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Higher Education and Deaf Students:

Kamran Rasul
12, 05, 2006

 The Relationship Between Deaf/HH Students and Higher Education

The reasons why I wanted to learn American Sign Language (ASL) was twofold:  one to learn another language, two I have a keen interest in working with deaf and hard of hearing (HH) students in higher education settings. I myself is hard of hearing and have a genuine interest in communicating with the deaf community. In fact, some of the interviews I have attended recently, their disability services are quite pleased that I had this knowledge because they themselves admitted this is something they already should have had, given their position in the academia world. Nevertheless, this short paper will investigate what value ASL has in "regular" college/university settings and how successful is its support for deaf and HH students when it comes to accommodations in classroom settings. During my research I found far in few articles which specifically discussed the academic experiences of deaf students/HH students. In cases which have supported deaf students/HH were often times grouped under a generic umbrella titled "students with disabilities".

A booklet prepared by California State University at Northridge presented their information in a question and answer format. After leafing through the Q & As', some questions did pertain to the deaf community. One such question asked about the availability and accessibility of TTY on campus. This has suggested that although not required by law, TTY technology is made available for students needing these accesses via pay phones and or in offices Rawlinson, SharaineTrychin, SamDavis, CherylBrennan-Dore, Corinne (2001). Another question asked what it takes to assimilate HH and deaf students into a classroom setting and the answers to this question included teachers awareness of their students' disability and making the material accessible to the students either by providing professor's class notes or asking non HH or deaf students in the class to assist with providing a copy of their notes Rawlinson, SharaineTrychin, et al. (2001). The lecturer has to be sensitive in not presenting materials that are difficult to follow orally or difficult to keeping up with oral presentations which requires a lot effort in listening and copying Rawlinson, SharaineTrychin, et al. (2001). This Q&A resource had many more interesting and valuable tips for assisting academic disability service providers with issues considering deaf/HH students which would have alone taken most of this paper. So it recommended to take the opportunity to leaf through this Q&A for future papers.

An online web source presented by `The University of Baltimore' titled "Accommodating Students with Deaf/Hard of hearing"  provided solutions to barriers faced by Deaf and HH students in higher education setting. Primarily the list was key factor in truly understanding and emphasizing the importance of recognizing the value of having deaf/HH students in a higher education institute and The University of Baltimore does a fine job of presenting this. The list is quite extensive and only a few have been exemplified below. The complete list can be found at the following website link .

Accommodating Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing:

  • Allow the Deaf student to choose his/her seat. Some Deaf students prefer to sit in the back row, especially if the class is a seminar format around a large table. Other Deaf students prefer an unobstructed, front row seat to clearly view the instructor and the interpreter.
  • Speak directly to and maintain eye contact with the student, not the interpreter. Always face the student when speaking.
  • Keep your face within view of the student and speak in clear and natural tones.
  • Try to avoid idiomatic expressions and slang. Both are difficult to interpret and may change in meaning entirely when interpreted.

Retrieved 19, Nov. 2006: < >.

 A research paper posted online titled "COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION AND THE DEAF STUDENT: OBSERVATIONS OF SERIOUS NUANCES OF COMMUNICATION" by Curtis Robbins (1996) who was interested in looking at the value of taking computer courses as a deaf student (like himself) at a "regular" university and college setting. According to Robbins' findings, majority of the staff and faculty did not have a clear understanding of how or what it is like to educate the deaf students (Robbins, 1996). He is basing these expressions on the fact he is himself is deaf and has taught computer courses at Gallaudet University (Robbins, 1996).  His complaint included computer labs which were set up in the "regular" schools were not contusive for the deaf educators (Robbins, 1996). He also equally admits these computer labs were designed without deaf students in mind and so it is not surprising from his visual inspection that computers facing towards the front of the class had obstructed any opportunities for signing to be seen clearly because of the bulky monitors and high towers CPUs which resulted in straining to get a glimpse of the teacher (Robbins, 1996).  There were very little space to set down books and notepads which would give the opportunity to switch between writing and signing (Robbins, 1996). Despite the fast paced classroom setting, the instructors were more than willing to provide their notes just so he was able to keep up (Robbins, 1996). As well, during class most of it was spent following along with the instructors' instructions and inability to work on the actual computer until instructions were completed. Unlike the hearing students this was definitely not a problem, where they were able to multitask by listening and typing (Robbins, 1996). He did mention the use of classroom interpreters and although they were good at what they do, many lack the basic sign skills when it comes to signing computer related topics (Robbins, 1996). Often it was difficult to focus on sign interpretations and visual contents both at the same time (Robbins, 1996).

I was able to locate a dissertation titled "The Academic Status of Sign Language Programs in Institutions of Higher Education in the United States" by Sheryl B. Cooper (1997) which did indeed specifically look at ASL in higher education settings. This dissertation was presented by Cooper (1997) investigated the value of education for the deaf students in higher education in the United States. She looked at several factors: the institutions offering the programs, the individuals administrating the programs, the instructors teaching in the programs, the structure of the programs within their institutions, the administrative aspects of course content, and the recommendations of the administrators for the development of standards in the field of post-secondary sign language program administration (Cooper, 1997). In her research, she has learned that ASL support has improved very much in the last decade or so. The recognition of ASL as class credit and availability of sign language access has both contributed positively towards the growth of ASL in "regular" higher education institutes (Cooper, 1997). Despite these improvement, Cooper (1997) also recognized that those who held higher administrative positions were less likely to have ASL skills than those who held lower positions (Cooper, 1997).. The continual issue facing sign language programs were lack of support, funding for expansion and not enough qualified instructors (Cooper, 1997). Nonetheless the field was ever so growing and was becoming more and more a part of an institute rather than a side line modern language course (Cooper, 1997).

There were few other articles that specifically looked at the relationship between deaf/HH students and their experience in higher education, but none of these articles were immediately available electronically and had to be specially ordered through the library's intra-loan services to which I was no longer able to access due to distance issue.

In concluding thoughts, despite the worldwide awareness of deaf/HH community there are still "regular" educational institutes that do very little in consideration for the deaf/HH students on campus. Of course, one can argue that population of these kinds of students are far less in number in comparison to the non-disabled student body. In addition, within the disability services, providing accommodations specifically for the deaf/HH is also more costly i.e. interpreters, TTY, note-takers and etc. As well, it is argued that is not feasible for the government to build a higher education institute for every group of deaf/HH students living in that particular community, because this would be a lot more expensive than hiring an interpreter per class as an example. Nevertheless, they are to be treated and be given the same level of educational support as any other students on campus disabled or not.

I think it is valuable for members working within the disability services to have some knowledge of ASL because unlike other disabilities where no specific communication methodologies are needed, with ASL it is critical that at least assistant or director have 3 levels signing education in order to help encourage more deaf students attending their campus. As well, makes it a lot easier for students not having to rely on interpreters should the student needs to communicate with disability services immediately or during emergency situations. In saying all this, I also have to recognize that learning ASL is like learning a foreign language: it takes time and effort and needs to be communicated well enough for proper understanding. Finally, if ASL is not used frequently, like the case with most newly acquired language, it can be easily forgotten. On the other hand having a deaf student to communicate with may in fact keep the disability coordinator/director in check and rewarding knowing that s/he is able to practice using the language with someone that knows it fluently.

Disability services should continue to emphasis through workshops and presentations to faculty members about the barriers for students who are deaf/HH and present strategies like the ones in The University of Baltimore and California State University at Northridge had exampled. The article by Robbins demonstrates the growing concern of making sure classrooms are designed or re-organized with the deaf/HH students in mind, because after all, technological access is the wave of the future and it is responsibility of the school to ensure that every student has equal access and success. All this could be made easier if disability services coordinators/directors are willing to or learn ASL as a way to bridge a line of communication between the deaf/HH students and therefore strengthening their support on campus. I strongly feel more research should be done investigating the value of disability services and their relationship with students communicating using ASL in a primarily "regular" higher education setting.



1. Cooper B. Sheryl. (1997). The Academic Status of Sign Language Programs in Institutions of Higher Education in the United States. Coordinator of Deaf Studies / Sign Language, Towson University. Retrieved 19, Nov. 2006:  < >.

2. Rawlinson, SharaineTrychin, SamDavis, CherylBrennan-Dore, Corinne (2001). Providing Services for Students Who Are Hard of Hearing in Postsecondary Education: Questions and Answers.; Saint Paul Technical Coll., MN. Midwest Center for Postsecondary Outreach.Western Region Outreach Center and Consortia, Northridge, CA., 2001.


4. The University of Baltimore Disability Services. (2006). Accommodating Students with Deaf/Hard of hearing. The University of Baltimore Campus Services. Retrieved 19, Nov. 2006: < >.


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