The Complete Guide for Deaf & Hearing Impaired College Students

As a young person with hearing impairment, it’s, unfortunately, all-too-common to face challenges in education.

Much of the education system centers around hearing in the form of lectures, classroom discussions, debates, and conversations that occur in the learning environment. This is true in education occurring in kindergarten through 12th grade, but even more so in post-secondary education.

The National Center for Educational Statistics estimates there are around 20,000 people who attend higher education every year and are deaf or hard of hearing.

It can be difficult to manage your college education whether you are hard of hearing or deaf.

There are ways to thrive in college if you have a hearing impairment or are deaf, but it can require strategizing and planning.

Deaf, Deafness and Hearing Impairment

Before going into specific tips to help you as a hearing impaired college student, three terms are often used in the discussion of hearing impairment itself.

Hard of hearing is one term in which someone might be able to understand verbal communication, but usually requires a hearing aid or listening device.

Deafness is a term referring to a severe level of hearing loss, to the point that it can be difficult to understand spoken language even with a hearing device. Deafness is a reference to the level of hearing loss someone experiences. Then, the term deaf is used to refer to someone who uses American Sign Language as their form of communication.

For someone hard of hearing or deaf, there is a significant risk of falling behind in higher education without the proper resources. This is especially true in areas related to math and reading.

When you’re hard of hearing and you’re in high school, you likely participate in an Individualized Education Program or IEP. This allows you to work with a teacher or aid, ensuring you receive the right accommodations.

When you enter the new environment of college, you may not feel like you have access to this individualized level of support, which can be overwhelming and frustrating. Most colleges do have resources available, but you may have to be proactive in accessing them.

What Technology is Available?

For college students who are hard of hearing or deaf, certain types of technology are available, and these can provide some help in the classroom or other learning environments.

Examples include:

  • Hearing aids which amplify sounds that are happening around you. Hearing aids help people who struggle with their hearing to more clearly determine the sounds around them through sound filtering.
  • Cochlear implants, which require surgery and require significant aftercare.
  • Certain apps that can be used on smartphones.
  • The use of a webcam or some form of video chatting that can allow students to watch videos of classroom lectures and discussions, so they can then read the lips of instructors and participants in the conversation.
  • Telecommunication devices for the deaf or TDDs are electronic technology devices that let you send and receive text communication.
  • Online textbooks may help because they’re more interactive, so they provide a better level of understanding for students who are hard of hearing or deaf.
  • With mild hearing impairment, a student might use digital recorders so they can then go back on the material on their own, at a pace that works for them.

A lot of college campuses have introduced Assistive Technology Centers, specifically to provide resources to students who are hard of hearing or deaf. If you attend a school with an Assistive Technology Center, as you transition to higher education, you can go there to find more information about specific support services available, and technology and devices available as well.

Before you decide on a college, you might ensure the options you’re considering offer Assistive Technology Centers.

Colleges for the Deaf

Many of the tips on this guide focus on accessing resources at colleges and universities that aren’t specifically for the deaf, but there are colleges that are geared toward deaf and hearing impaired students.

You may opt to attend one of these schools, and some of them include:

  • Gallaudet University, in Washington DC., is the only liberal arts college for deaf students in the entire world. As part of the learning environment, American Sign Language is used, and there are an array of programs specifically for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • The National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York or NTID is one of nine colleges that are part of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Communication includes ASL, printed and visual aids, and online programs.
  • The Southwest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf, which is in Big Springs, Texas, is part of the Howard County Junior College District. Students can earn associates degrees and certificates here, and there are extracurricular activities available as well.
  • Doncaster Communication Specialist College is an international option in South Yorkshire, which is in the UK. This college also works with students on the autism spectrum, and industrial training is available along with internships for real-world experience.
  • The National University Corporation of the Tsukuba University of Technology is in Japan, and there are undergraduate and graduate degree programs offered.


Choosing the Right College If You’re Deaf or Hard of Hearing

A lot of what goes into a successful transition from high school to college occurs in the planning phases. Choosing the right school, if you’re not planning to attend one specifically for students with deafness, is essential. Questions to think about asking the colleges you want to attend include:

  • What services are available to students who are deaf or hard of hearing that specifically help with the transition from high school to colleges?
  • What services and accommodations are available, and how are they accessed? What about the adaptive technology or assistive tools available?
  • How are studying and exams handled, and what accommodations are offered?
  • Who is the point person if there is an issue with accommodations or technology?
  • How many students who receive services from the Office of Disability Services graduate?
  • Along with classroom accommodations, what’s available in other areas of the campus to help students with disabilities, including students who are deaf? As an example? What are the dorms like and are accommodations available?
  • Are there specific support groups on campus for students who are deaf or hearing impaired?
  • What documentation will be needed before you can meet with the Office of Disability Services and receive those services?

When you choose the school that you’ll ultimately attend, you need to be proactive. That’s one of the big differences between high school and college not just when you’re deaf, but for all students—they can feel very small in a much bigger sea of students.

The staff of a school is unlikely to seek you out and go over services with you. Instead, you should go to them and always be an advocate for yourself and your education.

When you meet with administrators or staff, you can let them know more about your needs and become familiar with the school’s processes.

Along with meeting administrators, once you register for classes, think about meeting with your teachers ahead-of-time. Even if your professors and instructors know they will have a student in their classroom who is deaf or hard of hearing, meeting with them can help you get a specific learning plan in place.

You know what’s best for you—others don’t, so don’t be afraid to share what you think is the right education approach for your needs.

Mobile Apps for Students Who Are Deaf or Hearing Impaired

Along with the assistive and adaptive technology that may be available on campus, there are a growing number of mobile apps specifically for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. A few examples of options to consider are:

  • Glide, which is a talking and texting app
  • Google Voice to transcribe messages from speech to text
  • P3 Mobile which is a talk, text and relay services app that includes ASL and clear-speech relays
  • FaceTime
  • Sorenson Buzzcards to make flashcards that can be saved
  • Text-to-speech apps including Speak4Me, iSpeech, and Earfy which offers live speech-to-captions
  • The ASL dictionary app and the ASL App that was created by users who are Deaf ASL as a way to teach ASL
  • Alarm Clock with FlashLights

Scholarships for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

If you’re going to college, some organizations offer scholarships to help you pay for it. Examples of scholarships specifically for deaf or hard of hearing students include:

  • The Sertoma Scholarship for the Deaf or Hard of Hearing, which is open to applicants who are graduating high school seniors or undergrads who are working toward their four-year degree at an accredited school. Eligibility for this merit-based scholarship is based on academic qualifications, financial need, and the degree of hearing loss.
  • The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has a wide variety of programs related to education, including scholarship awards. The biggest they offer is the AG Bell College Scholarship.
  • The Minnie Pearl Scholarship is for students working on their four-year undergraduate degrees. It’s open to students who are deaf and hearing impaired, and the amounts available range from $1,000 annually up to a maximum of $4,000 annually.
  • The Optimist International Communication Contest for the Deaf and Hard of hearing provides an audiogram.
  • The National Help America Hard of Hearing Scholarship is available to deaf or hard of hearing high school seniors and includes a financial award and also a new set of hearing aids.
  • The Cochlear Graeme Scholarship is awarded in the amount of $2,000 to eligible applicants. To be eligible, you must have a GPA of at least 3.0, and it’s renewable each year if you maintain eligibility.
  • The Maude Winkler Scholarship Program is for students who attend a school that’s primarily geared toward students with hearing impairment. Preference is given if you are going to studying something that falls into one of the STEM fields.
  • The R. Orin Cornett Scholarship Funds is for applicants who are going to be a full-time student, live in certain states, and have used Cued Speech as their primary form of communication.

Other Tips for College Students with Hearing Impairment

A few other tips if you’re a student:

  • If you’re going to live in a dorm, meet with your resident advisory (RA) and let him or her know about your hearing loss.
  • Prepare for how you’ll communicate about your deafness. College means you’re going to be constantly meeting new people and you may want to let them know that you are deaf or hearing impaired right away, so know what you’re comfortable saying.
  • Again, always advocate for yourself and your needs. Even if you don’t get it all, try to get what you can.
  • Join clubs and groups for other students who are deaf, but if possible maybe others as well. You want to feel active and involved, and it can be all-too-easy to become isolated on a college campus.
  • Expect that your first semester as a college student may mean you face a lot of challenges, but that’s okay, and you can use them as a learning experience to make future semesters better.

College is an overwhelming time for everyone, and those challenges can be even more significant if you are deaf or hard of hearing. The best things you can do for yourself are prepare, choose the right school and go into your new experiences with an open mind, but also a sense of self-advocacy.