Tips for Teaching Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

a. Suggestions for teaching students who are deaf or hard of hearing

To communicate effectively with an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing, we suggest the following guidelines:

  • Obtain the student’s attention before speaking. A tap on the shoulder, a wave or another visual signal is usually effective.
  • Clue the individual who is hearing impaired into the topic of discussion. Students who are deaf need to know what subject matter will be discussed in order to pick up words that help them follow the conversation. This is especially important to individuals who depend on oral communication.
  • Speak slowly and clearly; but do not yell, exaggerate, or over pronounce. Exaggeration and overemphasis of words distorts lip movements, making speech reading more difficult. Try to enunciate each word without force or tension. Short sentences are easier to understand than long ones.
  • Look directly at the student when speaking. Even a slight turn of your head can obscure their ability to see your lips.
  • Do not place anything in your mouth when speaking. Mustaches that obscure the lips, smoking, pencil chewing, and putting your hands in front of your face all make it difficult for students who are deaf to follow what is being said.
  • Maintain eye contact with the student. Eye contact conveys the feeling of direct communication. Even if a sign language interpreter is present, continue to speak directly to individual who is deaf. He/she will turn to the interpreter as needed.
  • Avoid standing in front of a light source such as a window or bright light. The bright background and shadows created on the face make it almost impossible to speech read.
  • If the student indicates that they did not understand you, first repeat and then try to rephrase a thought rather than repeating the same words. If the person only missed one or two words the first time, one repetition will usually help. Particular combinations of lip movements sometimes are difficult for individuals who are hearing impaired to speech read. Do not be embarrassed to communicate by paper and pencil or computer, if necessary. Getting the message across is more important than the method used.
  • Use pantomime, body language and facial expression to help communicate. A lively speaker is always more interesting to watch.
  • Be courteous to the individual who is deaf during conversation. If the telephone rings or some one knocks at the door, excuse yourself and tell the student that you are answering the phone or responding to the knock.
  • Use open-ended questions that must be answered by more than "yes" or "no." Do not assume that a student who is hearing impaired has understood your message if the student’s response is a nod of acknowledgement. Open-ended questions ensure that your information has been communicated.
  • Seat the student to his/her best advantage. This usually means a seat opposite the speaker so the person with the hearing impairment can see the speaker's lips. The speaker should be illuminated clearly, so be aware of the room's lighting.
  • Provide new vocabulary in advance. It is difficult, if not impossible, to speech read or read finger spelling of unfamiliar vocabulary. If new vocabulary cannot be presented in advance, write the terms on paper or a chalkboard, or use an overhead projector. If a lecture or film is to be presented, a brief outline or script given to the student and interpreter in advance helps them in following the presentation.
  • Avoid unnecessary pacing and speaking when writing on a chalkboard. It is difficult to speech read a person in motion and impossible to speech read one whose back is turned. Write or draw on the board, then face the group and explain the work. If you use an overhead projector, do not look down while speaking.
  • Make sure the student does not miss vital information. Write out any changes in meeting times, special assignments, additional readings or additional information. Allow extra time when referring to manuals or texts since the person with the hearing impairment must look at what has been written and then return his or her attention to the speaker.
  • Slow down the pace of communication slightly to facilitate understanding. Many lecturers talk too fast. Allow extra time for the student to ask or answer questions.
  • Repeat questions or statements made from the back of the room. Remember that students with hearing impairments are cut off from whatever happens outside their visual area.

b. Working with a Sign Language Interpreter

It may be helpful for you to become familiar with the following guidelines if a student uses an interpreter for your class.

  • Speak directly to the individual with the hearing impairment, not the sign language interpreter. The interpreter is not part of the conversation and is not permitted by professional ethics to voice personal opinions or enter the conversation. Face the student with the hearing impairment and speak directly to him/her in a normal manner. Do not make comments to the interpreter that you do not mean to be interpreted to the student, even if the student's back is turned. The interpreter is there to provide a service and to accurately provide direct translation.
  • Remember that the interpreter is a few words behind the speaker. Give the interpreter time to finish before you ask questions so that the student can ask questions or join in the discussion.
  • Provide good lighting for the interpreter. Any time a presentation requires darkening the room to view slides, videotapes or films, auxiliary lighting is necessary so that the student with the hearing impairment can see the interpreter. If a small lamp or spotlight cannot be obtained, check to see if room lights can be dimmed, still providing enough light to see the interpreter.
  • Allow only one person to speak at a time during group discussions. It is difficult for an interpreter to follow several people speaking at once. Ask for a brief pause between speakers to permit the interpreter to finish before the next speaker starts.
  • Speak clearly and in a normal tone when using an interpreter. Do not rush through a lecture. The interpreter or the student who is deaf may ask the speaker to slow down or repeat a word or sentence for clarification.
  • Allow time for students to study handouts, charts or transparencies. A student who is deaf cannot watch the interpreter and study written information at the same time.
  • When facilitating discussions, call on individual speakers rather than waiting for people to speak up. Because the interpreter needs to be a few words behind, students who are deaf do not always have an opportunity to become involved in discussions. Also, these individuals sometimes do not realize that other people are starting to speak; often their contributions are passed over.

c. American Sign Language

Many people see deafness as just a loss of hearing. However, it is more complicated and creates unique problems at the university level. Most people who were born deaf or lost their hearing before age two have never heard English. The communication language used by most students who are hearing impaired in the United States is called American Sign Language (ASL). This language has it own syntax and grammar. Having never heard it, English is very difficult for most students who are deaf to master. Most individuals that are deaf have some hearing capabilities called residual hearing. Listening and understanding speech vary with each individual’s residual hearing capability. It is important to understand that students may need to use speech reading (lip reading), utilize hearing aids and require interpreter or real time captioning services to make it through their curriculum. Since only 25% of all speech is visible on the lips and English has never been heard, speech reading alone will not meet the student’s needs. Moreover, a hearing aid amplifies all sounds, so unless there is an ability to differentiate between speech and background noise, the hearing aid will not meet the student’s “hearing” needs. Having never heard English creates difficulty with speech. It takes practice to understand the speech of a person who is totally deaf since there appear to be no discernible consonants. The most important point is that there is no correlation between a student that is hearing impaired or deaf and a person’s speech abilities and intelligence.