Support for Students with
Hearing Impairments

Hearing impaired students face a variety of challenges; most prominently, communication. Collegiate instruction is done orally, and traditionally, students with hearing impairments have struggled to obtain a quality education. Thanks to the combined effort of disability activists in recent decades, hearing impaired students can access the resources they need to study effectively on college campuses.

Beginning in 1973, when Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act declared it illegal to reject anyone from a federally-funded program because of a disability, legal measures have ensured that college campuses are accessible for students with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act was the first federal law to address discrimination based on disability status. Its effect on students with disabilities at federally-funded schools has been particularly dramatic. Public schools are now required to offer the use of interpreters, closed captioning videos, and any other services necessary to provide hearing impaired students with a quality education.

hearing_impairment_sign2Another groundbreaking moment came in 1990, with the American Disability Act (ADA). The ADA granted wide-ranging civil rights and equal protections to people with disabilities. The law promises “equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.”
This act ensured that students attending college would not be discriminated against on the basis of any disability, including hearing loss or deafness. It also requires colleges to make all courses and extracurricular activities accessible to students with disabilities.

In subsequent years, colleges across the country have revamped their facilities and resources to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities. Now more than ever, students with hearing impairments are able to attend classes, view course materials, and participate in group assignments efficiently and effectively.

Facts About Hearing Impaired Students

  • Approximately 15% of children ages 3-18 in the U.S. exhibit some level of hearing loss in one or both ears.
  • About 20% of Americans, approximately 48 million people, experience some level of hearing loss.
  • 60% of those Americans with hearing loss are currently in the labor force, or in an educational setting.
  • For every 1,000 students, an estimated 30 will have some level of hearing loss.
Degree of Hearing Loss Hearing Threshold Description
Normal Hearing
(<20dB HL)
Whispering No difficulty hearing.
Mild Hearing Loss
(20-40dB HL)
Normal Conversation Minimal difficulty deciphering soft speech.
Moderate Hearing Loss
(40-69dB HL)
Vacuum Difficult to hear normal
to loud speech
Severe Hearing Loss
(70-95dB HL)
Airplane Jet Engine Difficult to hear
loud speech.
Profound Hearing Loss
(>95dB HL)
Little to No Audible Sounds Nearly total loss
of hearing.

Self-advocacy is an empowering way to take control of your life and protect your rights. For all the progress society has made to protect students with hearing impairments, no number of laws or regulations can help if you are unaware of the laws, or unwilling to bring them to the attention of your professors, administrators, or employer. Some college departments will not know all of your rights, and it may fall on your shoulders to protect your right to an education.

The first step in self advocacy is assessing your strengths and weaknesses. As you prepare for college, strive to place yourself in situations where your strengths will shine and your weaknesses can be accommodated. Develop a strategy to emphasize your academic and social brightspots and identify areas where you know you will need help. Be sure to identify any services that you know you will need (such as an ASL translator for lectures).

Next, educate yourself. Schedule an appointment at your college’s disability center, and let them know what your specific needs are. See what services they offer, and explore any available resources, even ones you may not think you need.

Once you have prepared, you can put your advocacy into action. Scheduling meetings with professors and counselors is crucial to ensuring your needs are met. Since you’ve already brainstormed potential roadblocks to your communication access, you’ll feel ready to request necessary accommodations. Those requirements may include simple measures, such as priority seating, or asking your professors to face you while they speak. Other accommodations may take more effort, such as working with your professor to use voice-to-text software.

Students with disabilities are legally entitled to services that ensure their ability to participate in coursework and extracurriculars available at school. Universities, however, are not required to proactively search for students with disabilities. It is your job to schedule meetings with the disability counselor on campus, and your responsibility to request any services you need.

Meeting with Disability Services

Bring Questions

Make a list of questions to bring to the meeting with the disability services office. Common questions include:

  • What services are available?
  • What is the process of requesting and obtaining these services?
  • Is there a separate cost for any of these accommodations and services?
  • Are there any student disability support groups on campus that I can join?

Document Your Disability

  • You need to provide proper documentation of your disability before you can qualify for services. It’s best to contact your university before you arrive on campus, so you can qualify for assistance immediately.
  • Typically, you’ll need a diagnosis of your current disability, the date of this diagnosis, an explanation for how the diagnosis was reached, credentials of your diagnosing physician, and information about how the diagnosis affects your daily life and academic performance.

Disability Services Meeting Checklist

PostSecondary In Classroom Support Services
Service Available Not Available Can Be Arranged
Permission to Tape Class Notes/Lectures
Carbonized Notetaking Paper/NCR Paper
Closed-Caption TV
Smart Pen
Copies of Handouts/Lecture Notes
Preferential Seating
Non-Programmable Calculator
Communication Facilitation
Service Available Not Available Can Be Arranged
Oral Interpreting
Cued Speech Transliterating
Sign Language Interpreting
(ASL, Contact, & Signed English)
Speech-to-Text Services
Assistive Listening Devices
On-Site Equipment Requirements (University Responsibility)
Service Available Not Available Can Be Arranged
TTY/VP for Campus Use
Visual Alert for Alarm Devices
Telephone Amplifier on Phones
Equipment For Your Own Use (Student Responsibility)
Service Available Not Available Can Be Arranged
TTY/VP for Campus Use
Closed Captioned TV for Dorm Room
Amplified Telephone/Handset
Support Services
Service Available Not Available Can Be Arranged
Academic Tutoring
Learning Centers
Computer Labs
Early Academic Advising
Priority Registration
Peer Mentors
Peer Support Groups
Distraction-Reduced Testing Environment
Additional Time on Quizzes/Exams
Additional Time on In-Class Assignments
Speech and Hearing Clinic on Campus
Housing Accommodations

Online Visual Learning

Online visual learning has revolutionized the traditional classroom by providing a virtual space where hearing impaired students can enjoy an engaging educational setting. Students can watch closed captioned video lectures from their professors and engage with a variety of visual multimedia materials. Online visual learning also eliminates communication barriers, allowing hearing impaired students to seamlessly participate in text-based class discussions and discuss their progress with their professors.

Benefits of Online Learning for Hearing Impaired Students

Makes learning more fun and interesting.

Online courses typically offer a variety of educational resources, including online discussion forums, multimedia games and quizzes, and online communication with professors or classmates.

Caters to different learning styles.

Because online learning offers a variety of heuristic learning methods – interactive, conversational, lecture – students can choose the ones best for them.

Removes reliance on auditory learning.

Online learning offers students access to teachers and peers through modes of communication (email, web portals, etc.) that don’t require audible instruction.

Improves reading and literacy skills.

Online education provides a text-based learning environment, giving students the chance to sharpen their reading and writing skills through online conversations, captioned videos, and multimedia games.

Enables students to learn at their own speed.

Online students can study at their own pace. They can re-watch captioned lectures as often as necessary, allowing them to fully absorb the material.

Helps develop independent learning.

Online courses are inherently flexible, allowing students to complete coursework at their convenience. Additionally, the text-based format of online learning empowers hearing impaired students by giving them the tools to be their own teachers.

Disability-Related Expenses

Hearing-impaired students may incur additional financial expenses on top of what they can expect to pay for school. These expenses range from the cost of interpreters to paying for an Induction Loop device.

  • Some disability-related expenses are covered by your university. Such requirements vary from state to state. Expenses that are not covered by the university can often be supplemented by private or public organizations, or vocational rehabilitation services.
  • There are a number of laws requiring colleges and universities to provide an accommodating environment for students with disabilities. These laws include:
    • Section 504 Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – The Rehabilitation Act made it illegal for a federally-funded program to reject an individual on the basis of their disability, and mandated that these programs accommodate individuals with disabilities.
    • Workforce Investment Act of 1998 – This act provides funds to train and educate people with disabilities. It mandates that students receive help in determining their eligibility for financial assistance in covering the costs of their disabilities.
    • Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) – Extends financial aid opportunities for disabled students.
    • ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) – Expanded the definition of what constitutes a “disability,” ensuring students have access to the aid they need.
  • If you’re hoping to be reimbursed for costs associated with your disability, save all documentation of your expenses. You should then bring that documentation to your college’s Office of Disability Support or Financial Aid Office. There, you can learn whether the college is required to cover any of those expenses. Often, disability support counselors can advise students on which other private or public community organizations can also contribute funds.
  • Students who are eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) in their state may have some of their expenses covered by that agency. VR agencies cover many disability related costs, ranging from transportation to job training.

Interpreting/Transliterating Services

Interpreters use a variety of methods to help students understand classroom discussion, and communicate with ease. The interpreter may use sign-language interpreting, providing ASL translation of a professor’s lecture. They may also use oral interpreting, in which the interpreter mouths the professor’s words for the student. Transliterators offer simultaneous transcription of the professor’s speech so the student can read along with the lecture in real-time.

Tips for using an interpreter:

  • Tell your interpreter your preferred mode of communication, i.e. sign language vs. speech-reading.
  • Tell your interpreter whether you want to speak for yourself in class, or have your interpreter voice for you.
  • Keep communication open.

Speech-to-Text Services

  • In speech-to-text services, a transcriber or stenographer listens to the auditory content of a lecture, and types the words being spoken for the student to read in real-time.
  • Transcribers/stenographers will caption or transcribe the auditory lecture, instantly converting it into text which the student can read on a laptop or smartphone.
  • This service is particularly helpful for students who prefer written text to sign language or lip reading. It’s also an ideal communication aid for courses that use a complex, field-specific vocabulary.


  • This service provides a notetaker to take detailed notes of class lectures and discussions, which are then given to hearing impaired students.
  • A designated note taker, either volunteer or paid, attends every class and keeps notes of information presented. He or she then shares the notes with the hearing impaired student.
  • This service can be enormously helpful for students who use an interpreter, or read their professors’ lips. Typically, students have difficulty watching their interpreter/professor while simultaneously taking notes. A notetaker allows the student to focus on absorbing the content of the lecture, without worrying about recording the important information for later use.

Assistive Listening Device

  • While hearing aids can help students with hearing impairment as they navigate their everyday life, they can pose a problem in the classroom. Hearing aids magnify all background noises, often drowning out the speaking voices that the student is attempting to decipher. Assistive Listening Devices magnify the speaking voice of a professor without amplifying background noise.
  • Assistive Listening Devices help to connect the professor’s voice directly to a student’s hearing aid, through a chord or coil or microphone. There are four different types: FM Devices, Infrared Devices, Induction Loop Devices, and Hardwired Devices.

Tape Recorders

  • Tape recorders can be a tremendous classroom aid for students with minor hearing loss who might not require a sign language interpreter. By recording the entire contents of a lecture on tape, students have an easy, portable means of preserving the content of the lecture for their later reference. Sometimes, students may request that the tape be transcribed into writing for their reference.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing frequently qualify for alternate accommodations for test-taking. These accommodations can help eliminate some of the outside stresses associated with their disability, and help them focus on the actual content of the exam. These are some, but not all, of the testing accommodations offered by most colleges. Check with your campus disability office to learn what services are offered on your campus.

Extended Time

  • Students with learning disabilities, and students who are deaf or hard of hearing, sometimes require more time to finish an exam, due to reading or language difficulties.
  • This extension ranges from time and a half, double time, or unlimited time, based on agreement between the student, counselor, and instructor. If classroom time does not allow for such an extension, the student will typically take the exam in another designated location.
  • By removing the stress associated with limited time for test-taking, students with disabilities can focus on answering questions and demonstrating their knowledge.

Interpreted Tests

  • This form of test-taking involves an interpreter translating written material into ASL.
  • An interpreter assists a student by reading the test question, translating it into ASL, waiting for the student to answer the question in ASL, and interpreting that answer back into English.
  • This form of test-taking is ideal for students who have difficulty reading, and feel most comfortable communicating in ASL. It works particularly well for knowledge-based exams.

Distraction-Reduced Testing

  • Distraction-reduced testing involves designating a “distraction-reduced room” somewhere on campus to reduce visual noise and other distractions.
  • This can be helpful for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and also have disabilities like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
  • This “distraction-reduced room” will frequently be placed in the disability services unit or the instructor’s office.

Priority Seating

  • Priority seating is a strategy that places students who are disabled in specified areas of the room so as to accommodate their disability.
  • A student can request priority seating from their disability services center, and then speak with their professors about the arrangement. Typically, students who are hearing impaired will want to sit as close to the professor as possible.

Visual Aids

  • Visual aids such as captioned videos, diagrams, and image slideshows can be used during classroom time to help hearing impaired students follow along. Visual aids can also be distributed for students to review on their own time, through information handouts and diagrams. Some teachers will allow hearing impaired students additional time with classroom videos or image slideshows.
  • Visual aids also include captioned videos, diagrams, Powerpoint presentations, images, and graphs.

Closed Captioning

  • Closed captioning produces words that explain the sound and dialogue simultaneously taking place in a movie or film. This allows hearing impaired students to experience the entertainment and educational aspects of a film.


  • Lab sessions are a typical aspect of college courses, but can pose some unique issues for students with hearing impairment, such as communicating with lab partners or following spoken instructions. If the lab section requires working in groups, the student may benefit from the use of an Assistive Listening Device. If the lab is preceded by a lecture, the student may want to have a notetaker.

Succeeding as a Hearing-Impaired Student

Get involved in the student communityhearing_impared_phone Many of the best college experiences come from extracurricular activities, like clubs, sports, and service groups. All of these organizations are available to you as a student with hearing impairment. This is a great way to engage with students who have similar interests to you, and to educate them about your unique experiences with hearing impairment.

Get to know your professors – Your professors will generally be eager to offer you extra office hours to make sure you understand all the material. Additionally, your professors can help you obtain the services you need.

Join a campus support group – Campus support groups for hard-of-hearing students can be a great place to vent frustrations, share strategies for improvement, and learn about resources on campus. This can give students support during difficult times.

Speak up if your needs are not being met – If you have not received the services you request, speak up! You can make an informal complaint to your school’s disability services representative. If your needs still aren’t met, you can follow-up with a grievance policy complaint.

Learn from bad experiences – Chances are, your first semester in college will not be your best one. Don’t see that as a forecast for your entire college career! Instead, reflect on pitfalls you experienced, and prepare a strategy to confront them head-on from the beginning of the semester.

AG Bell College Scholarship Program

Description: Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing serves individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing with the aim of helping them achieve an education and secure employment. Its highly-competitive scholarship program represents a large part of that mission.
Amount: $2,500 to $10,000
Eligibility: Students with bilateral hearing loss who are attending a four-year college and have a 3.25 GPA on a 4.0 scale.

Sertoma Scholarship

Description: Sertoma is a well-established service club that works to support communities for people who are hard of hearing or deaf. It has been funding scholarships for such students since 1994.
Amount: $1,000
Eligibility: Students with hearing loss who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree and have earned a 3.2 GPA on a 4.0 scale.

American Association of Health and Disability Scholarships

Description: This organization promotes advocacy and education for people living with disabilities. As part of that mission, it awards an annual scholarship to a student with a disability pursuing a degree, with special preference given to students pursuing fields related to health and disabilities.
Amount: $1,000
Eligibility: Students who have a disability and have completed one year of college. Preference is given to students who are pursuing public health or disability studies.

Google Lime Scholarship Program

Description: This scholarship program’s mission is providing financial and networking opportunities for students with disabilities who are passionate about computer science and technology. Selected scholarship recipients will receive an invitation to the annual Google Scholars’ Retreat.
Amount: $10,000
Eligibility: All students with a disability who are pursuing higher education in the fields of computer science or technology.

Texas Scholarship Program

While not a traditional scholarship program, the state of Texas offers residents with unaided 55 db (or aided 30 db) hearing in their better ear or worse free tuition at two-year and four-year schools in the state. It is the only state in the union to offer this program.

Vocational Rehabilitation

What are Vocational Rehabilitation Services?

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a federal-and-state-funded program that offers resources and support for individuals with hearing impairment who need help obtaining and maintaining employment. This assistance includes financial aid, counseling services, transportation accommodations, skills training, and job placement.

Who should apply for VR?

In order to apply for VR, you must have a disability that has directly affected your education, and is anticipated to similarly affect your experience in the workforce. To receive VR, you must be able to show that you need these services to succeed.

Eligibility & Vocational Needs Assessment

To apply for VR, you must first fill out a written application, after which you will meet with a VR counselor to determine whether you qualify for services. During this meeting, you will discuss your employment goals, and concerns related to your disability. Your counselor may ask permission to discuss your eligibility with other sources, and you should be prepared to talk candidly about your goals and potential roadblocks. If your counselor determines that you qualify for VR services, he or she will help you to create an Individual Plan for Employment (IPE) that will identify your goals, and the VR services necessary to help you achieve those goals.

In order to qualify, you will need to have documented proof of your disability. If such documentation does not exist, or is outdated, VR will sometimes pay for your medical assessment.

Smartphone Apps

Hamilton Mobile Captel
This app was specifically created for individuals who have difficulty hearing over the telephone. It provides word-for-word captioning so those individuals can read and understand the conversation.
Available for: Android and iPhone
Cost: Free

This app essentially turns your iPhone into a hearing aid by enhancing the volume of the sounds around you.
Available for: iOS 5.1.1 or later, iPhone, iPad
Cost: Free

SpeechTrans Ultimate For Hearing Impaired Powered By Nuance
This app works as a closed captioning device that helps hearing impaired users in day-to-day conversations. The app automatically converts spoken words into a text transcription that appears on the screen. It also contains an in-app dictionary.
Available for: iPhone/iPad
Cost: $29.99

Sign 4 Me for iPad
This translator app provides the ultimate ASL dictionary experience. It uses a 3-D, full-body avatar to show sign language translations for 11,500 English words.
Available for: iPhone/iPad
Cost: $12.99

Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS)

  • Telecommunications Relay Services is a national telephone service that helps people with hearing or speech impairment place and receive telephone calls free of charge. TRS calls can be initiated by users who are hard of hearing, or by someone wishing to contact them.
  • TRS uses operators, or “communication assistants” who translate text input into a traditional, spoken voice call, and transcribe the voice input into text messages, thereby facilitating phone conversations for individuals with hearing or speech impairment.

Some forms of TRS:

  • Voice Carry Over – This service helps individuals with a hearing disability who still want to use their own voice on a telephone call. They are able to speak their end of the conversation, while the communication assistant translates words spoken by the other party into text.
  • Captioned Telephone Service – This service is typically used by hearing impaired individuals with some hearing ability. It requires a special telephone which offers instant captioning of the conversation, allowing the user to simultaneously read and listen to the other party.

These services allow anybody with a hearing or speech impairment to conduct a phone call anywhere in the country, with the confidence that they will have full communication access. For more information, visit the Telecommunications Relay Service online.

Support Sites & Networks

Deaf Students With Disabilities Network: an online resource for parents and teachers for students who are hard of hearing.

National Association of the Deaf: a national organization committed to providing resources and advocacy for people who are deaf. Its website has detailed guides on everything from preparing for national emergencies to seeking mental health care.

All Deaf: an internet web forum where deaf people from all over the world can share information about legal protection, new technology, and job opportunities for deaf and hearing impaired people.

Signing Savvy: an online resource offering thousands of videos showing sign translations for English words.

Described and Captioned Media Program: an online library offering more than 4,000 professionally described and captioned videos.

Deaf Resource Library: a collection of all resources relevant to deaf and hard-of-hearing people, including links to deafness-related magazines, online forums, and deaf culture websites.” an online curated stream of the best blogs and vlogs made by members of the deaf community.

Hearing Loss Association of America: an online database of state and local HLAA chapters, where students can join and volunteer in their local community of deaf and hearing impaired people.

Healthy Hearing: an online news and support site that offers advice and guides about hearing aids, exercise, and more.

Deaf Students Education Services: a U.S. government website that helps students understand their rights, how to file a complaint, and how to look for career and internship opportunities.