Working with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students

If you have never interacted with a deaf or hard-of-hearing student, you may be unsure how to best communicate or what to expect. Here is some information that may be helpful. Please share these with TAs and discussion leaders as well.


  • All deaf/hard-of-hearing students are unique and may require different accommodations. They may or may not:

    • Communicate through a sign language interpreter.

    • Communicate through a captioner.

    • Use neither interpreter nor captioner.

    • Speak for themselves.

    • Be skilled lipreaders.

  • Please remember: Each deaf or hard-of-hearing student is an individual. Their accommodation needs may differ. Usually, the most effective approach to working with a deaf or hard-of-hearing student is to check in with them privately at the beginning of the term to find out what his/her needs are and how you can best ensure access. We also encourage students to meet with you early in the quarter to discuss accommodations.

  • Expect the same from deaf/hard-of-hearing students as you do other students.

Some Useful Facts

  • Lipreading: Despite what you may have seen in the movies, many deaf and hard-of-hearing people do not lipread at all, as only about 35% of what is spoken is visible on the lips. However, many deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals benefit from seeing your lip movements and facial expressions when you speak. These provide clues that aid communication. Using visual clues such as mouth movements, facial expressions, and body language to enhance communication is called “speechreading.”

  • American Sign Language (ASL): Linguistically, ASL is a separate language from English with its own syntax and grammar. It takes the same amount of study to become fluent in ASL as it does to master a spoken language. However, not all deaf and hard of hearing students use sign language. They may rely on their residual hearing, hearing aids, cochlear implants, and speechreading. They may miss information that is conveyed in the classroom. Consequently, they need specific accommodations, such as professional captioners, captioned media, and notetakers.

General Tips for Teaching Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students

Here are some tips that apply to most deaf/hard-of-hearing students, no matter what accommodations they use in the classroom.

  • Face the student when you speak to them. Be aware that, in general, speaking very loudly or over-enunciating is not helpful. Instead, speak at a normal rate and enunciate clearly, without exaggerating mouth movements. Remember gum chewing, hand placement, and a turned back can all interfere with the student's ability to understand you when you speak.

  • Please remember to repeat questions and comments from the class before answering. Students and their interpreters or captioners may not be able to hear these, especially in large lecture halls or noisy environments.

  • Remember that there is lag time for students using interpreters or captioners; allow time for the student to respond to questions.

  • If there is a group discussion, consider the best way for the deaf or hard-of-hearing student to know who is talking (e.g., require raised hands, standing up, tossing a kooshball, etc).

  • Try to limit the class discussion to one person speaking at a time so that there are no overlapping comments and side conversations. Otherwise it is more difficult for the student, interpreter, or captioner to hear the discussion.

  • Consider how discussion facilitates inclusion and/or makes it difficult for the student to participate and fully benefit. The student may exhibit less group participation if they are having difficulty following what is being said.

  • When writing on the board, avoid talking with your back toward the students.

  • If communication breaks down, try to re-phrase instead of repeat. Consider using basic hand cues to assist with comprehension. Write notes back and forth if necessary.

  • Reduce or eliminate as much background noise as possible. Discourage side conversations or other distractions that may make it difficult to hear.

  • Be aware of lighting. Avoid standing in front of windows as the glare interferes with sight. If you are darkening a room for a program, make sure there is sufficient lighting on the speaker (and/or interpreter).

  • Emphasize important information such as assignments, schedule changes, and due dates by writing details on a chalkboard, providing handouts, or using the class website to post critical announcements and information.

  • Give materials to the student in advance whenever possible. Advanced copies of lecture notes, handouts, song lyrics, poems, etc. will help orient the student and allow them to track the class discussion.

  • Provide students feedback on their performance so additional help can be arranged early, if necessary.

  • Many hard-of-hearing students benefit from watching recordings of lectures in a quiet place outside of class to ensure they didn’t miss any key information. For these students, the DRC asks instructors to schedule Lecture Capture for in person classes in rooms equipped with the service. For remote classes, the instructor will be asked to record their Zoom class sessions. For most deaf/hard-of-hearing students, these recordings will be captioned by the DRC and shared with students.

  • Provide transcriptions of any audio programs or podcasts that you will use in class or assign for homework. The DRC can assist you with getting programs transcribed if needed.

  • If you intend to show films, videos, YouTube clips or other media, be aware that, in accordance with Federal Law, these materials must be captioned or subtitled. (For more information on transcribed and captioned materials, see information about transcribed and captioned materials.)

Questions? If appropriate, clarify disability-related needs with the student directly. Otherwise, contact the DRC at or 831-459-2089.