In general, there are three types of hearing 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.
Given the close relationship between oral language and hearing, students with hearing loss might also have speech impairments. One's age at the time of the loss determines whether one is prelingually deaf (hearing loss before oral language acquisition) or adventitiously deaf (normal hearing during language acquisition). Those born deaf or who become deaf as very young children might have more limited speech development.
The inability to hear does not affect an individual's native intelligence or the physical ability to produce sounds.
Some deaf students 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 example) are produced without using clearly differentiated lip movements.
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.
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, cigarette smoking, pencil biting, and similar obstructions of the lips can also interfere with the effectiveness of communication.
Common accommodations for deaf or hard-of-hearing students include:
- Sign language or oral interpreters
- Assistive Listening Devices
- Volume control telephones
- Signaling devices (e.g., a flashing light to alert individuals to a door knock or ringing telephone)
- Priority registration
- Captions for films and videos
- Real-time captioning of lecture material
Modes of Communication
Not all deaf students are fluent users of all of the communication modes used across the deaf community, just as users of spoken language are not fluent in all oral languages. For example, not all deaf students lipread; many use sign language, but there are several types of sign language systems. American Sign Language (ASL) is a natural, visual language having its own syntax and grammatical structure. Finger spelling 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. Nearly every spoken language has an accompanying sign language.
In addition to sign language and lip-reading, deaf students also use sign and oral language interpreters. These are professionals who assist deaf or hard-of-hearing persons with understanding communications not received aurally. Interpreters also assist hearing persons with understanding messages communicated by deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals. Sign language interpreters use highly-developed language and finger spelling skills; oral interpreters silently form words on their lips for speech reading. Interpreters also voice, when requested. Interpreters will translate all information in a given situation including instructor's comments, class discussion, and environmental sounds.
The following strategies are suggested in order to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials, and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized reasonable accommodations.
Circular seating arrangements offer deaf or hard-of-hearing students 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 the deaf or hard- of-hearing student can focus on the speaker.
When appropriate, ask for a hearing volunteer to team up with a deaf or hard-of-hearing student for in-class assignments.
Assist the student with finding an effective notetaker from the class.
If possible, provide transcripts of audio information.
Face the class while speaking; if an interpreter is present, make sure the student can see both you and the interpreter.
If there is a break in the class, get the deaf or hard-of-hearing student's attention before resuming class.
Because visual information is a deaf student's primary means of receiving information, visual aids such as films, overheads, diagrams are useful instructional tools.
Be flexible: allow a deaf student to work with audiovisual material independently and for a longer period of time.
When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him/her.
Allow the student the same anonymity as other students (i.e., avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class).
Sign Language Interpreting
Interpreters are professionals who facilitate communication between hearing individuals and people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The role of the interpreter is similar to that of a foreign language translator: to bridge the communication gap between two parties.
Requesting an Interpreter
Deaf or hard-of-hearing students should request interpreters from THE OFFICE OF DISABILITY SERVICES when they register for classes. In the unlikely event that a student shows up for the first day of class without an interpreter, the student should be referred to THE OFFICE OF DISABILITY SERVICES where he/she can schedule for an interpreter.
Guidelines for Working with Interpreters
Interpreters are bound by the code of ethics developed by the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, which specifies that interpreters are to serve as communication intermediaries who are not otherwise involved; thus, when an interpreter is present:
- Speak directly to the deaf or hard-of-hearing person rather than to the interpreter, and avoid using phrases such as "tell him" or "ask her."
- Relax and talk normally, noting that there may be a lag time between the spoken message and the interpretation.
- When referring to objects or written information, allow time for the translation to take place.
- Replace terms such as "here" and "there" with more specific terms such as "on the second line" and "in the left corner."
- In a conference room or class environment, the deaf student and interpreter will work out seating arrangements, with the interpreter usually located near the speaker.
- Inform the interpreter in advance if there is an audiovisual element in a presentation so arrangements can be made for lighting and positioning.
- Be sensitive to sessions that extend longer than one hour. The interpreter may require a short break to maintain proficiency in interpreting.
Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)
Hard-of-hearing students may use an ALD in the classroom to enhance the voice of a speaker. The most common ALD is a personal FM system; the speaker wears a microphone and the student wears a receiving unit. Students may borrow a FM system from THE OFFICE OF DISABILITY SERVICES.
An increasing number of educational videotapes as well as television broadcasts are being "closed captioned" for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers. Closed captions are similar to subtitles in foreign language films: captions appear at the bottom of the screen so the viewer may follow narration and dialogue. A closed captioning decoder is needed to display the usually hidden captions. Television monitors manufactured after July 1993, have built-in decoders that can be activated through the remote control. Instructors can determine whether or not videos are captioned by looking at the video container, which usually contains a short statement about captioning or carries the initials "CC" or a Q-like symbol. In the event that closed captioning is not available, a sign language interpreter or real-time captioning can interpret the video, as is done during lectures or recitations. To prepare, the interpreter might request from the instructor the opportunity to view the video in advance.