Deaf adult learners bring with them a unique perspective to the classroom. As with hearing students, deaf learners are individuals and vary in their experiences, abilities, and challenges. Many deaf students use American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary mode of communication. Deaf adults are often very skilled at communicating with the hearing people they encounter in their daily life. However, in a classroom, communication can be reliably facilitated by accommodations such as sign language interpreter or live captioning.

Many deaf individuals are part of a larger Deaf Community, which has its own set of values and beliefs. These communities are part of an even larger American sub-culture, Deaf Culture, with shared history, experiences, language, and art. Deaf individuals view themselves as just as capable as their hearing counterparts. Today, many deaf individuals successfully complete college certificates and degrees and become gainfully employed.

As an instructor, you may encounter a deaf student taking your class. Below are some instructional strategies to help you adjust your teaching style. You will find that these strategies will benefit most all other students in your classes.

A Word about Hearing Loss

Not all students with a hearing loss identify with the Deaf Community. Some individuals identify simply as a person with a hearing loss.  Hearing loss is often described as an “invisible” disability because it is not always obvious to other people. About 15 percent of the overall population has a hearing loss of some kind. Hearing loss can be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. The level of hearing, however, does not determine how a person may identify. Hearing loss is caused by a variety of factors such as genetics, environment, illness, injury, or age.

Instructional Strategies

  • Make sure to face the class/student when speaking so the student has the best opportunity to read your lips and facial expressions.
  • Don’t give instructions while the student is looking down and reading. Get the student’s attention before giving directions or information.
  • Give time students to process questions and form responses.
  • Look at the student, not interpreter, when speaking.
  • Speak at your regular speed and volume.
  • Present information in a visually appealing way; using color codes, writing on the board, presenting PowerPoints
  • Invite deaf students to interact in the class and with peers.
  • Check for understanding by asking questions of the student or having them explain. A student nodding in agreement does not always indicate understanding.
  • Repeat or rephrase questions.
  • Interpreters will interpret EVERYTHING they hear.
  • Respect the student. Have high expectations for deaf students. Acknowledge and appreciate the different perspective they bring to the class.

Things Students Would Like Teachers To Do

According to Technological Education Center for Deaf and hard-of Hearing Students (DeafTEC), here are the Top 10 Things DHH Students Would Like Teachers to Do:

  1. Don’t use words like “this” and “that” as referents in the class or lab.
  2. Have PowerPoint and lecture notes available to the students before class.
  3. Treat all students equally.
  4. Have a positive/flexible attitude.
  5. Interpreters are not always an accurate reflection of students when voicing for them.
  6. Be aware of “process time,” the time required to process information into another language.
  7. When presenting visual material, (for example showing PowerPoint slides, using a document camera, etc.) give students time to read before moving one.
  8. Allow deaf student to have access to the first few rows in class on the first day.
  9. Don’t force groups of deaf/hearing students to work together –  before you establish groups, ask students privately for their preferences in group assignments.
  10. If you are using a laser pointer, allow the pointer to remain on the object for an extended period of time.


Some common accommodations that deaf students use include (but not limited to):

  • Sign Language Interpreter
  • Live transcriptions/captions
  • Closed captions/subtitles on visual media, Transcripts for audio media
  • Note-taking assistance
  • Visual aids, Written assignments, Lab instructions, summaries, notes
  • Extended time for exams
  • Use of interpreter for exams
  • Visual warning system for lab emergencies
  • Preferential seating
  • Face student when speaking
  • Assistive listening devices