Many Deaf/HH students are visual learners, and will be have better access to information that is presented visually than on interpreting, captioning, or speechreading for learning. Therefore, using visuals whenever possible will help the Deaf/HH student, as well as other students in you class, form a concrete picture of the concepts you are teaching.

However, keep in that mind as you use visuals (diagrams, formulas, pictures, graphs, Powerpoint presentations), hearing students can attend to both your voice and the image simultaneously while Deaf/HH students cannot receive voice and images simultaneously. In addition, they need to attend visually to two things: your instructional visuals, and the interpreter or captions.

The challenge is to use visuals that are compatible all forms of communication in the classroom. To help ensure Deaf/HH students are able to process information from any visuals:

  • Distribute copies of visual materials to students ahead of time. This will allow students to write notes on the hard copy as you lecture. If interpreters, captionists and/or notetakers are present, provide copies for them as well.
  • Use visuals that relate new concepts to old. Consider using a concept map that builds during the course and is referred to often.
  • When presenting any type of visual demonstration, wait for the interpreter/captionist to direct the students’ gaze to you.

Referencing Visuals

When pointing to a projected graphic or an area on a PowerPoint slide, perhaps using a laser pointer, Deaf/HH students may miss what you are referring to since their primary focus is on the interpreter/captionist conveying your message. 

Also keep in mind that there is a processing time between when you say something and when it is conveyed through the interpreter. By the time the students’ eyes leave the interpreter, you may no longer be pointing to the same place. An even greater challenge may exist for hard-of-hearing/oral students who may be using access services. 

You want to ensure that students understand both your comments and your visual illustrations. The key is not to speak and point at the same time. Some strategies include:

  • Use pauses to allow students’ attention to switch between you (or the interpreter/captionist) and the visual material.
  • Don’t use “this” or “that” to refer to items on a whiteboard or slide; use the relevant vocabulary instead: “The variable x contains value 40” rather than pointing and saying “This contains that value.”
  • When displaying a complex diagram or graphic, allow students to study the image before discussing it. Use a pointer to indicate the element to be discussed, pause to allow a students to change their focus to the interption/captioning, proceed with your explanation, and then pause again before returning focus to the diagram or graphic.
  • Allow students time to study each Powerpoint slide before proceeding with an explanation, and consider placing our Pacerspaceron your Powerpoint slides.
  • If you use a pointer, hold the pointer on the object long enough for the Deaf/HH students to look up and locate the reference.
  • Use this classroom evaluation to assess students’ ability to identify your points of reference during the course, and to provide you with feedback.

Related Videos

How might a teacher using visual materials actually make learning more difficult for you? What strategies, using visual materials, would make learning more accessible to you? – Tabitha
Andrew Donald, RIT biomedical science major
What would you like to see your instructor do when referring to labels on the board, or during lab, or in other situations? – Tabitha
Teaching Strategies
What strategies would you like teachers to use when changing the focus of attention (e.g. pointing to visuals, changing subjects, etc.?) – Tabitha
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National Technical Institute for the Deaf
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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award Numbers 1104229, 1501756, and 1902474.