Information for staff working with deaf or hearing impaired students

Deafness is a term used to cover the whole range of hearing loss. The RNID (Royal National Institute for Deaf people) uses the term to cover people who are: deaf, partially deaf/partially hearing, deafened, deaf/blind, hard of hearing, and tinnitus sufferers. Deaf students at Leicester will fall into one of the following broad categories:

Degree of loss Mode of Communication

often non-oral but sometimes profoundly deaf students can use oral communication

A student who has very little residual hearing or speech would usually use sign language to facilitate communication. In this situation a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter would be used to support the student during lectures, as would a note-taker and/or copies of the lecturer's notes.  Sometimes, however, a profoundly deaf person can communicate orally.  Check support requirements with the student.
Severe often oral but sometimes severely deaf students would prefer to use a BSL interpreter As above - but with more residual hearing and speech.  Even so students with a severe hearing loss may prefer to use a BSL interpreter rather than oral communication.  Check support requirements with the student.
Moderate/partially deaf usually oral A student with a considerable degree of useful hearing. When aided, it may not be apparent that a student has a hearing loss - especially if speech is fluent. A student may still need to lip-read, however. The difficulties he/she may experience are often no less in degree, but different in kind to those with a severe loss.  Check support requirements with the student.
 Mild usually oral  A student with a mild loss would hear speech, but at a reduced level. Hearing aids are often not helpful, as a background noise is also amplified and distortion introduced. Listening and teaching strategies have to be adapted accordingly.  Check support requirements with the student.

How could this affect the student's work?

In the majority of situations deafness will not affect a student's work. The biggest problems experienced by deaf students at Leicester are in hearing what goes on in lectures and seminars. All main lecture theatres are equipped with induction loops although not all students find these effective and from 2016 -17 lecture capture facilities will also be available in all main teaching rooms.  This equipment will be more useful for some students than others, but the system allows a view of the presentation slides and the sound track. Some students may still need note-taking support and they should discuss this with a Study Adviser.  For information on facilities available in teaching rooms at the University see:  Students can experience great frustration in these situations, and where a lot of teaching is done in seminar groups, they can fall behind in their work. Deaf students will need more time to assimilate the new language of their subjects - limited access to the spoken language around them inhibits the assimilation of vocabulary and forms of expression. Also the auditory memory is likely to be less useful for them than for other students as an aid to study - it is thought that this aspect, vocabulary assimilation, and the lack of `inner voice' when reading, can significantly affect reading fluency. For some, written expression may be affected by deafness.

How should tutors and teaching staff react?

Teaching Strategies

There are a number of strategies which can be used by teaching staff which will help enormously, and there is an important role for tutors in educating other student members of seminar groups, so that the simple tactics outlined below are used by everyone.

General points
  • Attract the student's attention before speaking; make sure you are facing him/her.
  • Speak clearly; but avoid speaking artificially slowly, exaggerating your lips, or shouting as this affects the natural rhythm of speech.
  • Make use of natural gesture and facial expression as a clue to meaning.
  • Make sure that there is adequate light on your face. Do not stand with your back to windows.
  • Position the student so that he/she can lip-read you easily and see the projector or board and as much of the class as possible if there is to be a group discussion.
  • Repeat questions asked from the floor.
  • Make use of visual material, i.e. handouts, key vocabulary, diagrams, written instructions, virtual learning environments such as Blackboard.
  • Indicate when you are changing the subject.
  • Check comprehension; encourage and direct questions.
  • Keep background noise to a minimum.
  • Write important new words on the board to fix their form.
  • Do not expect a hearing impaired student to take notes easily; he/she cannot lip-read and write simultaneously. Teaching staff are strongly urged to allow hearing impaired students to record their lectures where lecture capture facilities are not available or to have a transcription of lecture notes or a note-taker present.
  • If using DVD/video for teaching purposes, be aware that the student will not be able to follow the soundtrack and will need to borrow the DVD/video or have access to subtitles or a transcript.
  • Direct the student towards any relevant course materials on Blackboard.
In seminar groups
  • Ensure that members of the group raise their hand before speaking, so that the deaf student is alerted to a change of speaker.
  • Do not allow more than one person to speak at a time.
  • Be aware that a deaf person cannot read or take notes at the same time as lip-reading - allow time for a student to look at the relevant section of a handout, then make sure you have his or her attention before you comment on it.
  • Experiment with the seating arrangements - a horseshoe arrangement can allow the deaf student to locate the speaker more quickly.

Technical Support

Students will generally already have their personal hearing aid system if appropriate to their needs; the following outlines how these and other technical aids work in the teaching situation. Teaching staff should note that these systems will not work where students have insufficient residual hearing to use a hearing aid.

A Radio Microphone System consists of a microphone given to the lecturer which transmits to a receiver worn by the student. It helps to eliminate problems of distance and background noise and so is ideal for lectures and to a lesser extent seminars. Lecturers should be aware that questions from the floor will not be heard, and so should be repeated before an answer is given. In a seminar situation, the deaf person will either place the microphone in the centre of the table to pick up individual contributions, or, if the microphone is not sensitive enough, it will have to be passed around to whoever is speaking.

Induction Loops also help to eliminate the effects of distance and background noise and are again used in conjunction with a microphone used by the speaker and sometimes with an existing amplifying system. The microphone is connected to an induction loop fitted around the perimeter of a room. The student is able to hear sound, picked up by the microphone, through his or her hearing aid within the loop. Again, anything not said into the microphone will not be heard by the deaf student.

In general, induction loops are fitted into most lecture theatres.  Portable systems are also available which can then be moved from room to room. For information about the facilities in teaching rooms see:

Digital Recorders can be used by students with a substantial amount of residual hearing and are useful for keeping a record of lectures to be listened to at leisure afterwards and stored on their computers if they wish as sound files. The advantage of recording is that any words or sentences which are at first difficult to hear can be replayed several times, possibly using a neck loop and hearing aid or a set of lightweight headphones.  It is anticipated that lecture capture systems will eventually supersede the need for personal recordings.

Human Support

Note-takers: it is impossible to lip-read a speaker or follow an interpreter while at the same time taking notes. Using a note-taker may be the only way the deaf student has of obtaining a permanent record of the lecture. Note-takers often sit next to their client in order that the notes can be referred to during the lecture. Professional note-takers should take down almost the whole lecture and will follow the instructions of the deaf student about what should be included or excluded. Note-takers in the University can either be employed directly by the AccessAbility Centre or by an external agency which works in close conjunction with the Centre. Usually, note-takers are selected from the student body so ideally they take notes in the subject they are studying. Again, lecture capture systems may replace note-taking support, equally, note-taking support is expected to have a place in the support arrangements for some students and this will be discussed with the student by AAC staff.

Lipspeakers are useful for those who do not use sign language but who find a tutor or lecturer difficult to lip-read. A lipspeaker repeats the words of the speaker without voice. They produce clearly the shape of words, the flow, rhythm and phrasing of natural speech and repeat the stress as used by the speaker. The lipspeaker also uses facial expression, natural gesture and fingerspelling (if requested) to aid the lipreader's understanding. Lipspeakers are used by people who use lip-reading extensively and who have a good command of the English language.

Interpreters are used by students who prefer to communicate through British Sign Language (BSL) or Sign Supported English. The interpreter will translate what is said by the lecturer or tutor into sign and will provide a voice over for the deaf student's own signed contribution if required. It is helpful to employ an interpreter who has some knowledge of the subject matter, especially if the vocabulary is highly specialized. Interpreters are qualified to a minimum of Level III Certificate in BSL ( Signature – until January 2009 CACDP, the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People, administers training and examinations for sign language qualifications, etc.).

Communication Support Workers provide an interpreting service and may also provide a lipspeaking or note-taking service and a voice-over for the deaf student's contributions, but will not yet have reached interpreter level (They will usually be qualified to Level I/II Certificate in BSL).

General Communication

The advent of the mobile phone and use of text messages mean that deaf and hard of hearing students can keep in touch more easily than previously when textphones has to be used. Communication is also possible between deaf and hearing people by using the 'typetalk" system run by the RNID and funded by BT. The deaf person uses the textphone as normal, but the message goes to a Typetalk operator who then reads it to the hearing person without a textphone. Similarly, the hearing person can ring Typetalk and have the operator type the message to appear on the deaf person's textphone. Organisations and individuals can hold an account with Typetalk. E-mail is also an excellent mode of communication for a deaf student.  Fax machines can also be used.

University Services Available

The AccessAbility Centre

Students vary on how they wish to manage their course and liaise with staff. Some students prefer to do it themselves, others prefer to use the services of the Centre staff, at least at the beginning of their course. The AAC offers the following services:

  • liaison with academic staff where appropriate
  • co-ordination of note-taking and interpreting services
  • resource/information base for those who are teaching deaf students
  • one to one support to discuss study issues or other practical matters pertaining to University life liaison with external agencies, e,g: Specialist Teachers for Deaf Students, Communication Support Workers and so on
  • assistance with applications for the funding of specialist equipment and human support, usually via the student’s Disabled Students’ Allowance.


AccessAbility Tutors

Each department/School has a designated tutor who acts as a source of support and a point of contact for students and staff.

Examination arrangements

Many deaf students opt to take exams in a smaller room where the invigilator can check that they have heard or understood the instructions at the start and finish of the exam. Some profoundly deaf students may need extra time in exams to compensate for slower reading and writing. Some exam boards will agree to modified language question papers for students whose language skills are significantly affected by deafness. Arrangements can be made through the AccessAbility Centre which will liaise with the Examinations Office, or vice versa.

Technological Support

Students are usually able to purchase the equipment they need through the Disabled Students’ Allowance.

The vast majority of lecture theatres are fitted with loop systems – see:  The aim is for it to be used for seminar groups who have deaf participants.

Audio Visual Services, as part of their DVD recording service, are able to record television programmes with subtitles upon request and also has a small number of Connevans portable radio aids which can be borrowed – see

Typetalk see


Deaf with Honours Support for Further and Higher Education   


Katy Davis, Kent Physical and Sensory Services, Cambridge University Advisory Committee on Disability.


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