Hearing impairment is a broad term that refers to hearing losses of varying degrees from hard-of-hearing to total deafness. Most students with hearing impairments use a variety of communication methods. The most frequently used method is a combination of speech reading (lipreading) and residual hearing, which is often amplified by hearing aids. Many students with hearing impairments can and do speak. Some deaf students cannot monitor or automatically control the tone and volume of their speech, so their speech may be initially difficult to understand. Understanding improves as one becomes more familiar with the deaf student's speech pattern.

The hearing-impaired students at Ball State who communicate manually usually use American Sign Language (ASL). Faculty should be aware that American Sign Language is not the exact equivalent of the English language. Rather, it is a concept-based shorthand method of communication; its syntax is quite different from English. As a result, many deaf students have not mastered the grammatical subtleties of English, which is their second language. Students who have manual communication skills will usually have an interpreter with them in the classroom to help them understand what is being said. Because class formats are so varied, it is recommended that the faculty member, interpreter, and student arrange a conference early in the semester to discuss any special arrangements that may be needed. The interpreter and hearing-impaired student usually sit in the front of the classroom and most hearing-impaired students use notetakers in class because it is difficult to follow an interpreter or to speechread and take notes at the same time. Some students with hearing impairments may also use test accommodations, such as extra time. A professor can use the Learning Center professional staff and facilities to administer tests. Discuss testing arrangements with the LC staff early in the semester to assure that the process will be smooth when it is actually time to schedule and administer tests.

Assumptions should not automatically be made about a hearing-impaired student's ability to participate in certain types of classes. Hearing-impaired students may be able to learn much about music styles, techniques, and rhythms by observing a visual display of the music on an oscilloscope or similar apparatus or by feeling the vibrations of music. Some hearing-impaired students will have enough residual hearing so that amplification through hearing aids, earphones, public address systems, or personal FM transmitter/receiver units will allow participation. It is always best to discuss with the student the requirements of a class and to determine if there are ways that the materials can be modified so that the student can participate in what may become an exciting learning experience for all concerned.

Tips for Positive Communication

  • Include our disability statement on the course syllabus and repeat it during the first class meeting.
  • Attract the attention of the hearing-impaired student before speaking with a cue such as a tap on the shoulder or wave.
  • Face the person while talking (try to avoid facing the chalkboard while speaking).
  • Speak clearly and naturally without exaggerating lip movements or volume.
  • Avoid standing in front of a light source like a window -- the glare from behind makes it difficult to read lips.
  • Do not chew gum, smoke, or otherwise obstruct the area around your mouth with your hands or other objects that interfere with speech reading.

Suggested Classroom Accommodations

  • Seat hearing-impaired students where there is an unobstructed view of the professor.
  • Try to repeat comments and questions asked by other students who are not in the range of vision of the hearing-impaired student.
  • Use visual media (especially overhead projectors or PowerPoint) as much as possible -- they are effective tools.
  • Use films which are closed captioned. If you are using a film that is not closed captioned, contact Jeff Bowers of University Media Services (285-2766) early in the semester to caption the film for you. 
  • Prepare a brief course outline, a syllabus, and a list of learning objectives for the class ahead of time.
  • Supply a list of technical terminology or specialized vocabulary to the interpreter and the hearing-impaired student before the lecture.
  • Assure the conveyance to hearing-impaired students of important information like class cancellations, class relocation, assignments, and tests by stating the details in writing in a hand-out and on the chalkboard.
  • Establish a system of getting messages to hearing-impaired students -- especially if a note taker or interpreter is not given advance notice of class cancellations and changes.
  • Be prepared to reword sentences when a hearing-impaired student does not understand what is being said. (Persons with hearing impairments, like most of us, are not eager to draw undue attention to themselves; therefore, they may smile in acknowledgment when in fact they have not understood.)
  • Be objective when evaluating written materials from hearing-impaired students. Advise students to seek tutoring assistance from the Learning Center when they have grammar and syntax problems and are unable to express themselves fluently.
  • Direct your remarks to the hearing-impaired student, not to the note taker or interpreter. The student should have the option of watching both the speaker and the interpreter.