Hearing Impaired Students' Guide for Academics

Need to Know Facts About Deaf Students

  1. Most teachers will meet a handful of students who are deaf or hearing impaired in their teaching lifetime. It will most likely result in having ONE deaf or hearing impaired person in a class of hearing peers.
  2. There are several degrees of hearing loss (slight to profound)
    Hard of Hearing (HH) > Mild Hearing Loss > Severe Hearing Loss > Profound Hearing Loss
  3. Deaf = deaf with no hearing aids or cochlear implants. Hearing Impaired = deaf but have hearing aids or cochlear implants.
  4. Nowadays, more and more deaf people have either a hearing aid or cochlear implant. They will often be bilingual - and will be more fluent in speech, than in signing.
  5. When a student tells you that they are deaf, always ask them TWO questions:
    • What degree of deafness do you have?
    • What's the best way for me to communicate with you?
  6. If you can, ask them about their deafness and/or hearing support: it shows that you respect the person with the hearing impairment and you'll quickly find out what's the best way to communicate with them.
  7. Some people do not want to reveal that they are deaf.
    • Reasons: they feel uncomfortable that they have to tell people that they can't hear well. Fear of stigma of society: people with hearing would treat the deaf students differently after they find out.
    • What to do in this situation: Just be clear that you want to be able to communicate with them well, so this is a must need to know, and you'll keep it discreet when with other people.
  8. Since the deaf students are often on their own, the learning experience can often be isolating, confusing and difficult, and even everyday conversations with their peers can be difficult. Thus it is important for teachers to be aware and perhaps take control in certain situations. I.e. Group discussions, encourage them!

Student studying in library.
Since the deaf students are often on their own, the learning experience can often be isolating, confusing and difficult, and even everyday conversations with their peers can be difficult.

During lectures: please don't call out their names! They will not hear you, or at least pretend not to hear you.

Tips that all Deaf & Hearing Impaired Students want Teachers to Know

  • Face the direction of where the deaf student is: they can lip read very well. Try not to look down or look away.
  • Repeat answers from other students in the class.
  • Visual cues are a great way to get them learning. Write essential points on the board. Especially with new words or concepts.
  • Classroom layout: have the classroom set up in a semi or full circle. Straight rows facing the tutor are very difficult for the student. This means the deaf student will have limited vision of all students who may speak at one point during the class.
  • Ensure lighting is sufficient (i.e. No lights during a film and a tutor is talking = student panicking!) They can't hear the video unless there is captioning, and if the room is dark, the deaf student cannot lip-read the teacher.
  • Say their name first, before asking them the question: this gets their full attention and they are willing to listen and answer correctly.
  • Provide breaks when possible - students can get VERY TIRED from just from listening to the lecture!
  • Progress logically with topics (try to avoid 3-dimensional teaching), as the student will better grasp the new concepts and how they link to one topic to another.
    • Reason: since spoken English is their 'second language', they have to be in the 'mindset' to pull up relevant vocabulary for the class discussion, so that they can pick up cues and chime in when possible. I.e. China: talk about Chairman Mao, Forbidden City, Shanghai, Beijing, the labour phenomena, etc. Then the student will have to listen hard to get the cue so that they can follow.
  • Don't EXAGGERATE YOUR SPEECH! Talk clearly and normally.
    • They absolutely despise it! They will not be afraid to tell you that you look stupid, or look disinterested.
    • Don't test them by covering your mouth, they're normal people too, not things to experiment on.
  • Don't discuss the deaf person's needs during the tutorial or in front of the tutorial
    • When students are working quietly by themselves, discreetly ask the person to stay behind after class to have a quick chat. They will really appreciate it.
  • During lectures: please don't call out their names! They will not hear you (or at least pretend not to hear you) and you will cause further embarrassment on both sides. Instead, if they email you, just reply to them to give you a wave, or signal that shows who they are at the beginning of the designated class.
  • Most importantly, create new cool ways of communicating! They love it.

You might think, "Wow, they're so interested in the subject, they're hanging onto every word I say...". WRONG!

How can you detect someone who is hearing impaired?

  • Eye contact

    The deaf person will look intently at you when you speak. You might think, "Wow, they're so interested in the subject, they're hanging onto every word I say...". WRONG! They never look down if a lecturer or tutor is talking, as they're lip-reading! If they're not looking at you, you'll notice that they've missed information that's too obvious to miss.
  • Question Time

    In a typical class situation, if you ask a question to a student even if his/her head was down, they would be able to answer it almost immediately. However, for a deaf person, this technique will often result in the deaf person asking you to repeat it again... except this time, the deaf person is looking at you!

    What to do: next time, call the deaf person's name to get his/her attention, then ask the question. After class, you can ask the deaf person to step aside discreetly, and ask them if they are having trouble hearing. You'll know what to do from there!
  • Speech accents and language errors

    Their speech is imperfect: the absence of 's' in "She wants", "3 fire trucks". They will also forget to add seemingly unimportant words such as "a", "the", "is", "are".
    "I am exciting!" when they actually mean, "I am excited!"
    "This morning, I went school, and class boring..."
    They also may write it like this - omitting certain propositions that make up a proper sentence.
  • They repeat what other students say

    They just didn't realise they didn't hear the other person! I.e. A student asks a question and the deaf person is writing something down. Later on, the deaf person asks you the question that she missed, but everyone knows that question has already been asked. This can be the same when you ask a question, and the deaf person says the same thing as the previous person said before.
  • Excessive use of hand gestures

    Big telltale sign that the person signs.
  • They may seem rude

    For example, you're starting a class, but the person is still talking. It may be because they have not heard you, not because they want to ignore you.

They look like any other hearing person. Same, same but different!

Types of Students

Signing student

  • Profoundly deaf (little hearing)
  • Have NO hearing assistive technology whatsoever. They look like any other hearing person. Same, same but different!
  • Need an Auslan interpreter if classes are oral
  • They will let you know by either: tapping on their ears to signal their deafness, or tell the interpreter to tell you.

Tips with a signing student

  • Face and talk to the student as if she is a hearing person: don't look at the interpreter to speak to the student. It's considered very insulting, as you're acknowledging the interpreter's importance, not the deaf student's!
  • Pause until the interpreter has finished, then continue. Tough when it is a heated discussion!

Hard of hearing student

  • Mildly or Severely deaf; wears hearing aid(s); they often do not wear other hearing support equipment
  • Sometimes they prefer the assistance of an Auslan interpreter
  • All can speak and hear, but many may prefer signing

This is what a hearing aid looks like:

Photo of inear hearing aid Fingers holding a hearing aid

Tips with a hard of hearing student

  • When speaking, ensure the noise level is kept to a MINIMUM, they will really appreciate that: their hearing aids do pick up background noises
  • Repeat all answers from other students, the hearing impaired student will want to verify what they have heard.
  • Not yawning? Then put those hands away from your mouth! They do lip-read, as their hearing is not perfect.
  • They do have extra assistive hearing support, but they will most likely not use it.

Cochlear Implanted student

  • Profoundly deaf (little hearing)
  • Wears cochlear implant(s) and hearing aids
  • All can speak and hear, but many may prefer signing
  • Some may ask for an interpreter for certain classes (especially if the language is difficult for the student to hear. I.e. History, classes with films, philosophy, law, mathematics, science, or any class that is outside the student's knowledge)
Photo of child with cochlear implant
A Cochlear Implantee: a magnetised hearing implant (notice that there are no ear moulds into the ear, like the hearing aid). It is surgically implanted in the person's ear at a very young age.

Tips with a CI student: They have very similar needs to those with hearing aids.

Useful websites

Not useful websites

  1. Aussie Deaf Kids - Post Secondary Education

    Mainly for those whose who are deaf or hearing impaired wanting more information about their rights and opportunities available.

  2. The Bionics Institute

    Only research information about the Bionic Ear (Cochlear Implant)

  3. Deafness Foundation

    A list of all the resources available for both deaf and hearing people. Not useful for this purpose.

About this Guide

This Guide has been written by University of Melbourne students.

It is intended to provide academics with a student perspective on how their condition affects their studies at the University.

Contact Us

For assistance or to report accessibility problems please contact:

Andrew Normand
Web Accessibility Lead
Email: anormand@unimelb.edu.au
Phone: +61 3 9035 4867