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Working with Deaf / Hard of Hearing Kids - What Teachers Can Do

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The inability to hear does not affect a student's intelligence or the physical ability to produce sounds.

Some deaf students are skilled lipreaders, but many are not. Many speech sounds have identical mouth movements, which can make lip-reading particularly difficult. For example "p," "b," and "m," look exactly alike on the lips, and many sounds (vowels, for example) are produced without using clearly differentiated lip movements.

Make sure you have a deaf student's attention before speaking. A light touch on the shoulder, a wave, or other visual signal will help.

Look directly at a person with a hearing loss during a conversation, even when an interpreter is present. Speak clearly, without shouting. If you have problems being understood, rephrase your thoughts. Writing is also a good way to clarify.

Make sure that your face is clearly visible. Keep your hands away from your face and mouth while speaking. Sitting with your back to a window, gum chewing, cigarette smoking, pencil biting, and similar obstructions of the lips can also interfere with the effectiveness of communication.

Common accommodations for deaf or hard of hearing students include sign language or oral interpreters, assistive listening devices, TTYs, volume control telephones, signaling devices (e.g., a flashing light to alert individuals to a door knock or ringing telephone), notetakers, and captions for films and videos.

Modes of Communication

Deaf or hearing-impaired students may communicate using combinations of several different sign and lip-reading techniques, including finger-spelling and American Sign Language. Each is a separate language, and students may use different languages. Combinations of ASL and English are frequently used in educational situations - often combined with speech. Nearly every spoken language has an accompanying sign language.

In addition to sign language and lip-reading, deaf students may also use sign and oral language interpreters. These are professionals who assist deaf or hard of hearing persons with understanding communications not received aurally. Interpreters also assist hearing persons with understanding messages communicated by deaf or hard of hearing individuals. Sign language interpreters use highly developed language and fingerspelling skills; oral interpreters silently form words on their lips for speechreading. Interpreters also voice, when requested. Interpreters will interpret all information in a given situation, including instructor's comments, class discussion, and environmental sounds.

Instructional Strategies

The following strategies can make course instruction, materials, and activities more accessible to deaf or hearing-impaired students.

  • Use a circular seating arrangement. This offers deaf or hard of hearing students the best advantage for seeing all class participants.
  • When desks are arranged in rows, keep front seats open for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their interpreters.
  • Repeat the comments and questions of other students, especially those from the back rows; acknowledge who has made the comment so the deaf or hard of hearing student can focus on the speaker.
  • When appropriate, ask for a hearing volunteer to team up with a deaf or hard of hearing student for in-class assignments.
  • Assist the student with finding an effective notetaker or lab assistant from the class
  • If possible, provide transcripts of audio information.
  • Face the class while speaking; if an interpreter is present, make sure the student can see both you and the interpreter
  • If there is an interruption in the class, get the deaf or hard of hearing student's attention before resuming teaching.
  • Use visuals frequently. Because visual information is a deaf student's primary means of receiving information, films, overheads, diagrams, and other visual aids are useful instructional tools.
  • Be flexible: allow a deaf student to work with audiovisual material independently and for a longer period of time.
  • Don't assume. When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students (i.e., avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class).



Help Kids Hear is a site dedicated to helping parents of deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children. We are parents of hard of hearing kids and simply want to "give back" to the community. We welcome your comments, questions & suggestions. Please drop us a note at