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Centre for Accessibility Services

Deaf & hard of hearing

What is deaf and hard of hearing?

"Deaf": is generally used to describe individuals with a severe to profound hearing loss, with little or no residual hearing. Some deaf people use a spoken language and speech reading, combined with their residual hearing and hearing aids, communication devices, and/or cochlear implants to communicate. Others use a signed language, such as American Sign Language (ASL) or la langue des signes québécoise (LSQ).

"Hard of hearing": is generally used to describe individuals whose hearing loss ranges from mild to severe, and occasionally profound. Hard of hearing people use speech and residual hearing to communicate, supplemented by communication strategies that may include speechreading, hearing aids, a signed language and communication devices. The term “person with hearing loss” is also used by this constituency.

There are three main models of deafness that affect an individual's perspectives, interactions, self-identification and, ultimately, their worldview: medical, social and cultural.

Medical model – Focuses on the medical/pathological condition of the individual – a functional loss, handicap or impairment that needs medical intervention and rehabilitation to increase one's quality of life. Common terms used in the past to describe the deaf or hard of hearing individual or their physical state using this model include “disabled,” “hearing impaired,” and “deafness.” Nowadays, such terms are considered antiquated and offensive in the Deaf community.

Social model – Focuses on humanistic/social condition – the abilities and unique functions that are needed to gain equal access to satisfy quality of life. Common terms used to describe the deaf or hard of hearing individual or their physical state using this model include deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, and people with hearing loss.

Cultural model – Focuses on a shared language and/or cultural condition – a desire to celebrate Deaf culture and life. Newer terms used to describe the deaf or hard of hearing individual or their physical state using this model include Deafhood and Deaf-gain (as opposed to “hearing loss”).”

Symptoms & common characteristics

  • Speaking louder than necessary in conversation
  • Constantly asking for words to be repeated
  • Straining to hear
  • Misunderstanding conversations, especially in noisy situations
  • Favouring one ear
  • Thinking that people always mumble
  • Turning the television or radio up louder than usual
  • Having difficulty hearing on the telephone
  • Withdrawing from social contact
  • Ringing or buzzing in one or both ears
  • Appearing dull and disinterested, slow to respond, or just not quite “with it”

Centre for Accessibility support for deaf and hard of hearing disorders may include

  • Alternate format materials (texts in PDF/E-Text)
  • Note-taking services
  • Separate setting/distraction reduced exam setting
  • Time accommodation for exams
  • Interpreters and tutors
  • Use of FM systems


Canadian Hearing Services 

How to support students with deaf & hard of hearing disorders

Here are some general tips to ensure clear two-way communication with people who are culturally deaf, oral deaf, deafened and hard of hearing:

  • Ask the person if the surroundings are suitable and if you can be seen or heard clearly.
  • Choose a well-lit area to make speech reading easier.
  • Get the person’s attention before you speak. A shoulder tap is appropriate if the person is near you, or wave your hand if s/he is at a distance.
  • Remove visual distractions for someone who is deaf (e.g., don’t stand in front of a bright window), and remove audio distractions for someone hard of hearing (e.g., stand away from office equipment including photocopiers, computers, etc.).
  • Maintain eye contact. Don’t look down or sideways.
  • Speak clearly and naturally, and at a moderate pace – don’t shout.
  • Keep your hands away from your face and do not chew gum or cover your mouth with your hand or any other object.
  • Be patient and be prepared to write things down if you are not being understood or if you don’t understand.
  • Body language helps to project the meaning of what you’re saying; be animated. Use facial expressions and gestures when appropriate.
  • Rephrase when you are not understood.
  • Talk to the person, not about him/her.
  • When in doubt, ask how to improve communication.

Tips for working with a signed language–spoken language interpreter

When communicating through an interpreter with a person who is deaf, here are some things to remember:

  • Speak at a natural pace, but be aware that the interpreter may wait to see/hear a complete thought before beginning to interpret.
  • Take turns in a conversation to allow the interpreter to process the information, understand it, and put it in the appropriate grammatical structure of the language into which they are translating.
  • Look at and speak directly to the person with whom you are meeting and listen to the interpreter. The deaf person will glance back and forth between the person speaking and the interpreter.

Tips for communicating in emergencies

To determine a person’s language choice and preferred communication support, ask questions (in writing) such as:

  • Are you deaf? Do you have hearing loss?
  • What is the best way to communicate with you?
  • Do you prefer paper and pen to write back and forth?
  • Would you like a communication device?
  • Do you wear hearing aids or a cochlear implant?
  • Would you like a signed language–spoken language interpreter? (If any person asks for a signed language–spoken language interpreter, service providers are required by law to pay for the services of a qualified professional interpreter.)

Post-secondary checklist for deaf & hard of hearing students

Know what choices you have (see useful career assessments)

  1. Visit programs, talk to other students and families, watch videos, etc.
  2. Set post-secondary education and career goals through the use of various online self-assessment tools.
  3. Ensure you are taking academic courses throughout high school that will prepare you for college or university.
  4. Be an active participant in your Individual Education Plan in high school, particularly with regards to transition planning.
  5. Advocate for yourself while in high school, as this will prepare you for when you need to advocate for yourself in college or university.
  6. Obtain college or university catalogue(s) and review them carefully with support from your family and high school staff (i.e. itinerant teachers).
  7. Visit the colleges or universities you are interested in while in high school.
  8. Ensure that documentation about your hearing loss is up-to-date. This is usually required by the college or university for accommodation needs.
  9. Understand the nature of your hearing loss and how it can affect your schoolwork. Practice how you want to refer to your hearing loss and identify what supports you need.
  10. Encourage teachers to document what accommodations and technology you use now and what you may need in college or university (i.e. peer notetaker, computerized notetaker, real-time captioning, Signed Language-spoken language interpreter, speech-to-text software, tape recorder, FM system, etc.). Create a list of these accommodations and supports.
  11. Become familiar with the various access supports and discover what works best for you. Know how to access them.
  12. Visit college(s) or university(ies) together with your family so that you have good information to make a final choice.
  13. Meet with the college or university Disability Services Office to learn about how accommodations are provided. Make sure that your accommodation needs will be there and be available to you. It is also important to get this in writing. Review the college or university accessibility policies and procedures.
  14. Discuss goals, learning needs, and know how to access specific accommodations, including academic supports that are available for all students (i.e. tutoring, writing support) with the Disability Service Office staff before classes begin.
  15. If there is a specific program on campus for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and have another disability, arrange to meet with the staff. Find out how students in the program participate in general college and university life as well as their academic programs.
  16. Figure out and set-up transportation before the start of school (i.e. driving, carpooling, learning to use public transit, travel vouchers).
  17. Be aware of financial aid resources available to you and make sure that funding for all costs is arranged before school starts (e.g., tuition, books, fees, transportation). See Fund your education for more information.
  18. Identify how the financial support you may receive impacts other benefits (i.e. ODSP, family supports, etc.).
  19. Know what and where services are available through adult human service agencies.
    • (i.e. The Canadian Hearing Society, Employment Ontario, one-stop career centres, development disability agencies). Meet with one of the representatives from these groups and get familiar with possible resources available to you. You should have the phone numbers for relevant agencies on your phone.
  20. Be aware of the fact that your family members will need written consent from you to obtain access to your records at the college or university level (e.g. your marks to show that you are doing well).

Resources and websites

Canadian Hearing Services

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