Hearing Disabilities

Students with hearing disabilities may experience varying degrees of hearing loss. While some students may be completely deaf, many have some hearing. It is not always obvious that someone has a hearing impairment. Individuals with hearing disabilities may have very clear speech.

Cochlear implants are becoming more common and faciliate hearing for those who have a particular type of hearing loss. The age at which the hearing loss occurs and the cochlear impant is acquired often impacts the effectiveness of the implant. Many students will still require services such as an FM System or CART to effectively receive information in a group setting. 

Students may also use hearing aids. Technology has improved and hearing aids have gotten much smaller and less noticable, but there are still limitations to what they can do . Hearing aids augment sound transmission, but they tend to increase all sounds including background noises.

People who are Deaf or hard of hearing also communicate in a variety of nonspoken ways depending on where they were educated and what type of education they received. The following are some of the ways that Deaf or hard of hearing people communicate:

  • American Sign Language (ASL) - Many people born profoundly Deaf since birth (pre-lingually Deaf) identify with this distinct language and culture. ASL is a rich, yet different language than English, used by Deaf people in the U.S. Students who use ASL rely primarily on a qualified ASL interpreter in the classroom.

  • Various Forms of Signed English - Sign systems exist in which Deaf persons use sign language and mouth movements which follow the syntax of English. Students who use this type of signing will rely on a qualified Signed English Transliterator in the classroom.

  • Cued Speech - Some Deaf people have been educated in a system which uses specific hand signals representing the sounds of the English language. The cues, when used along with lip movements, help a Deaf person to more clearly understand the numerous words which look alike on the lips.

  • Speech Reading - Also known as lip reading, this method is the least precise way of communicating with a Deaf or hard of hearing person. It is estimated that only 30% of words in the English language are understood via speech reading. This method is guess-work at best. When speech reading is used, it is often helpful to have a pen and paper ready to write down words which may be difficult for the student to discern.

  • FM and Infrared Loop Systems - Since hearing aids amplify speech sounds, as well as environmental noises such as noisy air conditioning, the FM System or Infrared Loop System cuts out background noises and allows a hard of hearing person to receive a spoken message sent directly to the hearing aid. Faculty wear a microphone that allows the student to pick up the signal broadcast solely in his or her hearing aid. Although devices such as hearing aids do help, it is important to remember that they still do not represent full hearing acuity.
  • CART (Computer Assisted Real-time Translation) - CART is used by many students and is more commonly used at Brown than sign language interpreters.  Students who have been raised in an oral setting are more likely to have hearing aids or cochlear implants. They also are less likely to know or use sign language. CART provides a real time transcript of spoke words and allows the student to read along as things are said. Typically the student will sit next to the transciptionist and look at a laptop

  • Text Telephones (TTY/TT/TTD) - Text telephones, identified by the acronym TTY (and sometimes TT or TTD), enable Deaf and hard of hearing people to have conversations by typing messages that are sent through the telephone network. A TTY works by converting text messages into a sound-based code that sounds like loud beeps on the telephone line. Another TTY, used by the person being called, then decodes the sounds back into text. TTY's are available at SEAS.

  • Telephone Relay Service (TRS) - Direct telephone conversations can take place only if each party has a TTY. If a user needs to call a number where there is no TTY, then the person typically uses a telephone relay service (TRS). The TRS operator reads the TTY messages from the caller to the person who does not have a TTY, and types that person's spoken messages back to the TTY user. In Rhode Island, call Relay Rhode Island at 866-327-8877 (TTY/voice) for this service.

Deaf or hard of hearing people require a variety of services in the classroom and during special events on campus. These services might include the following:

  • Interpreting Services - Sign Language interpreters are highly trained qualified professionals who have passed National Certification standards and have experience interpreting in a college setting. Interpreters always work with a one-to-several second time lag. Be sure to allow the Deaf student time to receive what is interpreted.

  • Oral Interpreting - Many Deaf and hard of hearing people rely solely on speech reading to receive information in a classroom. Given that classrooms are rarely ideal for speech reading (i.e. the lighting may be inadequate, faculty may often turn to face the board, or the speaker may have facial hair or an accent), professionals are used to clearly mouth everything being said to the student. The interpreter is trained to clarify words that may look similar on the lips and may include some natural gestures if necessary, to ensure comprehension.

  • Cued Speech Transliterators - These professionals have experience cueing in an academic setting. Transliterators, like sign interpreters, often cue with a few seconds time lag as well. Be sure to allow the student enough time to receive the cued information.

  • CART (Computer Aided Real-Time) Reporters - These individuals are trained court stenographers who use a computer program which changes steno into written English using a steno machine and a laptop computer. A Deaf or hard of hearing student will read the lecture verbatim on the laptop as it is being given in class. This service is used primarily if a student does not sign, use cued speech, or have any other way to receive direct first hand information in a classroom.

  • C-Print(tm) Captionists - C-Print(tm) is a computer-aided speech-to-print transcription system. Captionists using this system type the lecture and students' comments into a laptop computer. The typed information is then displayed simultaneously on a second laptop or television monitor for students to read during class. Afterward, the printed text is available to students for review purposes.

  • Note-Taking Services - Given that Deaf and hard of hearing students often must focus on an interpreter, a CART Reporter, etc., it is difficult to simultaneously take quality notes. Therefore, students with a hearing loss will benefit from a printed copy of faculty lecture notes or sue of a peer note taker. They will also require transcripts of pre-recorded materials, including film and videotape soundtracks, if captioning is not available and Sign Language is not appropriate. Every effort should be made to enlist volunteer note-takers in the class.

  • Closed Captioning - Many films and videotapes used as instructional materials in a class may be available in a closed caption version. It is crucial that closed caption versions be used in a class with a Deaf or hard of hearing student. When caption versions are not available, arrangements should be made with the student and with SEAS to have the film/videotape interpreted or transcribed.

Students who are Deaf or hard of hearing are diverse and do not all have similar characteristics. Individuals will employ different methods of communication as detailed above. Regardless of the method used, most students who are Deaf or hard of hearing have experience communicating with the hearing population. Let these students be your guide on how best to communicate with them. To further enhance communication, note that many individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing rely heavily upon visual input when communicating. Learning to use the visual aspects of communication (i.e. body language, gestures, and facial expression) often feels awkward to those who are more accustomed to the auditory; however, it is essential that faculty transcend this feeling and learn to effectively communicate with students who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

It is essential to recognize that English is actually a second language for many students who are Deaf and for some students who are hard of hearing. When grading written assignments and/or essay tests, it is important to know these students should be treated like any ESL student. Emphasis should be placed on accurate and comprehensive content rather than writing styles when appropriate. Students should be encouraged to go to the Writing Center for assistance in writing if necessary.

The following is a list of suggestions for enhancing classroom learning for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Guidelines listed in the "General Procedures" section may also be useful.

  • Make sure you have a Deaf student's attention before speaking. A light touch on the shoulder, a wave, or other visual signal will help.

  • Use visual aids to reinforce spoken presentations when possible. However, do not talk with your back to the class when writing on the blackboard. This removes any chance of the student getting facial or speech reading cues.

  • Make sure that your face is clearly visible at all times. Keep your hands away from your face and mouth while speaking. Sitting with your back to a window, gum chewing, cigarette smoking, pencil biting, and similar obstructions of the lips can interfere with effectiveness of communication. Facial hair that partially or completely obscures the lips will also impede communication with students with hearing disabilities.

  • Be flexible with your language. If a word is not understood, try another word rather than simply repeating yourself or saying it louder.
    * When showing slides, movies, or videos, it is helpful if an outline or summary of the materials to be covered is provided. A closed-caption version of any audiovisual presentation should be used if one is available. If an interpreter is used in the classroom, ensuring that she or he is visible is important.

  • When questions are asked from the class, it would be of great help if the questions are repeated before answering, or phrase the answers in such a way that the questions are obvious. If you have given the student preferential seating so that you can be seen and heard easily, she or he may not be able to see and hear the rest of the class.

  • Beware of giving procedural information while handing out papers. Loss of eye contact may mean loss of information. Make sure such information is clearly understood by the student. Likewise, allow time for reading materials that are passed out before beginning any discussion of those materials.

  • If the student needs to use either Sign Language or oral interpreting services, discuss with the student and the interpreter(s) where it would be best for the interpreter(s) to be located in order to provide the greatest benefit for the student without distracting other class members. Experimenting with different placements may be necessary until the most successful one is found. It is important not to place the interpreter(s) within the path of the instructor because walking in front of the interpreter causes information to be lost.

  • The interpreter is in the classroom only to facilitate communication. She or he should not be asked to run errands, proctor exams, or discuss the student's academic or personal life. The interpreter should not participate in the class in any way and must not express her or his personal opinions at any time.

  • The interpreting process is highly taxing, both mentally and physically. Please plan your lectures with this in mind. For classes longer than an hour, there will be two interpreters in the classroom -- they will provide their own breaks by alternating the interpreter responsibilities.

  • The interpreter is in the classroom to facilitate communication for both the student and the instructor. Speak directly to the student as you would to any other student. Feel free to ask for clarification of what the student has said if it seems unclear by speaking to the student whose clarification will be interpreted to you by the interpreter. Likewise, the interpreter may request clarification from the instructor to ensure accuracy of the information conveyed.