Oral Communication and Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Learners

Created by: Patrick Hare

In the language arts classroom, a student’s success is heavily reliant on an ability to communicate; to receive, process and send messages. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students face challenges in language arts classrooms because language acquisition, communication and following conversations are complicated by their inability to hear at a normal level. Fortunately, technology and teaching strategies exist to support and give deaf and hard-of-hearing students the best chance of success.
The Ontario Ministry of Education defines students as deaf and hard-of-hearing if they have “deficits in language and speech development because of a diminished or non-existent auditory response to sound” (OME, A 18). This condition makes it difficult for students to “acquire spoken language through the auditory channel alone”. It is important to remember that deaf and hard-of-hearing students should not be presumed to have developmental, intellectual or other learning disabilities. Deaf and hard-of hearing students vary in their ability to hear, and in Ontario two approaches are taken in their education. Students are taught English / French or American Sign Language as their first language. Students who can hear with the aid of auditory devise technology are normally placed in the regular classroom, with direct and indirect support, resource assistance and withdrawal assistance (UCDSB, 37). Students with more severe hearing impairments enrol in provincial demonstrative schools where they are instructed through American Sign Language (ASL) or Langue des signes quebecoise (LSQ) (ME, 30).


Some of the challenges deaf and hard-of-hearing students may face in the classroom include:
- responding to sound in classroom (answering to spoken directions, school bells, school announcements …)

- articulating (speaking clearly)
- expressing themselves through language ( in conversation, writing, spelling)
- receiving information through language (listening and reading)
- missing key and subtle words in conversations
- difficulties expressing ideas
- having some degree of language delay
- having a limited vocabulary, lacking subject
- specific vocabulary, and tending to use fillers (“the thing” instead of “the Bunsen burner”)
- difficulty hearing in noisy environments or from a distance
- difficulty discriminating among similar speech sounds or words (ME, 30-31).

Social/Emotional Impact

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may:
- have a limited ability to express their feelings and needs

- feel that their use of hearing aids or FM systems will lead their peers and adults to assume that they are less competent learners
- become frustrated or isolated, which may lead to misbehaviour
- demonstrate concern about being accepted by peers, which may lead to rejection of vital supports (an FM system, itinerant support)
- prefer the company of other deaf or hard-of-hearing peers (ME, 31).

Language of Instruction

Deaf and hard-of-hearing students vary a great deal in their level of impairment and are subsequently separated into two language approaches: ASL / LSQ and auditory–verbal. Students who are severely hearing impaired will learn to communicate through ASL / LSQ, and those who are able to function with the aid of technology in the regular classroom will learn English / French as their primary means for communication (ME, 33).


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Sign language is a sophisticated visual communication system using symbols created by the hands to communicate. It provides deaf and hard-of-hearing learners with a “medium that is linguistically unique and that requires a literacy mastery all its own” (ME, 38). ASL / LSQ is the “most accessible, clear, and natural language for deaf children”. The aim of this program is to first develop sign language as the students’ “first language” and then attempt to develop expressive skills in English / French as a second language. The program requires deaf students to come together into their own provincial demonstrative schools rather than integrate into public schools. The provincial demonstrative schools for the deaf and hard-of-hearing are taught by teachers “with specialist qualifications in Deaf Education” (OCDSB, 77). “These schools provide elementary and secondary school programs for deaf students from pre-school level to high school graduation. The curriculum follows the Ontario curriculum and parallels courses and programs provided in school boards” (OCDSB, 124). The ASL / LSQ approach considers sign language to be a cultural difference rather than a disability which means that parents and family members need to learn sign language in order to communicate with and help develop the child’s language skills (ME, 37).


The aim of the audio-verbal approach is to develop the listening and speaking skills of the student in English / French as their foundation for communication and learning. This plan operates within the regular integrated classroom with specialized support from an Itinerant Teacher (OCDSB, 76). Students are aided by technology in the classrooms such as FM systems or freefield sound systems (ME, 33). The audio-verbal approach “relies on intensive auditory stimulation and training to facilitate the development of oral language through listening skills”. It “requires intensive assistance from a certified auditory-verbal therapist, in addition to a speech/language pathologist, to help the student develop intelligible speech and to enhance the student’s use of spoken English/French” (ME, 34).

Technology in Regular Classrooms

Students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing will be recommended personal amplification technology by an audiologist.

- Personal hearing aids work by amplifying all sound, meaning that they do not correct hearing or the distortion of sound. (ME, 32)

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- Cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices in which a mini-computer sends signals from the microphone towards the implanted electrodes (ME, 32). Cochlear implants are different from hearing aids in that they provide a sense of sound as opposed to amplification.
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- FM systems are composed of a transmitter worn by the teacher and a receiver worn by the student. The student will hear the teacher’s voice isolated through the receiver to compensate for other noise, reverberation and distance in the classroom. The FM system is a portable devise which can be utilized in many environments including: the classroom, auditorium or on field trips. (ME, 32)
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- “A freefield sound system is similar to a personal FM system, except that students are not required to wear a receiver. The teacher wears a transmitter, but the signal is sent to speakers strategically placed in the classroom”. (ME, 32)
Resonate RA-120 Amplifier and Speaker Syster
Resonate RA-120 Amplifier and Speaker Syster

- Closed-captioning is a built-in decoder chip in television sets which produces printed subtitles on the bottom of the television screen. (ME, 32)
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Acoustics and Light in the Classroom

Simple and minor adjustments done to the classroom will provide better acoustics for deaf and hard-of hearing students. The following suggestions will help reduce the effects of noise, distance, and reverberation:
- try to make sure that your face is visible and well lit (deaf and hard of hearing students read lips to supplement sound)
- keep windows and doors shut
- have curtains
- table cloths, carpet, cushioned chair legs (cut a slit into tennis balls and insert the chair leg into it), acoustic ceiling tiles, cork board and corrugated paper on the walls (ME, 33)

Strategies within Language Arts Classroom

In the language arts classroom it is important for the teacher to seat the deaf or hard-of-hearing student in a place that he or she can see clearly, as the student will rely on lip reading and on visual materials to follow along.
To make the lessons easier to follow for the deaf or hard-of-hearing students the teacher should include as many visual materials (figures, pictures and diagrams) as possible. The teacher can also modify spoken and written language to suit the student’s needs.

The Individual Setting

Since hearing impairment makes it more difficult for students to acquire language skills, to compensate for language deficiencies deaf and hard-of-hearing students benefit from:
- breaking up long sentences
- simplified vocabulary
- reduced concept density
- simple coordinating conjunctions (but, so, for, and) as opposed to less common transitional words (however, nevertheless, although)
- making the antecedent clear when using pronouns and not omitting words such as “that” where these words help clarify a sentence connection
- keeping cause-and-effect expressions simple
- making new vocabulary definitions clear, using context as a memory aid and repeating the word a number of times

- passive voice verbs
- negative verbs
- many modifying forms
- rhetorical inversions, colloquial and idiomatic expressions (WVU)

The Group Setting

In the group setting it is important for the teacher to be clear as to which topic is being discussed and to encourage student participation. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students will benefit from:
- pointing to who is speaking
- consistent procedures for the deaf or hard-of-hearing student to communicate
- have students sit in a horseshoe or circle
- summary and repetition of important points (WVU)


To adapt testing of deaf and hard-of-hearing students it is important to:
- avoid overly complicated language
- take up answers visually (overhead projector or handouts)
- avoid abbreviations and idioms
- allow for extra time to compensate for difficulty with vocabulary
- supplement oral explanations with written instructions
- use shorter sentences (WVU)


Canada. Ministry of Education. Ontario Curriculum Unit Planner – Special Education Companion. 2002.
Canada. Ontario Ministry of Education. Special Education: A Guide for Educators Part A. Legislation and Policy. October 2001.
Canada. Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Special Education Plan. 2009. Canada. Upper Canada District School Board. Special Education Plan. 2009. Strategies For Teaching Students with Hearing Impairments. West Virginia University. Sept. 2010. www.as.wvu.edu/~scidis/hearing.html - accessed Septemper
29, 2010