9 million people in the U.S. are either functionally deaf or hard of hearing. Of these, about 100,000 are aged 18-44. How many attend college? The National Center for Educational Statistics reports somewhere around 20,000 deaf and hard of hearing students attend post-secondary educational institutions each year.
Most common categories of hearing loss
- Conductive hearing loss — This occurs when problems exist with the eardrum, ear canal, or middle ear and its bones.
- Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) — Also called nerve-related hearing loss, this occurs when problems exist with the inner ear.
- Mixed hearing loss — This is a combination of the other two types of hearing loss.
The severity of these types of hearing loss can seriously impact a student’s academic success. Reading and mathematics are especially challenging. Mild to moderate hearing loss can cause a student to fall behind by one to four grades. Education services are in place nationwide to prevent such academic setbacks. These efforts are paying off, with deaf and hard of hearing students attending college by the thousands.
Schools are also realizing the unique needs of each student and the broad spectrum of services required to meet these needs. For example, preferred accommodations differ depending on whether students identify themselves as deaf, hard of hearing, or “Deaf.” Those who identify themselves as hard of hearing or deaf may or may not communicate using American Sign Language (ASL.) Students who identify themselves as “Deaf” consider themselves part of the group of people who share a common language (ASL) and culture. These students may request an interpreter, while those who are hard of hearing may prefer an assistive listening device. As academia becomes more aware of these differences, institutions increase their sensitivity to the needs of each individual. Students may need to educate staff on these differences, but should know they have the right to request the services that work best for their needs.
The level of effort put forth to make these accommodations varies by institution. Some provide the bare minimum to adhere to disability laws. Others incorporate new hearing technology, offer personal mentors, and truly work to better understand and meet the needs of deaf and hard of hearing students. Even with these efforts, students with hearing loss confront many challenges as they enter the world of higher education.
Transitioning to Higher Education
When deaf and hard of hearing students begin college, they face numerous changes and challenges. The first of these is greater responsibility. In high school, teachers or aids devoted to deaf services ensure students are properly accommodated. The school provides an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that teaches faculty and staff how to modify the learning environment to accommodate those with hearing loss. At the college level, students are responsible for requesting services and ensuring their needs are met. They must contact the department of disability services to establish their needs and arrange accommodations. It is also the student’s responsibility to communicate their needs to each instructor.
For new students, communicating these needs to professors can be intimidating. To make the process easier, it is helpful to email professors before the start of classes to explain specific needs. It is best to keep these explanations simple, explaining what accommodations are needed, how they work and why they are an important part of the student’s experience in the classroom.
Students should request a meeting with the professor to go over any questions. Instructors who speak with a strong accent are a common challenge for students who are hard of hearing. This initial meeting will also allow students to discover if this is an issue. If it is, additional accommodations may be necessary, or the student may wish to choose a course taught by another professor.
Per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all public colleges and universities must ensure deaf and hard of hearing students have equal access to all activities, regardless of funding.
In addition to classroom adaptations, students with hearing loss need accommodations if living in a dorm. They must speak with their resident director regarding emergency alert devices for deaf and hard of hearing students. A bed shaker or pillow vibrator can be wired to the building’s alert system to wake the student in case of fire or other emergency. The student can also use a bed shaker, lamp shaker, or vibrating alarm to assist with their wake schedule. They also need a system of notification when someone knocks on their door. A doorbell connected to a flashing light is a common solution. If the student has a roommate, it is important to discuss with the roommate all necessary accommodations and answer any questions. Thorough communication is essential to ensure both students have a healthy understanding of abilities and expectations from the start.
Clear communication with parents is also important. The student must realize the parental role changes when they enter this stage of education. Once they turn 18, they have reached legal adult status. This limits the access parents have to their academic records. In grade school, parents were automatically notified of academic progress and had open access to disability and academic records.
Now, as an adult, the student is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The student must sign a release if they would like parents to have access to academic records. Confusion and conflict can occur if parents are unaware of this issue and attempt to access records. Students have the option of maintaining privacy from parents, if they desire. Whatever students decide, they should make expectations of parental involvement clear to parents and the school records department.
Accommodating Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students
Advances in technology and increased awareness have stimulated the creation of tools to assist deaf and hard of hearing college students. While the availability of specific technology varies by school or program, all institutions receiving federal funding are required under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to be accessible to deaf and hard of hearing students. And per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all public colleges and universities must ensure deaf and hard of hearing students have equal access to all activities, regardless of funding.
Adherence to these laws may involve interpreters, captioning, assistive listening devices and other procedural changes to accommodate the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing. The following are the most common devices used by deaf and hard of hearing students at colleges and universities.
Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)
These amplifiers separate sounds from background noise by bringing sound directly to the student’s ear. They consist of a microphone, a transmitter and a receiver. The type of transmission and receiver vary by type of ALD. Three common ALDs are:
- Inductive loop systems — These use an electromagnetic field to deliver sound. The instructor’s voice is transmitted from a microphone through an induction loop to a telecoil in the student’s hearing aid. The induction loop is typically installed in the ceiling or floor. For those without a telecoil-equipped hearing aid, loop systems can be used through a combination of headphones and a receiver.
- FM systems — This type of ALD uses radio broadcast technology to transmit the instructor’s voice directly to the student. The instructor is equipped with a microphone, which picks up their voice and transmits it to a receiver that is connected to the student’s hearing aid, headphones or cochlear implant.
- Infrared systems — Using infrared light, IR systems transmit sound to the student’s ears using a receiver and earphones. This light-based technology offers the advantage of privacy, since the “sound” cannot travel where the light does not.
Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)
CART is used to convert speech to text. This system is also referred to as captioning. It is accomplished through the use of a stenotype machine, computer or other software to capture the spoken words which are then displayed on a screen as text.
Students can use CART services on individual laptops or smartphones. It can also be displayed on large monitors or through a projector for use by an entire class. It applies the same technology used by the entertainment industry to provide real-time captioning. The service involves either a live stenographer on site or a remote feed to the stenographer. Remote CART requires an audio source for the speaker, such as internet phone service. Speech is captured and transmitted as text for the student. The student does not need any specialized software, as the service simply provides an email link to view the streaming text.
This option is more comprehensive than note takers or interpreters, providing 98.5% accuracy and translation. In addition to live captioning during class, CART services can provide students with an electronic file of the transcript after class.
The service is fee-based, and not every school is willing to pay the additional cost, which ranges from $60/hour to $200/hour. However, if other appropriate accommodations are not made, students can request this service as part of their ADA and Section 504 rights.
In addition to these assistive devices, schools offer several methods of classroom and curriculum modifications for deaf and hard of hearing students.
- Modified course instruction
Simple steps to modify style of instruction can make a major impact on the success of deaf and hard of hearing students. For example, when lecturing, teachers should face the class and avoid placing hands or books in front of their face. Incorporating visual aids into the lesson is also helpful. When audio aids are used, teachers should provide captioning or a transcript of the information. If any verbal announcements are made concerning assignments, class schedule changes or other pertinent information, professors should provide written notice as well.
During class, instructors should repeat all questions and comments made by other students to ensure deaf and hard of hearing students can follow the discussion. While some schools may train their teachers to use these methods, it is not guaranteed. It is important for students to be proactive to ensure they are used. Deaf and hard of hearing students should meet with their instructors before the first class and offer these suggestions as helpful accommodations to meet their academic needs.
While some courses may only meet the minimum legal accommodations, initiatives like the Universal Design of Instruction are urging educators to make exceptionally accessible courses that have an effect on every element of the learning process.
- Alternative forms of coursework
Schools may modify materials to make them more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing students. Teachers can provide written instructions for assignments and lab procedures. Class discussions and instructor interaction can be achieved via email rather than required in-class participation. Instructors can provide oral exams in written form and allow extra time for exam completion. Presentations may require modifications, allowing for extra time and the use of an interpreter. Students should check with the campus disability Services office to discover what alternative formats are available for their courses.
- Extended exam time
Many students with disabilities require extra time to complete exams. Depending on the student, the impairment, and the subject, students may need 150% to 200% of the typical time. Students may need to arrange for individual testing times at a different location, such as an office or seminar room. The school may have a devoted testing center or space for this in their disability services center. Students should coordinate with their professors and the institution’s disability services to make necessary arrangements.
- Note-takers/In-class assistants
Because it is difficult for deaf and hard of hearing students to focus on a speaker, grasp lecture information, and write notes all at once, a personal note-taker or classroom assistant is often helpful. This person is either a classmate or professional aid provided by the institution. This assistant attends class with the hard of hearing student and takes notes for that student, allowing them to focus fully on absorbing information in class.
- Disability counselors
When a deaf or hard of hearing student enrolls at a school, they typically meet with a disability counselor before classes begin. The counselor partners with the student to determine what accommodations are needed, such as assistive technologies and interpretive services. They may assist with contacting instructors to arrange for accommodations, or supply the student with an accommodations form to give to professors. Some disability counselors also offer career planning and job services.
- On-campus support centers
To adhere to current disability laws, all institutions must offer some form of services for those the deaf and hard of hearing. They may all be housed in the campus main offices or offered in a center devoted to students with disabilities. Some centers focus on technological assistance, while others provide personal aids or counselors. Deaf and hard of hearing students should seek out this department or center at their school, which may fall under: Student Support Services Program, Learning Assistance Center, Student Health Center, Student Disability Resources, Assistive Technology Center, Student Access Center, Office for Disability Services or Center for Students with Disabilities.
Technology is a powerful tool that can be harnessed to enhance higher education for the deaf and hard of hearing. Classrooms and institutions currently use a variety of hardware and software to assist students with hearing loss. Other support services are available to students online.
E-textbooks are becoming more and more prevalent in college settings. More than half of U.S. higher education students have used this format for at least one class. Accessible on computers and other electronic devices, the additional features available in this book format may be advantageous for deaf and hard of hearing students. Interactive features such as polls, quizzes, note sharing and instructor annotations facilitate collaboration and interaction with the text, other students and the professor.
Students with mild to moderate hearing loss often find it helpful to use digital recorders. These capture lectures as sound files which can be stored in a device and replayed at the student’s leisure. This can be especially useful in large seminars or locations not equipped with other assistive listening devices.
Most campuses now include an Assistive Technology Center that houses valuable resources for deaf and hard of hearing students. This center typically features support services and devices to assist students with disabilities to better access their academics and extracurriculars. Before choosing a school, deaf and hard of hearing students should inquire about the extent and availability of services at the institution’s ATC.
Whether through the school’s ATC or their own devices, deaf and hard of hearing students can use several online resources and software applications. AbleData is a resource center to connect the deaf and hard of hearing with the assistive products and solutions they need. iCommunicator enables independent communication by translating speech to text and speech to video sign-language in real-time. HearMore is a site offering products for independent living, whether on-campus or off. The latest innovation is MotionSavvy, a two-way communicator that uses gesture and speech technology to translate sign to voice and voice to text.
Popular Hearing Assistive Apps
Available for iOS devices, Tap Tap causes the device to vibrate when specific sounds are detected. An alert is then sent to the screen to let the student know of an alarm, scream or other significant noise.
This app uses voice recognition software to instantly translate spoken words to text.
Using the same audio processing techniques employed by the ears, this app enhances sound clarity and adjusts the volume of ambient noise.
Offering roughly 5,000 signs, the ASL Dictionary app provides videos of each sign which students can use as reference while learning.
Wellness StrategiesMany classroom and campus-wide strategies are currently used by colleges and universities to improve the lives of deaf and hard of hearing students.
- Classroom-based Initiatives
Initiatives include lecture-style modifications and the use of assistive listening devices (ALDs). Schools also offer interpreters, note takers and tutors to aid students on an individual basis.
To further enhance these services, schools should ensure their accommodations incorporate the most recent technology. Examples include CART services and MotionSavvy. Making these advanced technologies accessible to both students and faculty increase communication and comprehension.
- Faculty and Staff Training
It is important to provide training for faculty and staff on all available classroom, technology and campus-wide accommodations. Instructors are encouraged to include a statement in each class syllabus that explains their willingness to provide accommodations, offers an invitation to speak with the instructor about individual needs, and provides information about the school’s disability office.
- Outside the Classroom
Dorm accommodations are available to ensure students’ safety. Common areas such as cafeterias and student unions can be equipped with assistive listening devices to allow those with hearing loss easier enjoyment of activities in these locations. Schools may also offer interpretive services or other listening aids at social and sporting events. These accommodations make the entire college experience more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing students.
Colleges around the country are taking steps to build inclusive learning environments for all students, regardless of individual differences. The following list, while not exhaustive, serves to highlight programs offered by some schools to give deaf and hard of hearing students a full and rewarding college experience. When researching prospective schools, we advise students to speak with the disability services office for a better understanding of available accommodations.
Gallaudet University is the only higher education institute designed to cater specifically to the needs of deaf and hard of hearing students, and has championed for deaf rights across the world for over 150 years. The university offers the world’s only BA, MA, and PhD program in interpretation within an ASL-immersive setting, is the largest-ever publisher of books aimed towards the deaf community, and notably, is the site of the 1988 Deaf President Now movement, an historic student protest that kick-started the Americans with Disabilities Act into fruition. The university offers a network of internship and service projects for its students, leads in DeafSpace architectural design, and hosts around $4.7 million in funded student and faculty research each year.
Howard College is another institution that has led the way in providing higher education and career training for the deaf and hard of hearing. The Southwest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf is a barrier-free campus that has adapted ASL as the primary form of communication. All of SWCID’s classes are delivered in sign language and are aimed specifically towards the interests of deaf students (e.g. the English Language Program, which teaches English as a second language for deaf students). Students at the school are encouraged to join athletic programs, student organizations, internships, and residential activities that accommodate their needs specifically. These students also have access to interpreting services provided for phone calls, extracurricular activities, and all other school-related needs.
Rochester Institute of Technology is a model school for providing educational access to deaf and hard of hearing students. It is home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. 1,300 of the 14,000 students enrolled are deaf or hard of hearing. The school offers sign language interpreting services, note-taking, captioning, FM systems and tutoring. Personal advisors provide career counseling and job search services. The school also works with employers to facilitate hiring of deaf and hard of hearing graduates.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has nearly 1,000 students on campus who use ASL, and approximately 50 of the 24,000 students enrolled are deaf. The school offers a strong Accessibility Resource Center for deaf and hard of hearing students. Each student meets with an ARC counselor and develops a personal VISA (Verified Individual Services and Accommodations). The student is provided with copies/email of this VISA to share with each instructor at the start of every course. The VISA is updated each year as needed.
California State University, Northridge houses the National Center on Deafness and has a deaf student population of over 200. The school’s Disability Resources and Educational Services has developed a Journey to Success program that offers an individualized learning plan to assist each deaf or hard of hearing student from college entry to life after graduation. This initiative includes three phases. First year students begin in Transition Year and receive assistance with transitioning to college life, communicating with instructors and accessing services. The next step is Foundation Years, during which mentorship continues with increased independence and involvement in co-curricular activities. Finally, students enter the University and Beyond stage and learn job advocacy skills and how to plan for life after college.
- R. Orin Cornett Memorial Scholarship
Award Amount: $1,000
Description: Awarded by the National Cued Speech Association to support students’ educational pursuits beyond high school. For eligibility, students must have used Cued Speech as their primary mode of communication for a minimum of five years during their education. They must also attend full-time at an undergraduate, graduate or vocational school.
- AG Bell College Scholarship Program
Award Amount: $2,500-$10,000
Description: Multiple highly competitive merit-based scholarships awarded by the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. A student may receive up to two awards through this program. In addition to full-time attendance at a four-year institution, strict eligibility requirements include specific physical and academic parameters.
- Sertoma International Scholarships
Award Amount: $1,000
Description: 13 awards of $1,000 each funded by donations from Oticon, Inc and Phonic Ear Inc. Recipients must be U.S. citizens attending college full-time in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. Academic requirements include a minimum 3.2 GPA.
- Scholarship Trust for the Hearing Impaired
Award Amount: $100-$1,000
Description: Established by the Travelers Protective Association to provide financial assistance to the deaf and hard of hearing so they may obtain specialized education services and devices. Trustees select recipients based on demonstration of greatest financial need.\
- Google Lime Scholarship
Award Amount: $10,000
Description: Several awards provided through a partnership between Google and Lime Connect to assist students with disabilities pursuing a career in a technical field. Scholarships are awarded based on academic background and passion for computer science. Eligible candidates have a visible or invisible disability, be enrolled full-time in studies in a technical field and demonstrate strong academic performance.
- Graeme Clark Scholarship
Award Amount: $2,000 per year, up to four years
Description: Awarded by Cochlear to assist those with cochlear implants in their educational pursuits. Recipients must have a Nucleus Cochlear Implant and maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA.
- Help America Hear Scholarship
Award Amount: $500 and two hearing aids
Description: Provided by the Foundation for Sight and Sound to help students with hearing loss reach their full potential. The scholarship is open to high school seniors who require the use of hearing aid(s) in daily life. Applicants submit an essay, which is reviewed by a group of judges who determine the award winner.
- Dorothy E. Ann Fund (D.E.A.F.)
Award Amount: $10,000 over four years
Description: Funded by the Columbus Foundation, this award provides grants to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Recipients must have a minimum 2.8 GPA, plan to attend college full-time, graduate from a high school in Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, Licking, Madison, Pickaway, or Union county in Ohio, and possess a minimum 80 Db hearing loss in both ears.
- Incight Scholarship
Award Amount: $500-$1,500
Description: Incight awards up to 100 scholarships each year to students with disabilities. Applicants must reside in California, Oregon or Washington and suffer from a disability. Academic performance and financial need are not considered. Instead, community involvement and educational motivation are the top considerations.
- Louise Tumarkin Zazove Foundation Scholarship
Award Amount: Tuition award varies
Description: The LTZ Foundation provides scholarships to assist deaf or hard of hearing students pay for undergraduate tuition. To qualify, recipients must reside in the U.S. and have at least 50 Db hearing loss in both ears.
Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) – This is one of the nation’s leading organizations representing those with hearing loss. The association provides resources for both individuals with hearing loss and their families. Resources include local chapters, online communities, advocacy, resources for financial assistance and information about hearing loss technologies. Goals include reducing stigma associated with hearing loss and raising public awareness about hearing issues.
National Association of the Deaf (NAD) – For over 125 years, the NAD has worked to safeguard the rights of deaf Americans. The association focuses on education, employment, healthcare and telecommunications. Deaf and hard of hearing students can look to this organization for resources concerning deafness-related publications, legal assistance, certification of interpreters, captioned media, research, public policy and youth leadership development.
National Cued Speech Association (NCSA) – The goal of the NCSA is to promote the use of cued speech. The organization provides support for students with language, hearing and learning needs. It offers services through publications, family learning vacations, conferences, and exhibits.
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing/Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Center – The AGB Association provides assistance for those with hearing problems through education, advocacy and financial support. It offers assistance and information for employment, legal, family and financial issues, as well as scholarships for deaf and hard of hearing college students.
The Deaf Resources Library – A large database of resources for the deaf and hard of hearing. This virtual library includes information on deaf cultures and a variety of deaf-related topics.