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Hearing Impairment

The characteristics and attitudes among students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing are not all similar. The causes and degrees of hearing loss vary across individuals, as do the methods of communication utilized by an individual. There are three general types of hearing loss. They are as follows:

  • Conductive loss: The hearing loss affects the sound paths of the outer and middle ear. Treatment procedures involve the use of a hearing aid or surgery. Behaviors exhibited by an individual with a hearing loss involve speaking softly, being able to hear better in noisy surroundings than those who hear normally, and experiencing ringing in their ears.
  • Sensorineural loss: The inner ear and the auditory nerve are affected with this type of loss. An individual with a sensorineural loss might speak loudly, have a greater high-frequency loss leading to a difficulty with distinguishing consonant sounds, and not being able to hear well in noisy environments.
  • Mixed loss: When an individual has both a conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

Two common accommodations or services that individuals who are hard of hearing or deaf use are Sign Language Interpreting and Captioning (CART):

  • Sign Language Interpreting: An interpreter facilitates communication between a deaf or hard of hearing individual and a hearing individual. Their role is similar to a foreign language translator, who bridges the communication gap between two parties. Interpreters assist deaf or hard of hearing people with understanding communication not received aurally. Interpreters also assist hearing people with understanding messages communicated by deaf or hard of hearing individuals. Sign language interpreters use language and finger spelling skills; oral interpreters silently form words on their lips for speech reading. Interpreters will interpret all information in a given situation and also be the voice of deaf people, if requested. Sign Language Interpreters may sign in American Sign Language (ASL), Pidgin Signed English (PSE), Signed Exact English (SEE), or Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE), depending upon the need of the student.
  • Captioning (CART): All spoken communication in the classroom is manually transcribed by a captionist, typically using a computer. With minimal delay, information is transmitted by the captionist to the student's computer or a monitor where the student then reads the transcript. The information can also be displayed on a video monitor, printed out as a rough transcript, captured on a floppy disk, or printed in Braille.

Considerations in Accommodating Hearing Impairments

  • It is your legal responsibility to provide the student anonymity from the other students (e.g., avoid pointing out the student or explicitly mentioning their accommodation need to the class).
  • Students with a hearing loss might have speech impairments due to the close relationship between oral language and hearing.
  • Intelligence and the physical ability to produce sounds are not affected due to the inability to hear and process language quickly.
  • Be sure to have the visual attention of the student who is deaf before speaking to him/her. Using a visual signal such as a wave or a light touch on the shoulder is appropriate.
  • Keep front seats available for students who are hard of hearing or deaf and their interpreters.

Instructional Strategies-Hearing Impairments

For the Student:
  • Include a statement in your course syllabus regarding accommodation issues for students with disabilities. See the Suggested Disability Statement for course syllabi.
  • Students might need a note-taker for class even if they have a sign interpreter, for it is difficult to take good notes at the same time since they rely on their vision to "listen" to the lectures.
  • Face the class while speaking. Be sure that the student and the interpreter (if present) can see you while you lecture.
  • Avoiding lecturing or giving our procedural information while handing out papers. Losing eye contact with the student may also mean the loss of information for the student.
  • Repeat the comments and questions made by other students during class discussion. Acknowledge those who are speaking also so the student who is deaf or hard of hearing can focus their attention on them.
  • Using visual aids and materials during your instruction is beneficial for those with a hearing loss, as vision is their primary means of receiving information.
  • While the student maintains eye contact with the interpreter, it is important to remember to maintain eye contact with the student also.
For the Sign Interpreter:
  • The student needs an unobstructed view of the sign interpreter and the instructor. Speak directly to the student and the sign interpreter will interpret your words directly. Do not expect the sign interpreter to answer for the student. However, the interpreter is available to voice the student's signed comments.
  • Pauses between topics or main ideas during your lecture will facilitate the accuracy of the interpretation and thus be better understood by the student.
  • If there is only one interpreter in the classroom, he/she might need to break after 45 minutes of working. Interpreting is a highly taxing, both mentally and physically.
  • Sign Interpreters who use "teaming" share the interpretation responsibilities by taking turns signing. When one interpreter is not signing, they should still be perceived as working as an integral part of the communication process for the student.
For the Captionist:
  • In order for the student to have continuous access to the computer screen or to the person speaking and the Captionist, remember to walk around them.
  • It is in the Captionist's statement of ethics that they will not give away or sell the notes taken in class.
  • The Captionist needs to be seated at a small table near the front with access to an electrical outlet. Arrangements will have been made by the Disability Services staff to have this furniture in your classroom. If you do not see the table and chair the first day of classes, please notify Disability Services at x2473.
Needs of Both Sign Interpreters and Captionists:
  • Course syllabi and any new vocabulary; DR office will provide copies of textbooks
  • To be informed of any films, videos, or overheads to be shown in order to allow time for lighting and positioning to be arranged.
  • To be informed as to whether the audiovisuals will be captioned, closed captioned, labeled, titled or scripted
  • Instructors should relax and talk normally, noting that there may be lag time between the spoken message and the interpretation.
  • When referring to objects or written information, allow time for the translation to take place. Replace terms such as "here" and "there" with more specific terms, such as "on the second line" and "in the left corner."

Types of Accommodations Commonly Used

The following list includes examples of accommodations that are commonly used by students with a hearing impairment. Not all students with a hearing impairment are eligible to receive all of following listed accommodations, nor are they limited to those listed when receiving accommodations. Eligibility for receiving any kind of accommodation depends upon factors specific to the nature of the student's disability. The accommodations included on the Student Accommodation Letter are recommended Disability Resources, and are considered to be both appropriate and required for that particular student.

  • Sign language interpreters
  • Captionist
  • Note taking Assistance
  • Specific seating
  • Assistive listening devices


Main Campus Building Room E108

300 The Fenway
Boston, MA 02115


For more information regarding Disability Services, please contact:

Timothy Rogers
Director of Disability Services

Erin Glover
Coordinator, Disability Services

For appointments, call 617-521-2474.