Deaf Access Services in Higher Learning ► Equal Dreams

What are the types of access services available for Deaf or Hard of Hearing (HoH) students in Higher Learning? What are the funding sources available, if any?

Here’s an overview of the current landscape of access options in Singapore, and possible funding sources that students can tap on.

1. Availability of Access Options

This list shows some common services, and here we’d like to highlight that what works best for each individual may differ — depending on factors such as the nature of the course, and the student’s communication preference. 

Equal Dreams provides two access services for the Deaf/HoH students: sign language interpreting and speech-to-text interpreting (more commonly known as notetaking). You may book an accessibility consultancy session with us to find out more, or get linked up with our partners who provide other forms of access services. Contact us at


a. Sign language interpreting

A sign language interpreter facilitates communication between signed and spoken languages, like Singapore Sign Language (SgSL) and English. An interpreter signs everything that’s said, and voices out everything that’s signed (yes, even things like silly jokes in class).

Myth debunked: Sign language interpreting doesn’t mean that English (or any other spoken language) is being translated word for word! Each sign language has its lexicons specific to a geography or community, i.e. vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure that’s independent from spoken language.


This could work for Deaf/HoH students who are… Sign Language users.
Why it can work Students get real-time access to information and discussions in class.

Best way to facilitate group discussions, presentations, or any other interactive activity, as there is reduced lag time in comparison to speech-to-text interpreting.

Considerations Effectiveness depends on the nature of the course. For example, it could be less effective in technical subjects, as most long, technical words might need to be finger-spelled.

Can be tiring for students to focus on the signs for long periods.

Student might miss information from the interpreter when breaking eye contact (e.g. looking down to write notes).

Cost Recurring

b. Speech-to-text interpreting (also known as Notetaking)

In speech-to-text interpreting (STTI), a meaning-for-meaning live transcript of aural information is provided to Deaf/HoH students. 

STTI is not:

  • A summary of main points covered in class
  • Comprehensive, tidied-up study notes

Rather than trying to capture every single word, interpreters use a combination of:

  • Shorthand
  • Omitting words that don’t add to overall meaning (e.g. filler words)
  • Reworking sentence structure to keep things more concise, if needed

The interpreter isn’t a filter that decides for the student what’s important information and what isn’t. Instead, the interpreter decides what IS information, and transcribes it for equitable access.


This could work for Deaf/HoH students who are… Comfortable with processing information in written English.
Why it can work Students get real-time access to information and discussions in class.

Non-signers can get some access to discussions, presentations or other interactive activities.

Good for technical subjects with long terms, or subjects that need a strong command of English — as students can get the exact phrasing of what was said in English.

Students can refer to the transcript both during and after class.

More discreet as the interpreter can sit apart from the student while they both access the same live document — which some students may prefer

Considerations Limited ability to convey tone and emotion in speech (e.g. sarcasm), as the interpreter can only make use of symbols and punctuation

A text with limited human emotion can be tiring for a student to read for long periods.

Greater lag time in comparison to sign language interpreting, and may be more challenging for students to respond quickly and actively participate in group discussions.

Cost Recurring

If the student is a sign language user taking an intensive, information-heavy class (e.g. degree level courses), the student may prefer to have both sign language interpreting and STTI. Both options complement each other to give fuller access.

c. Automated speech-to-text software

Instead of having a live interpreter, lecturers may opt for speech-to-text software. A microphone is attached to the speaker, and the software uses speech recognition to process speech into text. This is then displayed on a screen for Deaf/HoH students.

Note: We have received current feedback from Institutes of Higher Learning that the accuracy is too low for academic settings.


This could work for Deaf/HoH students who are… Comfortable with processing information in written English.

In a class with one-way interaction (e.g. lectures).

Why it can work Students get real-time access to information and discussions in class.

Students can refer to the transcript both during and after class.

Considerations Average accuracy of 50-60% or lower, depending on factors like accent and environmental noise

Doesn’t capture jargon well

Only captures one designated speaker, and may not capture fast-paced interactions like group discussion well

Cost Subscription-based
Links to common software
Google Live Transcribe

d. Communication Access Realtime Transcription (CART)

CART services provide a word for word transcript of speech and sounds instantly, and the generated text is displayed on a screen.

There are two common approaches to achieve this: stenography or respeaking.

Stenographers use a steno machine, where a combination of keys produces syllables, rather than individual letters. This condensed typing makes stenographers much faster than regular keyboard users.

A respeaker repeats what’s heard into a voice recognition software, which is trained to their voice and pronunciation. The software then turns the aural input from the respeaker into text.


This could work for Deaf/HoH students who are… Comfortable with processing information in written English.
Why it can work Same plus points as STTI, but with higher accuracy as transcript provided is word for word
Considerations Same limitations as STTI
Cost Extremely high recurring costs

e. Post-class captioning of the lesson

If live access isn’t an option, the lecture can be recorded, and captioned once the class is over.


This could work for Deaf/HoH students who are… Comfortable with processing information in written English.
Why it can work Accurate access to audio information
Considerations Access isn’t real-time, so students don’t benefit from a live learning experience.

Usual turnaround time is a few days, affecting students’ learning process.

Does not cater for the students’ participation in interactive activities

Cost Recurring costs


2. Ministry of Education (MOE)’s Special Educational Needs (SEN) Fund 

MOE set up its SEN fund in March 2014 so ITE and polytechnic students with ‘physical or visual impairment (PI/VI), hearing loss (HL) or learning and behavioural (L&B) difficulties’ can get equitable access to their school’s programmes and services.

Each eligible Deaf/HoH student can claim up to $25,000 from the SEN fund for Assistive Technology (AT) devices and access services, as seen in the table below. Deaf/HoH students who have been assessed by a relevant professional to require Communication Access Services like STTI and sign language interpreting qualify under the High Needs category, and can claim up to the full subsidy cap of $70,000.


Assistive Technology Communication Access Services
  • Digital/FM listening devices and related accessories
  • Speech-to-text software
  • Text-to-speech software
  • Sign language interpretation service
  • STTI service

Both autonomous universities and art institutions have various levels of financial support for students with special educational needs as well.

To find out more about the SEN fund and support services available in each Institute of Higher Learning, head over to the MOE page on Special Educational Needs support at Institutes of Higher Learning.


3. Other Funding for Access Services in Higher Learning

Those who don’t qualify for the SEN fund may consider other sources of financial support for Higher Learning.

a. Mediacorp Enable Fund (MEF)

Supported by the MEF, Equal Dreams provides free or subsidised accessibility services for d/Deaf/Hard of hearing and/or visually impaired persons.

Find out more at this page: Equal Dreams x Mediacorp Enable Fund.

b. Temasek Trust-CDC Lifelong Learning Enabling Fund

Set up by Temasek Trust and the five Community Development Councils, this community fund allows disabled adults to apply for up to S$1,000 to defray course-related fees and/or learning support devices and services.

Find out more at this page: Temasek Trust-CDC Lifelong Learning Enabling Fund.

You can contact us at to find out more information, or get advice on the application process for the above two funds.


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