The world of higher education has become increasingly aware of and responsive to students with disabilities. There are now many resources for hearing impaired students that can make their college experience more positive and rewarding. If you are a student who is deaf or hard of hearing, it’s important to know what resources are available and how you can access them.
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the ADA was passed in 1990 to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. It ensures that they receive the same rights and access to services, including employment, public services, transportation, and telecommunications.
For students, Title II and Title III are especially important. Title II prohibits discrimination by public entities like publicly funded colleges, universities, and technical schools. Likewise, Title III applies the same standards to privately funded educational institutions.
In practical terms, this means that schools must provide accommodations for students who are affected by disabilities so that they can have equal access to all resources, programs, and activities. This is a vital step to creating an educational environment that treats all students fairly.
Tips for Choosing the Right College
Choosing a college is difficult for almost every student, but it can be especially challenging for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. While the ADA requires colleges and universities to offer accommodation, unfortunately, not all schools place equal focus on this important issue.
When selecting a college, you may want to ask:
- Does the school have a disability resource center?
- What communication technologies and assistive listening devices does the school make available?
- Does the school provide access to specialists?
- Are there relevant organizations or student groups available?
- How are staff and faculty trained and prepared to accommodate students who are deaf or hard of hearing?
- Are there any other accommodations that the school provides?
Before enrolling, it can be extremely helpful to visit a college in person, speak directly to admissions counselors and other advisors, and see firsthand how welcoming the school is to a student with a disability.
Ways that Colleges Can Accommodate Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students
Deaf or hard-of-hearing students can receive a wide range of accommodations from colleges. Speaking directly to an admissions counselor or accessibility center should help clarify which of these services will be available.
Students with hearing impairments rely primarily on visuals to receive and interpret information. For this reason, visual aids can act as simple and highly effective accommodations that can be provided not only by faculty but also by college staff. There are a number of different kinds of visual aids, including graphics, posters, charts, pictures, graphic organizers, and artifacts. Captions and transcripts also fall into this category.
Another means of accommodation is for faculty to implement teaching strategies that improve the learning experience. For example, a teacher might pause after speaking so that the student’s interpreter has enough time to fully translate the information.
Similarly, the teacher might provide a glossary of new or challenging terms to the student and interpreter in advance so that they will be familiar. Other effective strategies include repeating questions that are asked by other members of the class and using body language and gestures to emphasize or clarify important points.
Amplification and Visibility
Some classrooms are so large that even students without hearing impairments can struggle to hear what the instructor is saying. In these spaces, faculty can use microphones to amplify their voices.
Visibility is also an important consideration. Appropriate lighting and placement make it easier for students to see faculty, speech-read, and observe their gestures. When possible, it is also helpful to put students in a circular formation to allow hearing impaired students to understand what their classmates are saying.
Students with hearing disabilities should have access to testing accommodations to ensure that they can fully demonstrate their knowledge and mastery of a skill. Modifications to tests are designed for each specific student’s needs, but they can include:
- Captions for media
- Time extensions
- Isolated or individual administration
- Sign language interpreters
- Access to assistive listening devices
In each case, the goal is to create a fair testing experience for the deaf or hard-of-hearing student.
Accommodation resources also extend to providing support from interpreters and note-takers. In addition, some schools have dedicated resource centers that have disability specialists, tutoring, and academic coaching.
Assistive Technology for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students
The development of assistive technology has redefined the college experience for many hearing impaired students. It is therefore critical to know what these devices are and what assistance they provide.
Assistive Learning Devices (ALDs) are meant to improve sound transmission in personal or public environments.
- HLAA: The Hearing Loss Association of America has detailed information about different kinds of ALDs and how they function.
- DHS: The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division of the Department of Human Services provides descriptions of ALDs and advice on where to purchase them.
- Healthy Hearing: In addition to providing explanations of ALDs, Healthy Hearing also has a guide to finding a hearing center that can help you purchase them.
Many schools now allow, or even encourage, students to use e-Textbooks, and their features can be very useful to students who are hearing impaired.
- Amazon: Students can rent or purchase many e-Textbooks from Amazon.
- Textbooks.com: This site sells a variety of e-Textbooks, but you will need to create an account in order to browse them.
- VitalSource: The VitalSource Bookshelf allows you to buy e-Textbooks and access all of them through a single platform.
Students can also typically buy e-Textbooks directly from the publishers.
Students often use digital recorders so that they can replay lectures at a later time and fill in gaps in their notes.
- HearMore.com: There are digital recorders available at several different price points from HearMore.
- GearLab: After testing recorders from a variety of brands, GearLab created a list of the best.
Emergency Alert Devices
Students with hearing impairments are sometimes placed at risk because they are unable to communicate with others, particularly emergency services.
- Center for Hearing and Communication: There are emergency alert devices available for use in the home as well as in classrooms or lecture halls.
- RehabMart: The site includes a list of the most effective emergency alert devices for a variety of purposes.
Mobile Apps for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing
In addition to devices, there are mobile apps available that can provide some of the same features.
- Rogervoice creates live captions of phone calls to aid people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- TapSOS allows people with hearing impairments to connect with emergency services without needing to speak.
- Ava can create captions for group conversations, video conference calls, and virtual classes.
- Sound Amplifier can be used with headphones to amplify conversations and background noise.
- InnoCaption uses a combination of live stenographers and automated speech recognition software to caption phone calls.
There are many national and global associations that are intended to provide support to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- The National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes was created as a resource for higher education students with hearing impairments as well as the faculty and family members who want to support them.
- The National Association of the Deaf is a civil rights organization that was established in 1880 to promote the rights of the deaf and hard of hearing community.
- The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University offers publications and resources to deaf and hard-of-hearing students, as well as their educators and parents.
- Accessible College helps students with disabilities successfully transition into a college environment.
- The Alexander Graham Bell Association is a global organization that offers support and resources to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Scholarships for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing
To help students who have disabilities, including hearing impairments, participate in college programs, there are special scholarship programs that have been designed exclusively for them.
- The Jackson-Stricks Scholarship program annually awards $10,000 to two New York-based students with physical challenges.
- The John Lepping Memorial Scholarship is a $5,000 award that is offered to a student who is a resident of New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania and has a disability.
- The Cheryl D. Conkling Memorial Scholarship is a $12,000 award available to students in several states, with preference sometimes given to those with hearing or other physical impairments.
- The Jack Scura Fund offers $10,000 to a student with a disability who will be attending an undergraduate program in New Jersey.
- Sertoma’s Scholarship for the Hard of Hearing or Deaf is a $1,000 given to a graduate-level student.
- The Help America Hear Scholarship is awarded to five students who receive hearing aids and $2,000 for their school of choice.
- The AG Bell College Scholarship Program offers awards of varying amounts to several students each year.