Teaching deaf/hearing impaired students

Each year the University welcomes many deaf students.  Although each students needs may differ, there are many general strategies that can enable effective teaching and learning.

Spoken language is fundamental to our everyday communications and forms an important part of most interactions within the university setting. It is worth considering the impact deafness can have on a student’s access to learning.  Many aspects of learning and the wider university experience are affected. These include potential difficulties with: listening, attention and concentration, literacy, language development, auditory memory, processing time, incidental learning, social skills, self-esteem and learning style. It is important to consider the approaches to teaching and assessment and strive to develop inclusive practices that will not only enable deaf students to participate fully, but will support the learning experience of all students.


There are various terms used to describe deaf people and often people experience uncertainty when seeking the appropriate terminology.  Ideally, we would adopt the terminology preferred by the individual we are working with, however having this discussion is not always practical and could compromise discretion.  

In the UK, the term 'deaf' is used to refer to all levels of deafness.  People who describe themselves as deaf are likely to be profoundly deaf.  People who have retained a considerable degree of hearing might refer to themselves as 'partially deaf' or may refer to their level of hearing as mild to moderate.  Those who refer to themselves as 'Deaf' with a capital D view themselves as culturally deaf; generally sign language will be their first language and they will identify as part of the Deaf community.  People who have experienced hearing loss throughout life are less likely to share this sense of cultural identity and may describe themselves as 'deafened' or 'hard of hearing', with the latter term being more common among older people. 

Terms that should generally be avoided include 'the deaf', which defines people through their disability and also 'hearing impaired'. The term 'hearing impaired' is often used by medical professionals, but can be disliked by many deaf people do not view themselves as having an impairment


There is a lot of variation in levels of hearing loss, ranging from mild to profound.  Someone with mild hearing loss would have difficulty following normal conversation in a noisy room or understanding someone who is softly spoken.  Individuals with mild hearing loss tend not to wear hearing aids as they can amplify background noise and distort sound.  A student with mild hearing loss might have difficulty in seminars where there are multiple group discussions taking place.  They could also miss out on input from their peers in whole class discussions and would benefit from contributions being repeated back by the tutor.  A student with mild hearing loss might not disclose a disability and could therefore remain hidden.  Inclusive teaching practices such as summarising key teaching points will benefit all students and remove some of the disadvantage associated with mild hearing loss.  

Someone with moderate/partial hearing loss will have retained a considerable degree of hearing but may have difficulty understanding direct clear conversation in a quiet room.  With the use of a hearing aid, it may not be apparent that a student has a hearing loss.  However, they may also rely on the visual context to follow speech.  A student with moderate hearing loss may have difficulty following a lecture and could miss instructions that are not backed up with written information.  The disability service offers supports to facilitate communication and make learning more accessible to these students.

A person with severe hearing loss will be unable to hear someone talking to them directly.  Consideration will have to be given to the communication support needs of these students in all spoken interactions and necessary adjustments made.  Students may require the use of communication supports such as interpreters or notetakers.  This can be arranged through the disability service.

Individuals with profound hearing loss will be unable to hear loud noises and are unlikely to benefit from hearing aids.  In some cases these students would use sign language rather than oral communication.  Students who do not use sign language would use a note taker in place of an interpreter.  The student should be consulted to check their individual support requirements.  In addition to teaching support, consideration should be given to safety as these students may be unable to hear sounds alerting them to danger.

Useful Links
Good Practice Guidance

General Guidelines - Many of the approaches that will benefit deaf students will be helpful to all students and should be adopted within an inclusive teaching framework. Try to avoid making assumptions about what the student can and cannot do; including students in discussions about their learning needs and seeking feedback will help them to feel valued and facilitate improvements in communication, teaching and learning.

Direct Communication - 

  • Approach the student directly rather than through a friend or interpreter. 
  • Attract the student’s attention before speaking (moving into their line of vision or waving. We might tap someone on the shoulder to attract their attention, but be mindful that not everybody will be comfortable with this).
  • Face the student and speak normally. Be careful not to distort the shape of your mouth by exaggerating sounds or shouting. Avoid covering your mouth, chewing or eating when speaking.
  • Do not assume the student will be able to lip-read. This is a skill that has to be learned and not all words can be differentiated through lip-reading.
  • Be patient and allow extra time to communicate and check comprehension. 
  • Repeat what you have said if necessary. It is very frustrating for deaf people when others give up on communication because they have been asked to repeat information.
  • Use visual aids to support communication, for example by writing down information or typing onto a computer or mobile phone screen.
  • Be mindful that for many deaf people English is not their first language. Use plain language and short sentences to communicate clearly.

Lectures - 

  • It is particularly difficult to be attentive to the individual needs of all learners within a large group setting. There are good teaching practices that will benefit all learners within an inclusive teaching environment that will also be supportive of the needs of deaf students.
  • Make use of visual material, i.e. handouts, key vocabulary, diagrams, written instructions, virtual learning environments such as Blackboard. Where possible, share this with students in advance of the class. This will enable deaf students to gain familiarity with the vocabulary and make it easier for them to follow the lecture.
  • Make it clear when you are moving onto a new subject.
  • Display new terminology on the board. 
  • Consider whether the student is positioned to be able to see the teacher, board and other students in the room. However, also maintain discretion and respect the wishes of students to choose to sit where they are comfortable.
  • Ensure there is good lighting and avoid standing in front of windows or lamps or having your back to the class.
  • Remember that a student cannot do two visual tasks at the same time e.g. writing and lip reading.
  • Deaf students may have difficulty following a DVD in class and should be allowed to borrow this resource or be provided with transcription/subtitles. Please alert the disability service to any core teaching resources that do not have subtitles/transcriptions.
  • Repeat or rephrase information that comes from others in the room as this is not always audible to the whole class.

Seminars/Group work - 

  • Try to choose a location with minimum background noise.
  • During group work it is helpful to arrange the seating so that people are sitting in a circle and speak one at a time. 
  • During plenary sessions, it is helpful to repeat or paraphrase the contributions from students to clarify and summarise key learning points.

Working with Support Staff - 

  • Some deaf students will work with an interpreter or notetaker who may sit with the student or elsewhere in the room, depending on the preferences of the student.
  • Speak to students directly, not to support staff.
  • It is helpful to send a copy of presentations to the student to share with support staff in advance of the class, particularly where there is a lot of subject-specific terminology that notetakers and interpreters may not be familiar with.
  • Support staff should not be asked to take part in discussions or offer their opinion.
  • As it takes longer to interpret/note take than to listen, students will need longer to respond to questions.
  • Be aware that interpreters and notetakers may require clarification or repetition, particularly where contributions come from other students.  Try to display names and terminology to help support staff provide the correct spelling. 

Individual Adjustments - Please refer to the student's Recommended Adjustments Page (RAP) where applicable. This should detail the individual adjustments the student has discussed with their Disability Adviser. Examples of individual adjustments include:

  • Exams and Tests: Provide any verbal instructions in writing.
  • Course materials: All audio files (e.g. podcasts) must be accompanied by a full written transcript.
  • Teaching Delivery: Advance notice should be given of any non-timetabled meetings or activities to allow BSL Interpreter to be booked.
  • Physical Environment: Teaching rooms and lecture theatres must be fitted with a working induction loop or Phonak Radio system. Availability and status of loop facilities can be checked on the GCU Information Services Lab & Teaching Room Status website: http://status.gcal.ac.uk/roomupdate/index.php
  • Placements: Consider alternative methods for initial recording of client/patient notes such as using a Dictaphone.
Book a Staff Awareness Session

We are offering staff awareness sessions on this topic. The sessions will be an informal overview of the topic. Staff will also have the chance to discuss the guidance, it's usefulness and if they feel they have anything to add to the current version.

if you would like to book onto an awareness session please check our eventbrite to see if there are any upcoming sessions, or email us for information. 

If there are no more scheduled sessions for the trimester, we will keep your details on record and contact you when more awareness sessions become available.

Accommodating D/deaf students during the COVID-19 crisis

Kirsty Ramsay-Hogan and Sheffield Hallam's Disabled Staff Network ‘Spark!’ have produced a video detailing how staff can accommodate D/deaf students during the COVID-19 crisis.