Deaf or Hard of Hearing
This section introduces hearing loss and explores how this may impact on a student's academic performance and participation in university life. Students who are D/deaf or Hard of Hearing can face difficulties unfamiliar to the hearing population. Here, the main focus is to suggest ways in which you as a staff member can support students with hearing difficulties within their role of being a student.
- Difficulties that may be experienced by university students who are D/deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Communicating with a student who is D/deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Strategies staff can use to support students
Hearing loss is measured in decibels hearing level (dBHL). A person who can hear sounds across a range of frequencies at 0 to 28dB is considered to have normal hearing. The thresholds for the different types of hearing are as follows:
- Mild 25-39 dBHL
- Moderate 40-69 dBHL
- Severe 70-94 dBHL
Profoundly deaf people cannot hear sounds quieter than 95dB. In the Deaf community, the word deaf can mean different things- ‘deaf’ refers to a loss of hearing, whereas ‘Deaf’ with a capital ‘d’ refers to identified membership of a linguistic and cultural minority. Irish Sign Language (ISL) is the principal form of communication for Deaf people in Ireland. Sign language arose and developed from within Deaf communities.
Deaf students often communicate using sign language and lip reading. Some D/deaf students use cochlear implants or hearing aids. A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound. A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve.
A student who is hard of hearing has some degree of hearing loss. Students who are hard of hearing usually communicate using a combination of strategies that rely on his/her remaining degree of hearing ability which can be enhanced by a hearing aid or an assistive hearing device. These may include public address systems, induction loops and transmitter/receiver systems with a clip-on microphone for the lecturer.
A Loop System enables hearing aid users to hear various sound sources in large rooms or reception areas, in auditoriums, offices, theatres, or other large public areas. A loop of insulated wire is fixed around a designated listening area and is connected to a power source, an amplifier and a microphone. Hearing aids which have the ‘T’ switch can be set at this position, thus allowing the user receive a signal, which is carried from the microphone to the amplifier and is transmitted through to the loop wire, similar to a transmitting aerial. A number of loop systems are installed around Trinity. Click here to see the loop system locations.
Difficulties that may be experienced by university students who are D/deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Most information on the Trinity environment is presented aurally. Students who are D/deaf or Hard of Hearing are at a distinct disadvantage during lectures as the medium of teaching is through the spoken word.
- Students are likely to miss out on information presented aurally during lectures or classes.
- Students who use ISL usually consider English as their second language. As such, students may have difficulty with learning and communicating through English such as spelling and grammar, reading for meaning, writing fluently and expressively,
- Students may have difficulties completing assignments or in exam situations due to difficulties with reading comprehension or written expression.
- Students may misinterpret information, particularly where there is possible ambiguity in terminology.
- Students may have difficulties in group situations; following the discussion and making contributions.
- For students who are Deaf or hard of hearing and who choose to speak, feedback mechanisms are limited; therefore, vocal control, volume and articulation may be affected. Students may have difficulty communicating orally.
Communicating with a student who is D/deaf or Hard of Hearing:
- Ask the student what is the best way for you to communicate with them.
- Be mindful of distractions and background noise and try to minimise these where possible.
- If you are finding it difficult to understand what a student is saying, ask them to repeat it or write it down.
- It is important to gain the student's attention (without startling him/her) before speaking, for example, by waving your hand discretely, tapping a microphone, and making eye contact.
- Speak at the same pace and volume as you would normally, speaking in a louder voice or excessively slowly may interfere with hearing aids or loop systems.
- If you are using video aids, ensure that they are subtitled.
- Repeat questions or remarks from other students in the room. Ensure important information, for example a change of room location, is communicated in a written format.
Guidelines if a student is lip reading:
Lip-reading is a demanding activity requiring great concentration. Three quarters of it is guesswork, therefore clear speech and contextual clues are vital.
- Face the class as you speak. The student would know best about where to sit.
- Speak clearly and a reasonable natural pace, and do not cover your mouth or face away.
- Take regular pauses.
- Do not stand in front of a light source as this creates a shadow over your face which makes it more difficult to lip read.
- Use of facial expression and gestures during a lecture all produce extra contextual information to reduce guesswork for the student.
- Try to review or give a summary of information covered.
- New vocabulary or acronyms are impossible to lip read, writing them on the board and giving an explanation helps.
- You cannot read and lip read at the same time, thus it is important to allow the person extra time to read passages/notes if you are explaining things.
Guidelines if a student is using an ISL interpreter:
- When communicating one-to-one, speak and look directly at the D/deaf person. The interpreter will convey the message in the first person and will communicate the meaning and the content of your speech. This is explained in this Deaf Awareness video by a Trinity graduate.
- The interpreter's role is to facilitate communication, not to participate, so all remarks should be addressed to the communicating parties and not the interpreter.
- Speak at your normal rate; the interpreter will alert you if you are moving too quickly. If you are taking questions from others then the interpreter may point at that person to indicate who is speaking.
- Interpreting (translation into Sign Language) is a demanding task and most interpreters need a break after half an hour of continuous interpreting.
- Be aware that sign language often does not have signs for specialised or technical words and the interpreter will need to fingerspell these words. It can be helpful to define these terms and list any new vocabulary on handouts.
- Ensure that both the student and the interpreter have a copy of all handouts before the lecture.
- Deaf students can only attend to one source of information at a time i.e. the lecturer (via the interpreter) or the visual aid (overheads, slides etc.).
- Ensure the lecture hall is well lit so that the student can see the interpreter clearly.
Guidelines for tutorials or group work:
- Tutorials can be particularly difficult, especially if the student is required to follow streams of conversation from different people in the group.
- Try to ensure that everyone in the group can be seen by the Deaf/Hard of Hearing student or their interpreter.
- Try to encourage students to speak one at a time in group situations.
Strategies staff can use to support students
- As explained here, students may have disclosed being D/deaf or Hard of Hearing to their School. Access the LENS report for details on how you can support the student. Implement and support a student’s reasonable accommodations with efficiency and discretion. Be mindful of how being unable to hear may impact a student’s experience of university life.
- Ask the student about what is the best way for you to communicate with them, and encourage the student to approach you if you are not delivering your information clearly. See the above guidelines for support in communicating with a student who is D/deaf or Hard of Hearing.
- View the Deaf Awareness videos on Youtube made by a Trinity graduate; Deaf Awareness Tips and Reflections on my final year.
- Tips for working with a Sign Language Interpreter
- Make lecture notes available in advance if possible, so students can familiarise themselves with the language to expect in the lecture. Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing may rely more heavily on text books than other students, so providing a clear reading list at the beginning of the course can be very helpful.
- Ensure whatever information is communicated aurally is also available visually or written in notes.
- Follow Trinity Inclusive Curriculum guidelines as much as possible.
- Help and advice on using the College Accessible information policy .
See the following links for more information about being D/deaf or Hard of Hearing and useful resources: