Can you tell us a bit about your history and personal experience helping students with disabilities on their path towards college with your organization Communication service for the Deaf (CSD)?

I began my advocacy in this field when I was a student myself, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I successfully argued that ASL should fulfill a foreign language requirement, and UW-Madison became one of the first postsecondary institutions in the country to offer this option.

Since then I have worked extensively with college students and those who provide services to them in a variety of contexts. At CSD, we work with students at National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) and Southwest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf (SWCID). We also provide direct education via CSDLearns, as well as a wealth of resources throughout our various departments.

What do you tell students who don't believe they can attend college because they are deaf or hard of hearing?

I definitely encourage them to go for it! My specific advice depends on why they experience that hesitation. If they are worried about isolation, I remind that there are deaf universities like Gallaudet and also colleges and universities that have a sizable deaf population like California State University - Northridge. If they are worried about accommodations, I let them know about what the law requires and ways that they can expect to get assistance once they begin studying at an institution. For example, most colleges and universities have some variation of a disabled student services department, which is there to advocate for the student and coordinate accommodations as needed.

What are some common misconceptions about students who are deaf or hard of hearing and education?

I've had a lot of interactions with educators who think accommodations will be distracting or burdensome -- they're really not! Hearing students get used to ASL interpreters, real-time captioning, FM loops, and everything else very quickly. Some accommodations are not only neutral but actually positive for hearing students in the classroom. For example, captions on videos shown in class have been shown to have benefits for all students.

Should students be up-front with universities about their hearing disability during the application process? Or is this something students should bring up after they have been accepted and plan to attend that university? What are some strategies you have seen students successfully use to address being deaf or hard of hearing with universities during the application process?

Students should expect that disclosing that they are deaf or hard of hearing will not negatively impact the likelihood that they'll be accepted into a given university -- anything else would be illegal! Disclosure is a little different in this situation than in an employment context, where there are sometimes reasons to hold off on disclosure until a job offer is made.

It's important to find a good fit between a student and a university. If a university is less likely to accept a student because they are deaf or hard of hearing, that can indicate that there would be ongoing problems for the deaf or hard of hearing student at that school, and therefore the student might prefer to study elsewhere.

For many students, knowing that their university has systems in place to provide accommodations is an important part of the decision-making process. This may differ if a student does not plan to make use of any accommodations. However, it is very common for deaf and hard of hearing students to use ASL interpreters, note taking, real-time captioning, and other services.

That said, I encourage prospective students to not give up if a specific college or university they want to attend is displaying a lack of knowledge about accommodations or other requirements. Often these schools end up being a great fit once they learn more about their responsibilities, and how to best provide the necessary accommodations.

If you could give one piece of advice to students who are deaf or hard of hearing applying to college, what would it be?

Know your rights, know the laws, and be willing to challenge the status quo if needed. Keep it polite and professional, but be persistent. Don't let perceived limitations get in your way; if there is something that makes you think a college would be a good fit -- whether it's the city, the campus, the majors offered, or anything else -- go for it!

What do you feel are the most important attributes or characteristics a student who is deaf or hard of hearing should consider when selecting a university experience and why?

Like hearing students, deaf and hard of hearing students have a wide variety of experiences and preferences. So this is a little hard to answer - everyone is different! While accommodations are an important part of the picture, each given student may prioritize other attributes or characteristics. And again, the law is clear when it comes to accommodations, so any college or university can and should get to the point where they are providing an equitable experience for all students.

Where can students seek help/advice if an issue does arise?

As mentioned above, disabled student services are usually the first place to go. There may be deaf or hard of hearing organizations on campus with help and advice. And CSD is always there for them if needed!

Are there any barriers that the students you work with commonly experience once they start college? Things they weren't prepared for?

Often students are not prepared for the social isolation, especially if they have not had a lot of experience with mainstreaming. Even with excellent classroom accommodations, deaf or hard of hearing students do not always have full access to campus social life. Again, this is something that depends so much on the individual student and the individual campus.

What are ways students can start to build a long-distance support system if they attend college away from friends or family?

At a deaf university like Gallaudet, sometimes the opposite happens: deaf students who had felt isolated at home feel like they've finally found their community and a support system. For deaf students in more mainstream situations, deaf students can seek out local deaf organizations and maybe even start a campus group if there isn't one already.

Any final thoughts for us?

Going off to college is such a fraught and exciting time, and deaf and hard of hearing students sometimes have extra considerations added to all of the standard elements. We want to reassure those students -- you can do it! You have what it takes.

Jenna Beacom, M.Ed.

Writer at Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc.

Jenna Beacom, M.Ed., is the content marketing writer at Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc (CSD). CSD is the largest nonprofit organization in the world that focuses on deaf people. Jenna has a master's degree in deaf education and over two decades of experience as an educator and advocate in the field.