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Hearing impairment and deafness

Hearing loss, also known as hearing impairment or deafness, is a partial or total inability to hear. A deaf person has little or no hearing. Hearing loss may occur in one or both ears. In children, hearing problems can affect the ability to learn spoken language and in adults it can cause work-related difficulties. It’s generally accepted that there are four levels of hearing loss:

  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe
  • Profound

People who are Deaf (with a capital D) may also refer to people who consider themselves to be part of a cultural or linguistic minority. Most members of this community use British Sign Language as their preferred language, however not all people with hearing impairment identify themselves as culturally Deaf. The terms ‘people with hearing loss’ or ‘people with hearing impairment’ may be more suitable or use ‘d/Deaf’ to account for both groups.

Managing a hearing impairment can be very tiring, for example using public transport can be a challenge as update announcements can’t be heard at stations so the student may have to be hyper-alert to make sure they get the right train/bus. General communication can also be tiring as the student will have to concentrate to lipread and interpret facial expressions and gestures.

In this video, Inclusion Manager Jayne Faraday provides an overview of deafness and hearing impairment and offers advice to staff on how they can support students.

What you might notice or observe

  • Muffling of speech and other sounds.
  • Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd of people.
  • Trouble hearing consonants.
  • Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly.
  • Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio.
  • Withdrawal from conversations.
  • Avoidance of some social settings.

In this video, student Holly talks about her condition and discusses reasonable adjustments that staff have put in place to support her.

Positive ways you can support a d/Deaf student

Most students we support will be aware that they have some level of hearing loss – here are some hints and tips to help us communicate clearly and effectively:

  • Get the listener’s attention before you start speaking, maybe by waving or tapping them on the arm.
  • Even if someone is wearing hearing aids or a cochlear implant, it doesn’t mean they can hear you perfectly. Ask if they need to lipread.
  • If you are using communication support, talk directly to the person you are communicating with, not the interpreter.
  • Be prepared to wear a microphone if the student is using a piece of transmission or amplification equipment to help them hear in lectures.
  • Face-to-face – it is important you do not continue talking while looking elsewhere such as at computers, whiteboards, paperwork and others, as the d/Deaf person is unable to see your face/lip pattern as you look away.
  • If referring to various media make sure that you give the person time to read or look at what you are referring to, which will allow them time to digest the information before continuing.
  • Speak clearly but not too slowly, and don’t exaggerate your lip movements – this can make it harder to lipread and don’t cover your mouth.
  • Find a suitable place to talk, with good lighting (such as don’t stand in front of a window/bright light as it will put your face in shadow and make it difficult to lipread) and away from noise and distractions.
  • Use plain language and don’t waffle. Avoid jargon and unfamiliar abbreviations. Provide a glossary if acronyms are used frequently in your field of study.
  • Be aware that the student may need to have sign language interpreters and/or note-takers with them in the taught sessions.
  • If using Collaborate or other software, make sure the connection and any equipment is working correctly.
  • Give advance notice of any tasks and ensure instructions are clear.
  • In online tutorials, allow the student to answer the questions on which they feel the most confident – try not to single them out to answer ‘on the spot’.
  • It may help to allocate students into groups for any group work, rather than allowing them to choose groups themselves.
  • Check if there are any reasonable adjustments you can put in place to support the student.

For further advice and support, contact the Disability Support team in Catalyst and visit the ‘How to Refer’.

  • Don’t be unwilling to use microphones or to adapt your teaching style/format – for instance not providing subtitles or captions for audio-visual presentations can cause difficulties.
  • Don’t shout. It can be uncomfortable for hearing aid users and it looks aggressive.
  • Don’t look away from the student when talking to them, for example, to look at materials or a computer screen, as this prevents the student being able to lipread or see your lip pattern when speaking.

Check if there are any reasonable adjustments you can put in place to support the student.

Early referral can prevent students falling behind with their work. Contact the Disability Support team to make a referral if:

  • You are aware the student is d/Deaf and requires support.
  • The student doesn’t have a Student Support Plan in place already.
  • You feel you need support around reasonable adjustments.

If the student requires support with anything else including accommodation, money advice or wellbeing support contact the Catalyst Helpdesk to make a referral.

If your student’s disability or condition is affecting their wellbeing or mental health see our Mental Health toolkits for advice on how to support them.

Useful links and further reading

Action on Hearing Loss – the UK’s national charity helping people who are confronting life-changing deafness, tinnitus and hearing loss.

NHS information on hearing loss

National Deaf Children’s Society – an article about deaf students starting university.

Refer to the Student Support Plan if the student has one – these are shared with the named contact in the Department or Faculty or contact the Disability Support team.

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