Supporting students who are deaf or hard of hearing

  • Hearing loss covers a wide spectrum. Some people are prelingually deaf that is, they became deaf before they could speak, and others become deaf later in life. People who are prelingually deaf can find it harder to acquire spoken and written language. Their spoken language skills may not be well developed and they may prefer sign language. They may, in effect, have English as a second language. Many deaf or hearing impaired people have speech that sounds unusual or is difficult to understand. The intelligibility of speech, however, is not an indicator of an individual's proficiency in language or of their intelligence. Students may use speech, lipreading, signing, a hearing aid or a mixture of these. Most deaf students and students with hearing loss use lipreading to some extent.

    Physical environment – think about

    • Noise levels - the noisier the environment the harder it may be for students who have hearing loss.
    • Sight lines - does the student have easy visual access to the lecturer’s face?
    • Where you stand - don’t place yourself in front of a window or bright light, to avoid the problem of shadows on your lips.
    • Assistive aids - is a loop system available? Would a microphone help?
    • Seating - does the student have a preference? Do they need additional space eg for a support worker or an assistance dog?
    • Lighting - if you have dimmed the lights for any reason can a student who lip reads still see your face or their sign language interpreter?

    Communication – think about

    • Asking the student how they prefer to communicate. Don't make assumptions.
    • The pace, tone and level of your voice. Speech should be as natural as possible.
    • Eye contact.
    • Providing important instructions/information in writing as well as orally.
    • Getting the student's attention before commencing instructions, discussions or conversation.
    • Addressing the student, not a support worker.
    • As a last resort write things down.

    If the student lip reads

    • Remember a good lip reader can only read approximately 30% from the lips.
    • Look directly at the student.
    • Face the light so there is no shadow over your lips.
    • Always use short sentences. Isolated words are very difficult to understand.
    • Do not go out of context.
    • Draw attention to any change of topic that occurs during a discussion.
    • Keep to a rhythm when talking, which can help the lip reader.
    • Keep your hands away from your face.
    • Be aware that moustaches/beards may make lip reading difficult.
    • Use visual cues (eg facial expression, posture, natural gesture) to help the student understand. Some words look the same on the lips.
    • Re-phrase sentences if the lip reader fails to understand
    • Bear in mind that lipreading can be very tiring because of the intense concentration, so provide breaks.

    Your behaviour – think about

    • How and when you offer help. Make sure all students know that help is available and how to ask, but don’t assume they need it.
    • Providing copies of lecture notes ahead of time.
    • What tasks you set eg don't expect the student to work on a writing task while you are still talking.
    • How the student will respond to other students? eg if they’re sitting in rows you may need to repeat student questions and comments for those who rely on lip reading.
    • How will you support students if you use videos, eg are they subtitled? Can you provide a written summary?
    • Have you allowed for the fact that it may take the student longer to complete assignments?
    • Are you spreading work evenly and avoiding 'bunching' of deadlines? Are you flexible with deadlines?
    • Are you providing breaks in the session that allows a student with an interpreter to catch up?
    • Practical arrangements eg check the health and safety considerations if you’re going on a field trip.

    Other students – think about

    • Providing guidelines for working together eg have students read this sheet? Do they understand best practice for communicating with students who are deaf or hard of hearing?
    • How you discuss potential problems and ways of handling them.
    • How you encourage contributions from all members of the group.
    • How you position students for group work.

    Further information

    • Student Disability Service – for advice and guidance on support available  www.brookes.ac.uk/students/wellbeing/ , email  disabilityservice@brookes.ac.uk or tel (48)4640
    • AV Services – for advice on availability and use of loops and microphones  avhire@brookes.ac.uk Headington (48)3179; Wheatley (48)5865; Harcourt Hill 48(8382)
    • HR Team & Business Partnership Manager (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) – for advice on SENDA and the Disability Discrimination Bill or tel 48(5929)