Working with Students with Hearing Impairment

Loss of hearing is often a hidden disability. Many factors can contribute to an individual’s ability to use his/her residual hearing. For example, a hard of hearing person may not function optimally in a room in which there is a great deal of ambient noise (e.g. hum produced by the air system or an overhead projector) or a room that has poor acoustics (e.g. a room that has a bank of windows that cause sound to reverberate). Level of fatigue may also dramatically alter a person’s ability to hear.

Professors often ask how they may help in the learning process. The following are some recommendations to help increase the understanding and equal opportunity for students with hearing difficulties.

Text and Examinations

  • any changes to the written examination paper should also be written out, rather just being announced at the time of the test or exam.


  • Rarely do assignments have to be altered for a student who is hard of hearing. However, some students with a significant hearing impairment may also have impaired speech. Consequently, oral presentations may be difficult. In a few cases, it may be more appropriate to have a written assignment substituted for an oral presentation.
  • In a laboratory setting, it may be prudent for the hard of hearing student to have a partner to ensure proper procedures are followed. Because lab instructors often move around the room giving instructions, a student with a hearing impairment may miss important information. In some cases, the student will have a friend in the class who would be willing to assist. If not, the instructor may ask for a volunteer. Even though the student has a partner, the lab work must be conducted by each student.

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Classroom Accommodation

  • It is important that the student and instructor agree to classroom arrangements and course expectations at the beginning of the course so that no misunderstandings occur late in the term. A complete and thorough course outline will help clarify expectations. It is expected that the student contact the instructor early in the term to discuss accommodations. However, if it is the student’s first year in a university setting, the student may encounter new experiences, such as large lecture halls and extensive classroom noise. As a result, additional accommodations may have to be discussed throughout the term.
  • Preferential seating is often the most important consideration for an individual with a hearing impairment. The student may want to sit at the front of the class with an unobstructed view of the instructor’s face. If a question is raised or a statement made by another student, the instructor should repeat or rephrase the question/statement so that the hard of hearing student will be able to hear the comment made. In small group seminars/classes, it may be advantageous for the chairs to be arranged in a circle so that all students will be able to see everyone clearly.
  • The instructor should consider where s/he stands in the lecture hall. If there is a bright, sunny window or bright light behind him/her, the student will have difficulty viewing the instructor’s face due to the glare. In addition, the instructor should avoid moving around the room a great deal, as this makes speech reading difficult. When writing on the chalkboard, it is important to remember that the students cannot see the instructor’s face. Speak to the class, not “to the board”.
  • Speak normally. There is no need to ‘over’ enunciate or talk loudly. However, if there is a tendency to talk very quickly, the student will appreciate if the pace could be slowed down slightly. The instructor should be careful not to talk with objects (e.g. hands, lecture notes) obscuring the face. The use of facial gestures and body language will assist the student to interpret what is being said.
  • Students with a loss of hearing will benefit from material presented by means of an overhead projector. However, the hum of the machine can be very distracting; especially for those students whose hearing aid amplified the sound. Turn the machine off when not in use.
  • Students with decreased ability to hear have to expend a great deal of energy trying to listen or speech read (lip read). Consequently, they tire easily. If there is a planned class break, the student will appreciate the break being taken at the scheduled time.
  • For hard of hearing persons, the movement of chairs, the rustling of papers, and the conversations of other students during class changes makes communication virtually impossible. Make sure the students all know when they can contact you during office hours and/or by appointment. Contact is often easy via e-mail for information, which can be transmitted without interactive conversation.
  • Because of the exhausting difficulty of attending to lecture material, students who are hard of hearing often need note takers to supplement their own notes. In such cases, information will be provided that explains the process used to obtain a volunteer note taker.
  • Some students who are hard of hearing are very sensitive about their disability. The instructor is encouraged to use discretion in interacting with the student about the disability in front of others.
  • A student may request that you wear a personal FM system transmitter for direct access to lecture presentation. The FM system transfers sound waves into invisible light waves. Special wireless receivers are worn by individuals. In several rooms on campus, the FM system is built into the sound system, so that the instructor need not wear a transmitter. However, a microphone must be used in order for the student to pick up the FM waves. In some cases, the FM system will eliminate the need for most other classroom accommodations. It should be remembered, however, that the student likely will not hear comments or questions from other students.

If you have any further questions about accommodating a student with a hearing impairment, feel free to contact the Paul Menton Centre (ext. 6608).