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Hearing Impairments

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. 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.

Central hearing loss

Results from damage or impairment to the nerves or nuclei of the central nervous system, either in the pathways to the brain or in the brain itself.

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 pre-lingually 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.

Some considerations

  • The inability to hear does not affect an individuals native intelligence or the physical ability to produce sounds.
  • Not all students that may be Deaf or hard-of-hearing are fluent users of all of the communication modes used in the Deaf community, just as users of spoken language are not fluent in all oral languages. For example, not all students that are Deaf or hard-of-hearing lipread; many individuals that are Deaf use sign language but there are several types of sign language systems.

Instructional Strategies for Faculty

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.

  • Make sure you have a student attention whom is Deaf or hard-of-hearing before speaking. A light touch on the shoulder, a wave, or other visual signal may help if the situation is appropriate.
  • Look directly at a student whom is Deaf or hard-of-hearing during a conversation, even if an interpreter is present. Speak clearly, without shouting. If you have problems being understood, rephrase your thoughts. Writing or emailing 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.
  • Circular seating arrangements offer the advantage of seeing all class participants, especially in a seminar setting.
  • For the lecture setting, keep front seats open for students whom 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 student who is 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.
  • If possible, provide transcripts of audio information.
  • If there is a break in the class, quietly get the student’s attention who may be Deaf or hard-of-hearing before resuming class.
  • Because visual information is a Deaf student's primary means of receiving information, films, overheads, diagrams, and other visual aids are useful instructional tools. Spoken dialogue and commentary in films, videotapes, DVDs, and online course websites, should either be presented in captions or other alternate means, such as a transcript.
  • Flexibility goes a long ways. Allow a Deaf or hard-of-hearing student to work with audio-visual material independently and for a longer period of time.
  • Make every effort to make students feel comfortable if they disclose their disabilities to you. As with any student with a disability, don't press students to explain their disabilities if they do not wish to do so.
  • When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her in a one-on-one conversation or e-mail at an appropriate time (not in the middle of a lecture slide etc.).
  • 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)