Hard of hearing is defined as an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a student's educational performance. Deafness is defined as a hearing impairment that is so severe that the student is hindered in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification. Thus, deafness may be viewed as a condition that prevents an individual from receiving sound in all or most of its forms.
A vital aspect of working with deaf and hard of hearing students is obvious, but often forgotten: no two deaf people are alike. As with hearing people, they are individuals who possess unique learning styles. The ways in which a deaf person learns are dependent on several factors:
1. Type of Deafness
- Conductive Loss - generally treatable by a physician and accounting for 5% to 10% of all hearing loss
- Sensorineural Hearing Loss - damage to the nerves of the inner ear. Cannot usually be "fixed."
- Mixed Loss - mixture of both sensorineural and conductive losses
- Progressive Hearing Loss - worsens over the course of time
2. Time of Onset
- Prelingual Deafness - deafness that occurs before the child has the opportunity to learn and begin speaking
- Postlingual Deafness - deafness that occurs after the child has learned the parents' native spoken language
3. Familial Communication System
- Over 90% of children who are deaf have parents who do not learn sign language. Consequently, most children who are deaf do not have any formal communication system when they start school.
- Oralism (lip reading) is sometimes used. However, only 30% of the English language can be read on the lips and the reader must already be familiar with the word to read it on the lips.
- American Sign Language is the preferred language of adults who are deaf/hard of hearing. Children from deaf families who learn ASL as their primary language typically perform commensurate with their hearing peers in school.
Working with Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Reserve front row seat(s) if possible. Seats should be away from windows as sunlight may cause glare making it difficult to see you and/or the interpreter. In general when speaking to a DHH person, make sure that the light source is behind the DHH person.
- Try to be sure there is an interpreter chair (without arms if possible) available in front of the classroom, facing the DHH student.
- Face the class when lecturing whenever possible. DHH students prefer to alternate between watching the interpreter and watching the instructor.
- The student may take some notes, but a note taker will also be provided in the classroom.
- If recommended by the CSD, the student may make arrangements with you to take class tests in the Instructional Assistance Center or the High Tech Center.
- Use visual cues whenever possible.
- Allow the student access to new concepts or vocabulary before introduction or discussion in class.
- When addressing the student, or during class discussions, remember to allow time for your question or comment to be interpreted to the student as well as allowing time for the student to process what has been communicated.
- Some long verbalizations can be signed in a very short time while other short verbalizations may seem long in their interpretation. This happens because of the syntactical and semantic components of sign language. There is not a one-to-one correlation between an English word and American Sign Language sign.
- Speak directly to the student. Do not ask the interpreter to “tell him/her.”
- A small number of DHH students, who do not use sign language as their primary communication tool, use a Real Time Captioner (RTC) in the classroom. In this instance, the RTC types everything that is said in the classroom via laptop, and the student reads it in real time on the screen. In this case, the student and the RTC must sit next to each other, and the RTC will require electrical outlets for the equipment. Again, the student needs to sit in the front of the classroom and away from glare.
- Some students rely on lip reading to help them understand what is being said. Lip reading is an aptitude that is NOT dependent on the level of hearing loss. Some profoundly deaf people are excellent lip readers while some hard of hearing people with a good deal of residual hearing are not as skilled. Also, a word that is not in the receiver’s vocabulary cannot be lip read. If a student prefers to lip read, please speak at a normal rate and volume. Do not exaggerate movements. If you notice the student is not understanding you, it is more beneficial to re-phrase the communication rather than repeat what has already been said.
- In using interpreters in the classroom please remember:
- They are there to provide a fluid and uninterrupted flow of information. The interpreter is not only facilitating communication for the DHH student; they are also facilitating communication for you.
- They should not be asked to pass out papers, turn off lights or any other classroom activity. It is simply not their job.
- They will interpret EVERYTHING you say. Do not say to the interpreter, “Don’t interpret this.” They are required to interpret everything that is said in your classroom.
- Do not engage the interpreter in private conversations even if the class is busy with an assignment.
- Do not ask the interpreter to monitor the class during a test or assignment so that you can leave the classroom.