, overheads, diagrams, and other visual aids are useful instructional tools for students with hearing impairments.
  • Be flexible: allow a student who is deaf to work with audiovisual material independently and for a longer period of time.
  • When in doubt about how to assist the student who is deaf or hard of hearing, ask him or her as privately as possible without drawing attention to the student or the disability.
  • Allow the student who is deaf or hard of hearing the same anonymity as other students (i.e., avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class).

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