Case example: Deafness

(Used with permission from DO IT:Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking & Technology University of Washington)

Michael and Graduate School


My name is Michael and I am a graduate student in Rehabilitation Counseling at San Diego State University. I have a severe-profound, bilateral hearing loss and use hearing aids and speech reading (watching the movement of a person's lips) to maximize my communication abilities. I have some knowledge of American Sign Language but not enough to effectively use a sign language interpreter as an accommodation.

Access Issues

Graduate level courses emphasize student participation and the development of critical thinking skills. In addition to using a notetaker and real-time captioning, in what ways can instructors create a fully inclusive classroom environment that meets and maximizes my communication needs.


I contacted the Office of Accessibility Resource Services and coordinated the provision of real-time captioning and notetaking for use in large classrooms. However, instructors have the ability to further enhance communication accessibility by following some simple communication tips. By educating my instructors regarding my communication needs, I was able to enlist them in using the following communication strategies in their classrooms whenever they have a deaf student who prefers oral communication. (For the purpose of this case study, the term "deaf" will refer to a person with a severe/profound hearing loss who prefers oral communication. These communication tips are also helpful for many deaf students who use sign language interpreters, as well as others with varying degrees of hearing loss).

  • Ask the deaf student to choose the best seating for communication. Typically, this means a seat near the instructor so that the student can see the instructor's lips. Whenever possible, especially in small groups, use a round table or semicircular seating arrangement which enables the student to see everyone's face. Usually, the person with a hearing loss will know best where to sit. It is helpful to take into consideration the area's lighting, so the instructor is illuminated clearly.
  • Avoid unnecessary pacing and speaking when writing on a chalkboard/dry-erase board. It is difficult to speech read a person in motion and impossible to speech read one whose back is turned. Write or draw on the board, then face the group and explain the work. If using an overhead projector, do not look down at it while speaking.
  • Use visual aids. For a person with a significant hearing loss, or who is deaf, vision is a primary channel for receiving communication. Make full use of available aids, including films, videotapes, overhead projectors, Power Point, diagrams, and chalkboards/dry-erase boards. Give the student time to read/analyze before speaking.
  • Make sure the student doesn't miss vital information. Write out any changes in meeting times, special assignments, and additional instructions. Allow extra time when referring to manuals and texts since the deaf student must look at what has been written and then return his attention to the instructor. Following up with e-mail is an excellent way to communicate vital information.
  • Slow down the pace of communication slightly to facilitate understanding. Do not talk too fast. Allow extra time for the deaf student to ask or answer questions.
  • Repeat questions or statements made by other students and point to the person speaking. Remember that many deaf students are cut off from whatever happens outside their visual area.
  • Allow full participation of the deaf student in the discussion. It is difficult for deaf students to participate in group discussions because many are not sure when speakers have finished. Recognize the deaf student from time to time to allow full participation by that person. Be aware of turn taking and give the deaf student a chance to look at the various students before each speaks.
  • Use hands-on experience whenever possible in training situations. Like other people, deaf people learn quickly by "doing." What may be difficult to communicate verbally may be explained easily by hands-on demonstration.


This case demonstrates that:

  • Using simple communication strategies can enhance communication access for a deaf student and, ultimately, result in a positive learning experience.
  • Most instructors are more than willing to follow communication tips. Students with effective self-advocacy skills can help provide the necessary education and awareness for faculty.
  • Communication strategies that enhance the learning experience for deaf students benefit other students as well.