Students who are deaf or have a hearing disability
It is estimated that one in ten Australians are deaf or have some form of hearing loss. Illness, prenatal disability, workplace noise and accidents are the major causes of deafness and hearing loss. The effects of deafness and hearing loss on communication depend on the extent, type and time of onset of the disability.
- Teaching strategies for students who are deaf or have a hearing disability
- Alternative assessment strategies for students with hearing disability
General information about students who are deaf
The extent may range from mild to profound, and may involve the loss of some or many frequencies of sound. It is often possible for people to hear certain sounds (usually of low frequency, such as vowels) but not others. Some sounds may be distorted or grossly amplified. Also, hearing levels may fluctuate and a student who hears quite well one day may have considerable difficulty the next. A 'mild' loss may still make it impossible for the student to understand a lecturer's voice eight metres away, even when a hearing aid assists at closer distances.
Students who have been deaf from birth, or prelingually, may have varying degrees of speech. For those who choose to speak, feedback is limited, so vocal control, volume and articulation may be affected. This can result in the student's voice sounding different.
Depending on the nature of the disability, students may use a combination of lip reading, sign language interpreters and specialised equipment to augment their hearing loss.
Members of the Deaf Community may use Australian Sign Language or Auslan. This is a recognised community language with its own syntax and structure. For these students a sign language interpreter is likely to be necessary in most teaching situations.
Auslan may be the student's first language, with English as their second language. Auslan uses signs for words combined with body language to communicate tone and emphasis. There are many words in the English language that do not have corresponding signs. These words may be finger spelt or, if they are used frequently in a course, the interpreter and student may devise a sign for them to speed up the translation process.
Role of the interpreter
For some students, the interpreter functions as the student's ears and voice. The student hears and understands, and speaks through the interpreter. Generally, it works best for the student if the interpreter sits or stands next to the lecturer or tutor so the student has a clear view of them both.
Lip reading or, more correctly, speech reading is generally used together with the sound patterns provided by a hearing aid. Some individuals lip-read or speech read extremely well, while others scarcely do so at all.
With lip reading, only 30 to 40 per cent of spoken English is comprehensible, even for those who are highly skilled.
Identifying students who are deaf or have a hearing impairment
- wears a hearing aid
- has an interpreter and/or notetaker
- strains to hear
- may use loud or distorted speech
The level of adjustment will vary with each student so it is important to find out what each student's particular needs are.
Teaching strategies for students who are deaf or have a hearing impairment
- General tips
- Points to remember when addressing a student who lip reads
- Hearing aids or amplification systems
- Working with interpreters
- Large groups (lectures)
- Small groups (tutorials and experiential group work)
- Laboratory and field work
- Distance education
- Flexible delivery
- Access by email may be useful
- Normal delivery in clear and natural tone; slow down a little if you normally speak fast. Avoid shouting - this only distorts sound.
- Use short simple sentences.
- Allow a clear view of the speaker's face at all times when speaking.
- Write new terms or concepts on the board.
- Make eye contact with student before beginning.
- If amplification is required, make sure lecture/tutorial/seminar rooms can accommodate this.
- Reduce background noise as far as possible. If necessary, engage the cooperation of other students.
- Always face the student.
- Don't turn sideways in a lecture hall.
- Don't place your hand over or around your mouth.
- Beards can be a problem, when they obscure the mouth.
- Be aware that books and microphones can obscure vision of the mouth.
- Lip reading may be easier if the student's hearing loss occurred after English was acquired.
Hearing aids may be of limited use in a lecture room because of distance, background noise and acoustics. Technological equipment that may be useful for some students includes:
- FM transmitter/receiver systems with a clip-on microphone for the lecturer/ speaker;
- permanent or in-built induction/audio loop system in which the lecturer speaks into a microphone and the student is able to hear by using a special switch on their hearing aid;
- temporary audio loop systems set in place prior to the lecture.
Unfortunately, amplification can pick up other extraneous or 'dirty' sounds that people who hear may not find annoying; for example, air conditioners, florescent lights and computers. For this reason the quieter the learning environment the 'clearer' the information being amplified.
Most signing Deaf students rely on the interpreter to sign all spoken communication, and then voice their responses, although a few are able to speak their own responses.
- Address the student directly (not the interpreter).
- Arrange a briefing with Disability Services Officer.
- Discuss with the student the best position for the interpreter so that the student can see both lecturer and interpreter.
- Allow time for the process of interpreting, particularly when technical terms are being used.
- Be prepared to make course material available ahead of time for familiarisation by the interpreter.
- Supply interpreters with lists of specific terms/relevant jargon before lectures.
- Provide rest breaks for the interpreter-this is very important for their health and safety as a university employee. Translation between the English used in university courses and Auslan can be mentally exhausting. Interpreters have a high incidence of occupational overuse injuries and their professional association recommends they be given a ten minute break after every hour of translation. If this is difficult for you to comply with speak with the interpreter and contact the Disability Services Officer.
Most students could benefit from:
- Front-row seating, I to 3 m from lecturer.
- Well lit, unobstructed view of lecturer's whole face.
- Use of visual cues whenever possible, to enhance understanding and memory, explain new concepts, note unusual or foreign terms or names: - Write or draw on whiteboard, butchers paper, overheads
- Pictures, slides, posters, diagrams, overheads
- Acting, gesturing, body language
- Topic headings, lecture plan, labelled equipment
- Advance notice of the use of alternative formats such as audiovisual material.
- Written copies of course outlines, lecture notes, technical terms and, if available, printed transcripts of audio and audiovisual material, e.g. video or film.
- Captioning of all audiovisual material such as videos.
- Handouts or writing on the whiteboard about important course information such as changes in assignments, scheduling, deadlines, room changes, excursions.
- Having questions or remarks from students repeated before the lecturer responds.
Some students could also benefit from:
- Authorisation to use a tape recorder for staff lectures and guest lectures.
- Services of a note-taker.
- Use of microphone-necessary for students using an in-built or portable loop system to hear. Access to the system may need to be booked in advance.
- Prior knowledge of alternative formats to be used such as audiovisual material.
Most students could benefit from:
- Well-lit circular grouping with seating at seminars, to 3 metres, with student not facing the light.
- Sitting near group leader/main speaker if others are directing comments to that person.
- Directing the student's attention to the person who is speaking, perhaps repeating what they have said if the person has missed it.
- Making sure only one person is speaking at a time.
- Encouraging others to face the student when speaking, to speak a little more slowly, and to avoid covering the mouth when speaking.
When an interpreter is used:
- Discuss with the student the best place for the student and interpreter to sit.
- Model to students a way of always speaking directly to the student, not to the interpreter. For example: 'What do you think about...?' (addressed to the student) and not 'ask her what she thinks about...' (addressed to the interpreter).
Some students could benefit from:
- Each speaker in the group using a microphone
- Use of a multidirectional mike
- Summaries/notes of discussion from other students
- Convening a smaller tutorial group with students willing to adopt communication strategies to accommodate the student who is deaf or has a hearing disability.
Most students could benefit from:
- The suggestions above for large groups and small groups.
- An individual tour of the lab with a discussion of how best to handle safety issues.
- Relevant information and instructions presented in written form at each lab session.
- Clear written instructions and warnings on equipment.
- Discussion of ground rules to ensure health and safety standards are met; thought given to particular 'What if...' scenarios (e.g. evacuation plans, what to do in an emergency, such as using a 'buddy system')
- Ensure audible alarm systems have visual cues such as flashing lights.
- If possible, on/off status of equipment should have indicator lights.
- Finding alternative methods of communicating over a long distance during field work.
- Use of TTY phone (telephone typewriter) to allow communication by phone.
- Use of fax, email where possible.
- Caption videos and other audiovisual materials and/or provide a full script.
- Signed video recordings of interpreter in lectures.
- Access to printed or interactive materials on CD-ROM
See also 'Distance education' above. Some students would benefit from flexible learning situations.
Alternative assessment strategies for students with hearing impairment
Adjustment of assessment tasks will depend on the individual and the course requirements. Usually, this will be negotiated by the student with the help of the Disability Services Officer.
It is possible that students might have experienced considerable disadvantage in education and allowances may be necessary with regard to spelling, grammar and written expression.
- Students may require more time to complete assignments.
- Options may include giving a verbal presentation in sign language with an interpreter, or a computer assisted presentation.
- Allow more time for presentation, particularly when an interpreter is being used.
- Student may prepare written paper for interpreter or other student to read, with questions asked and answered via the interpreter.
- Tutor ensures that time taken to interpret does not disadvantage the student's assessment with regard to participation in discussion and debate in the group.
- One-on-one discussion with the tutor may be preferable for assessment purposes, because of a student's difficulty in following spontaneous group discussion.
- Any exam question errors will need to be notified in writing by the exam supervisor.
- May require extra time to complete exam papers.
- Written instructions replace information usually read aloud by the examiner.
- Interpreter may need to be present to translate oral instructions and information.
- Oral examinations or a one-on-one presentation may be preferable.
- A separate exam room may be necessary if the student is using assistive technology, or requires extra time.
- Students may request a video recorded 'signed' examination, answering the exam questions using sign language which is video recorded for transcription to text.
- Some students may need to use a personal computer with spelling and grammar checkers, dictionary and thesaurus.