Communication is fundamental to the academic success of all students, and while having an interpreter or captionist in the classroom improves access, it does not address all aspects of accessibility. A truly accessible classroom environment requires thought, planning, conscious effort and teamwork. The key is to be positive, flexible, and to respect and appreciate differences.
Have well-established rules
Well-established rules for communication in your classroom will allow deaf/hh students to fully participate in classroom discussions and allow the interpreter/captionist to keep up with each speaker and what he or she is saying.
Establish these rules on the first day of class to make it clear that everyone needs access to the same information:
- Include communication rules in your course syllabus. This indicates your serious intention to include all students in classroom communication
- Face students whenever you speak; in particular, avoid talking with your back to the class or while looking down at a computer.
- Speak clearly and write legibly.
- When writing on the board, finish writing then turn, allow students time to read the material, and finally, face the class and talk.
Control the flow of discussion and turn-taking
- When posing questions to the class, pause for at least 5-10 seconds before calling on a student to allow for the interpreter/captionist to convey the message.
- Require all students asking or answering questions to raise their hands, and to keep their hand raised until the Deaf/HH students (or interpreter or captionist), have recognized who is speaking.
- Recognize students by calling them by name and pointing to them so that the deaf students knows who the speaker will be.
- Repeat questions or comments from other students; this is important since the deaf/hh students will be focused on you and may miss what is said by students sitting behind them in class.
Be aware of visual barriers
- Avoid standing in front of a bright window or in a shadow.
- Consider using a microphone, especially in large lecture halls. You can also use a loop system, which is an amplification system that transmits your voice from a microphone to hearing aids equipped to receive this signal.
- Minimize arm and hand movements, and do not cover your face with your hands while speaking.
- If you have a moustache or beard that covers your mouth, consider the fact that it may be more difficult for students to speechread what you are saying.
Be aware that students have a range of hearing loss
There may be hard-of-hearing students in your classes who do not depend on an interpreter or captionist, and may need accommodations that are different from deaf students who communicate primarily through sign language. Some hard-of-hearing students use residual hearing and depend on speechreading. Others may speechread you as much as possible, and then use the interpreter or captionist if present to catch things that they may have missed. For these students it is particularly important that you face students when you are speaking, and make speechreading as easy as possible.
Get students’ attention
Deaf/HH students hold side conversations for the same reasons that hearing students do, and you should respond to them in the same ways. If you would normally ask the hearing students if they have a question, or tell them to pay attention, or to hold social conversations until after class, these responses are equally appropriate for Deaf/HH students.
Most importantly remember to address the students directly rather addressing the interpreter. Here are some strategies for getting the Deaf/HH students attention:
- Flip the lights on and off a few times.
- In a small room, tap on the student’s desk or take some other visual action to attract attention.
- In a large lecture hall, ask another student to tap the inattentive student on the shoulder, motioning for them to look at you.
Learn some sign language
If you know a few signs (“good morning,” etc.), use them. It will make Deaf/HH students feel welcome. If you continue to learn sign language (and other communications skills), it will have a beneficial effect on your relationships with these students.