Physical Disabilities

PART 4 - Physical Disabilities

Deafness and Hard of Hearing

◊ Overview ◊

◊ Interactions with Students ◊

◊ Interpreting and Captioning Services ◊

◊ Classroom Strategies ◊

◊ Problem Practices ◊


In addition to this page, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (DHHS) has more faculty resources specifically related to working with students with hearing impairments.



Hearing disability is one of the most prevalent disabilities in the United States. More than two million people are unable to perceive sounds, including speech, in a way for it to have meaning for ordinary purposes. These people have developed a strong cultural identity over many years and are known by those familiar with it as Deaf persons with a capital D. Many other people are hard of hearing, meaning that their sense of hearing is impaired but functional for some ordinary purposes, often with the help of hearing aids. Many persons who are hard of hearing affiliate more with the hearing culture than the Deaf culture.

The most significant result of hearing loss is that it cuts people off from the usual means acquiring and transmitting spoken language. With normal hearing, people can easily engage in spoken conversation, listen to information, and enjoy the radio, television, movies, music, and video games. It enables people to appreciate social nuance, conversational tidbits, jokes, and gossip.

Contrary to what many people believe, hearing aids cannot yet replace normal hearing. Background noise, cross talk, and certain sound frequencies create problems. Even when a person is proficient, lip reading, also called speech reading, can capture only one third of what is said. For these reasons, Deaf and hard-of- hearing persons often miss information.  Deaf people vary in their ability to use any residual hearing or to benefit from hearing aids.

Like hearing people, they vary in their communication skills. Some people use hearing aids; others prefer not to. Some rely heavily on lip reading; others are unable to lip read. Some can speak quite well; others choose not to speak at all. None of these skills correlate with intelligence.  They are more related to the age of onset and degree of hearing loss.

Some Deaf people are born into families where other members have normal hearing. The hearing loss of these deaf children may have gone undetected for a period of time. Language development may then have been affected by this delay. Communication difficulty also results from having a restricted language or social frame of reference when learning to speak, write, or lip-read.

Other Deaf children are born into families with Deaf members and acquire fluency in sign language as a natural consequence of family interaction. Some Deaf adults function in American Sign Language (ASL) for interpersonal communication and in English for reading and writing. Linguists recognize ASL as an authentic language in its own right that is structured differently than English. Many Deaf adults use other forms of manually-coded signs and may not be fluent in ASL or English.

Deaf children from both hearing and Deaf families may attend special residential schools geared to their needs or may be mainstreamed in regular public schools with support services.

Because of variations in linguistic, social, and educational experience, it is difficult to generalize about academic preparedness or linguistic proficiency. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students may not have mastered English grammatical structure despite intelligence and effort. Existing language skills have often been acquired despite poor signing, lack of signing, or social isolation.

Improving standard written expression is an important but challenging goal. Instruction may emphasize increasing clarity of expression and intent. In some situations, it may be acceptable to focus more on content than on precise grammar.  In any event, appreciating the complex set of issues is essential in creating a positive environment for students.


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Interactions with Students

Deaf individuals use a variety of methods— speech, residual hearing, lip reading, sign language, writing, facial expressions, or even body language—to maximize communication.

For hearing people accustomed only to verbal interaction, this may feel uncomfortable at first.

Most Deaf people understand and will help as much as possible to identify the best way to establish communication. Be flexible, and don’t feel apprehensive about trying different methods.

These guidelines will help ease your communication with Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing people.

  • Gain the student’s attention by tapping a shoulder or gently touching an arm. If at a distance, you may flick the light or wave your hand lightly.
  • Look directly at the person when you speak. Don’t chew or block your mouth. Speak naturally and clearly, but don’t exaggerate lip movements.
  • Realize that only 30 to 40 percent of English sounds can be seen on the face, so even good lip readers will not understand everything.
  • Speak expressively. Since Deaf people can’t hear subtle changes in tone, visual cues are more important. Facial expressions, gestures, and body movements help in understanding.
  • Use a normal voice volume and speed unless requested otherwise. Raising your voice is not helpful and may impede understanding, especially if the person uses a hearing aid.
  • Remember that background noise is a problem. Move to a quieter area, or close a door.
  • Ask a person to repeat a statement if you have difficulty understanding it. If that doesn’t work, use paper and pencil or a computer. Don’t pretend to understand if you don’t.
  • Consider learning American Sign Language. De Anza and many other colleges offer classes in ASL, and more than 100 colleges and universities accept it for their language requirements. ASL is one of the most widely used second languages in the United States.

Outside the classroom, faculty can communicate with Deaf and Hard of Hearing students through the Sorenson Video Relay Service (VRS). This free service allows the student to use their TV to communicate with a sign language interpreter who is in contact with their instructor via a phone line.

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Interpreting and Captioning Services

  • Trained sign language interpreters translate spoken English into sign language and sign language into spoken English. They are bound by a strict code of ethics that details their professional responsibilities.
  • A trained stenographer does real-time captioning by typing what is spoken in a highly abbreviated symbolic notation. A Deaf person then reads the words in English on a monitor or laptop computer.
  • Students are assigned interpreting and captioning services based on meeting the Disabled Student Service’s priority registration deadline, their specific requests, and the availability of interpreting or captioning personnel. Last-minute changes in a student’s schedule may result in a delay in the start of services.
  • Positioning is crucial for maximum communication. Interpreters should be near the teacher so the student can maintain visual contact with both the instructor and the interpreter.
  • Two interpreters are often teamed, especially in longer classes. Scheduling and coverage issues may require that they come and go during the class period. They will do so professionally and with a minimum of disruption.
  • All service providers are trained communication facilitators. They must translate all auditory information into a usable form for the Deaf student.
  • Interpreters and captioners do not and cannot:
    • Add, delete, repeat, or explain information
    • Discuss client-related information
    • Act as teacher assistants or tutors
    • Participate in a class in any way
  • Without prior notice, service providers are paid even if a student does not show up to class or if a provider is not needed that day because an exam is given or the class is cancelled.


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Classroom Strategies


General Guidelines
  • Expect the same standards from Deaf students as from hearing students. They should adhere to the attendance policy and be on time, focused, ready to work, and involved in classroom activities. If hearing students may not chat in class, neither should Deaf students.
  • Be aware that there may be time lags in transferring auditory information and that a student can look at only one thing at a time. A Deaf student cannot follow an interpreter, read captions, or lip-read while reading, writing, or doing another class activity. Unlike hearing students, a deaf student cannot carry out an instructor’s directions as they are given. Give instructions for an activity first, then start the activity. Check to ensure that the Deaf student is keeping up with the class activity.
  • Incorporating visual aids makes use of visual modes of communicating. Use overheads and boards liberally. Offer copies, outlines, lecture notes on main points, written review material, and charts.
  • In a group situation, be sure the Deaf student is included. Be sensitive to the fact that Deaf and hard-of-hearing people may have had experiences being excluded from group interactions. Feeling ignored and invisible is a painful legacy that some Deaf people have due to their interactions with the “hearing world.”
  • Some Deaf and hard-of-hearing students need additional help with college-level English skills. Vocabulary worksheets or handouts, especially in technical or academic terminology, can be critical in understanding concepts. Providing these in advance help the student and interpreter prepare for class lectures.
  • A hard-of-hearing student may use a portable, wireless, personal FM system that amplifies sound. During lecture, the instructor wears a lapel microphone and small transmitter. Forum 1 is equipped with such an FM system as part of its sound equipment.
  • Choose captioned films or videos whenever possible. To show these, request that the Audiovisual Department deliver videotape players equipped for closed captions.
  • E-mail is especially helpful for communication with Deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Use electronic means to make materials available.
Working with Service Providers in Your Classroom
  • Arrange seating so the interpreter faces the student. In lectures, the interpreter will take a position next to the instructor. In a circle format, the interpreter should sit in the circle facing the student. Consult with both the student and the interpreter to ensure proper positioning.
  • Face and speak directly to the student, not the interpreter.
  • Arrange the class so a captioner has a surface for equipment, access to a power outlet, and a position next to the student.
  • Address the person who uses a real-time captioner. Be aware that the person will watch the screen to read your words and may type back rather than speak.
  • Call Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (DHHS) immediately at ext. 8755 in the event a service provider is unexpectedly absent. A substitute will be sent if available. If the Deaf student must be in class without services, an instructor can help by carefully adhering to visual modes of communication and by providing any extra materials, such as extra copies of notes.
  • Service providers will wait for a late student for a designated period of time, then leave the classroom.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to make special arrangements in a timely manner for an interpreter or captioner for out-of-class meetings.
  • Inform the student and interpreter in advance if you know a class will be cancelled or if an examination will take the entire class period. DHHS can reassign or cancel the service if necessary.
  • Service providers do not attend final exams unless prior arrangements have been made.



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Problem Practices

The English teacher was surprised when Shawna arrived with not one, but two, extra people. "Signers" the teacher thought they were called. In an already crowded classroom, one of them just took up an extra seat during most of the class, while the other "signed." The teacher had received a packet in her box about an enrolled Deaf student but hadn't had a chance to read it carefully. As she arranged her class in a semicircle, the interpreter, as he’s properly called, took a chair and placed it in the middle of the circle, facing the deaf student. Since this would interfere with the sight lines in her highly interactive class, she told the interpreter he would have to move next to the student. The deaf student looked confused and slightly embarrassed, although the teacher might not have noticed because she was talking to the interpreter. Midway through the class, one interpreter disappeared, only to reappear in the room about 15 minutes later. The teacher let the interpreter know this was a disruption that interrupted the class and asked if it would be a habit.

At the break, the interpreters told the teacher that due to scheduling and trade-offs, sometimes an interpreter would come or go. The teacher couldn't believe this was acceptable and decided to discuss it with her dean. Furthermore, they told her they couldn't interpret properly sitting adjacent to the deaf student. The instructor decided the best way to handle it would be to ask the class if they would agree to this, so she polled the class after the break. The class didn't mind, so the interpreters moved again. The instructor thought all this was a lot of fuss and intrusion for one student, especially since the deaf student didn't contribute once during the whole class.

This instructor would have learned a great deal about interaction with Deaf students and interpreters had she read her packet or called DHHS or the DSPS Division. In any event, discussion about classroom arrangements should proceed directly with the Deaf student outside of class time. There should have been an open exchange that avoided potential embarrassment and alienation. This instructor has placed herself in jeopardy of a legitimate discrimination complaint.


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Last Updated: 6/13/17