Working with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in Higher Learning ► Equal Dreams

A guide for Disability Service Offices and Teaching Staff

It really does take a village to ensure full access in school. That’s why we believe that educators, school staff, access workers, and the Deaf or Hard of Hearing (Deaf/HoH) student themself must collaborate to create an equitable learning environment. This guideline explains how to best provide access to your Deaf/HoH students in Higher Learning, tips for engaging access services, and other considerations to keep in mind.


Understanding the access options out there

The best access option(s) for each Deaf/HoH student depends on various factors, like the nature of the course and the student’s own communication preference. Some students may want to try out different access options first; for example, by having both sign language and speech-to-text interpreting (STTI) during their first few classes of a new module. This can allow them to better evaluate what’s most effective for their learning.

Check out our resource on Deaf Access Services in Higher Learning to better understand the access options available.

Collaborating with your Deaf/HoH students from start to end to create an environment for equitable access

Part 1: Before the term begins

a. Getting to know the student and their learning needs

We recommend that DSOs have a few meet-up sessions with the student before the term begins to understand their profile, learning needs and concerns.

At the same time, these discussions aim to empower the student to make an informed decision that best suits their learning style and the nature of the class. Do check in with the student if they’d like a sign language or speech-to-text interpreter to facilitate effective, clear communication during these meetings.

We suggest that lecturers and tutors teaching the student for that term join in at least one of them, so they too can understand the student’s learning profile and the potential access options.

If lecturers and tutors can’t join in, DSOs should inform all staff involved that there’ll be a Deaf/HoH student in their class. This guideline can also be shared with the staff.

If the student has never used access services till this point, you can bring in a service provider to explain them. We can support in this role too, whether or not we’re the allocated service provider.

Possible points to discuss at these sessions:

  • Available access options, including assistive devices and access services
  • Student’s communication preferences, and whether they have a preference for certain access services
  • Nature of the classes for the coming term, and which access service could fit them best.
  • Alternative assessment components, if needed, that won’t comprise the academic rigour. See the table below for an example of possible alternatives for a graded presentation, done by a student who is a sign language user.
Possible options How it can work Plus points Considerations
Sign language Student signs when presenting, and a sign language interpreter is engaged to do sign-to-voice interpreting Can assess the student on public speaking skills like confidence, body language, and audience engagement. Depends on the student’s comfort level working with the specific interpreter. 

Need to rehearse with the interpreter beforehand.

Presentation duration may have to extend, to factor in the need for the student and interpreter to process between the two languages, especially during Q&A.

Video presentation done up pre-class Student videos themself presenting in sign language and edits in captions. Student can express themselves with their own exact choice of words, as they take on the translation work Deaf/HoH student has to do additional work of translating and editing, compared to other classmates.

Unable to grade student on live public speaking components. 

Might only work better in classes where content is a key assessment component, with less emphasis on presentation skills.

Live typing Student can type on a document that is projected onto a screen for all to read. Student can express themselves real-time and can be assessed on both their real-time response, and interactivity of their presentation. Student has to be able to type at an adequate speed.

Access arrangements are still needed for when questions or comments need to be conveyed to the student. 

Audience has to be comfortable accessing the presentation by reading.

Text-to-speech software Use a text-to-speech software to voice out a ready script or the student’s real time typing Suitable when audience is more comfortable with accessing the presentation through aural form. Same as live typing.

Audience might not be used to listening to a TTS synthesized voice. Some words and notations might not be pronounced accurately in context.

Recommended to project the text on screen so avoid misinformation from machine rendered pronunciation.

Spread out weightage of oral presentation component to other assessment components Suitable for cases where content is a key assessment component, with minimal focus on presentation skills.

b. Preparations to ensure your class is set up to work with an access service

Engage the access workers early on
Giving the interpreters access to materials early on, and helping them settle administrative matters to work in your class, will allow them to focus on effective, accurate facilitation of communication.

Here’s a list of what you could do when you link up with them:

  • Share class materials, like slides, handouts, or media links. If there’s more than one interpreter during the term, do so with the service coordinator instead. The student can also share these with their interpreter(s).

 

  • Alternatively, create a guest account for interpreters on the student portal, and add in the modules which have access services. This way, you don’t have to keep sending over materials.

 

  • Give speech-to-text interpreters access to a guest WiFi account, as they need the internet to create their live Google Documents transcript, which the Deaf/HoH student will be accessing.

Ensure your class materials are helpful to the access process

  • Include slide numbers all on lesson slides. It’s more efficient for speech-to-text interpreters to type the number and transcribe your elaboration on it, rather than typing out the slide heading. It’s also easier for the Deaf/HoH student to cross-reference between the transcript and slides after class.

 

  • Please caption all media or audio lesson materials. Check in with your DSO for more related resources. Captioning can be done internally (e.g. by yourself or student volunteers) via platforms like amara.org, or externally (e.g. engage external captioning services). A captioned video ensures that the Deaf/HoH student doesn’t have to toggle their focus between the live notes or sign language interpreter, and what’s on the screen. Plus, it’ll benefit hearing students too.

 

  • Incorporate keywords, summaries, outlines, or instructions for activities and assignments in your slides. This brings attention to key information for the entire class, both Deaf/HoH and hearing. 

c. Educating hearing classmates

Discuss with the Deaf/HoH student how they’d like to inform classmates about their communication needs. Some options include: 

  • Lecturer or the Deaf/HoH student themself sends out an email to the class to explain:
    • Their disability and communication preference 
    • Things to note when communicating with them
    • Things to note during group discussions or interactive classwork
    • That there’ll be an access worker in class (sign language and/or speech-to-text interpreter), and what this additional person will be doing.

     

  • Student does a self-introduction on the first day of class, explaining the above. 

 

  • Student chooses to be discreet and only informs their group mates, or prefers to let classmates understand slowly through interaction. While self-advocacy is encouraged, the Deaf/HoH student’s preference must also be respected.


Part 2: During the class

a. Setting up

  • Ensure the microphone volume is appropriate for the Deaf/HoH student’s assistive device, if they’re using one. 
  • Allow the Deaf/HoH student, the sign language and/or speech-to-text interpreter to sit where they can hear and see most of the class. Do take in account the Student’s preference and the interpreter(s)’ recommendation. 
  • Interpreter(s) will introduce themselves during the first class. If not, ask the Deaf/HoH student to identify their interpreters for you, so you don’t confuse them with your students. Note that the interpreter(s) may not be fixed throughout the term. 

b. Strategies for conducting a deaf-friendly class 

  • Keep in mind that Deaf/HoH students often need to juggle different sources of visual information at once.
  • Adopt a moderate pace for speech. A good pace makes absorbing information easier for all.
  • When other students ask questions or respond, repeat it to the whole class. This ensures that interpreter(s) capture the information, especially if the student speaking is at the back or was too soft for the whole class to hear. This recap benefits the rest of the class too. 
  • Use specific labels and descriptive words when pointing to diagrams or objects, rather than vague words like ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘here’ or ‘there’.
  • For example, instead of saying: “This goes into here and that’s our output” — say: “Data123 goes into Server A and Data456 is our output.”
  • Maintain order and control noise level in class. If the Deaf/HoH student is comfortable, remind the class about the needs of the Deaf/HoH student and ask for cooperation so learning is conducive for all. Some Deaf/HoH students prefer not to be singled out like this, while others do not mind since it educates and benefits other classmates as well. Do check with the student on their comfort level for such references.
  • Try to face the class when teaching. The Deaf/HoH student may need to read visual cues from your face and body language on top of the live notes or sign language input. 
  • Do consider wearing a clear face mask or a face shield when teaching, so that your Deaf/HoH students can better read your facial expressions —which is a crucial part of speech-reading.
  • If there’s only a sign language interpreter in class, do wait for students to finish copying down before talking again. The Deaf/HoH student can’t take down notes and watch the interpreter at the same time.
  • If you need to dim the lights to show slides or videos, please ensure that the sign language interpreter can be seen by the student. 
  • It’s common to speed up when we read something aloud. Before you begin, tell the class which page, slide number and/or paragraph to refer to. The interpreter(s) can then relay this to the Deaf/HoH student, instead of signing or transcribing the written material. If the students don’t have the text you’re reading aloud from, keep to a moderate speed so your message can be conveyed effectively and completely. 
  • Don’t single out the Deaf/HoH student in class, and do include them like you would any other student. For example, don’t skip their turn in an interactive activity and assume they can’t participate. The only difference between them and their hearing peers is the communication mode. 

c. Being crystal-clear (and respectful) with your communication

  • Speak naturally in a clear voice. You don’t need to shout, slow down excessively or exaggerate your lip movements and facial expressions. These are distracting and make it harder for the Deaf/HoH student to lipread. 
  • Allow for a slight lag time after you finish speaking if possible, so the interpreter(s) can process and finish relaying the message in sign or through the transcript respectively. 
  • Address the student directly and not the interpreter(s). For example, “do you understand the class?”, rather than “can you ask Student X if she understands the class?” 

d. Ensuring effective group discussions and interactive activities 

  • Participants should sit in a circle so that the Deaf/HoH student can read everyone’s body language and lips. Include the interpreter(s) too, so they can catch the speech of all participants clearly. 
  • Ensure turn-taking, as interpreter(s) can’t capture multiple speakers overlapping all at once. 
  • It’s helpful to ask group members to raise their hands for their turns, so that the Deaf/HoH student knows who’s speaking. This also leaves gaps in between for the Deaf/HoH student to contribute, if they’d like. 
  • Hearing classmates giving a presentation should be reminded to speak clearly, and give presentation materials to the interpreter(s). 
  • If you’ve more than one Deaf/HoH student in your class and are assigning groups, do factor in the available number of interpreter(s).


Part 3: After class

  • Allow time for the student and the interpreter(s) to discuss course content or ask questions if need be. 
  • If possible, check the speech-to-text interpreter’s live notes. 
  • Discuss with the student and interpreter(s) if there were any challenges faced, and discuss how to solve them in the next class. 
  • Ongoing communication between the student, DSO, teaching staff and service provider is essential. Conduct meet-up sessions when the term ends to review, update and feedback so that improvements can be made for subsequent terms.

Important notes about working with sign language and speech-to-text interpreters

  • Sign language and speech-to-text interpreters must follow a Code of Ethics, and are expected to respect confidentiality. 
  • The interpreter’s role is to give the student access to all aural information, as faithfully to the original source as possible, and facilitate communication. 
  • Please do not ask interpreters to leave out any parts of the spoken information, even if it’s non-academic content. As long as it can be heard (e.g. jokes or casual comments), interpreters will convey it as the Deaf/HoH have the right to be part of the same student experience. 
  • Interpreters are not tutors, caregivers, or social workers. They do not inject personal opinions, or give additional academic advice, even if they have subject matter knowledge. 
  • Interpreters don’t attend class on behalf of the Deaf/HoH student. There will be no live transcript or sign language interpretation done in the Deaf/HoH student’s absence.
  • Please do not request interpreters to participate in class, or assist in administrative matters. They need to be alert at all times for any aural information that needs to be conveyed to the Deaf/HoH student. They’re also on standby during the class’ break time. 
  • In long, intensive classes with two interpreters taking turns, do note that the interpreter that’s not active is still on standby to support the main interpreter. This interpreter should not be seen as taking a break and available to help out in administrative matters. 
  • While the interpreter is interpreting, avoid involving them in conversations, as their main focus is to process aural information and provide equal access. If you’ve any questions about the service, you may check in with them before or after class, or contact the Equal Dreams coordinator directly.

 


For feedback, comments and contribution to this resource,
please email us at services@equaldreams.sg.

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