According to the National Deaf Center of Postsecondary Outcomes, deaf and hard-of-hearing students are more likely than other students to attend college courses online (17.1% of deaf and hard-of-hearing students take their entire college program online, while only 10.7% of students with no hearing issues do the same). This preference to online courses is likely because it allows students to set up their own accommodations like online captioning and ASL interpreters rather than relying entirely on their school’s resources.
There are still challenges for deaf and hard-of-hearing students taking online courses, though. Such students should do their research and seek out schools that fully accommodate their needs.
Below, we’ll go over these challenges and accommodations in more detail. We’ll also review the top colleges and scholarships available for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, as well as additional resources that may be helpful.
Common Challenges Facing Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students
It can be difficult enough to learn new concepts and absorb information even when students can clearly understand every word their teacher is saying. But, for the 1.3% of deaf and hard-of-hearing college students in the United States this can be even more difficult — especially without the right accommodations. Without those, deaf and hard-of-hearing students can struggle to follow along with lectures or understand instructions to assignments.
Difficulty with communication and accessing information happens outside of the classroom too, as deaf and hard-of-hearing students may have issues communicating with their peers. This makes it harder to collaborate with other students and can lead to feelings of isolation. This in turn can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
While some aspects of online learning may be more accommodating for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, it’s not without its challenges. Some of those issues include:
- Issues with the teleconferencing platform or the instructor’s device can result in poor audio quality.
- Excess noise in the student or instructor’s location can make it more difficult to hear.
- Poor image quality or lighting in the instructor’s video feed can make it difficult to read lips. This also extends to interpreters.
- Not being able to see everyone in a virtual classroom if fellow students don’t have their camera turned on.
- Multiple students talking at the same time.
Transitioning to Higher Education With Online Courses
In high school, teachers and administrators will generally take the lead on providing deaf and hard-of-hearing students with the necessary accommodations. But in college, students over 18 are legally adults and must take responsibility for making sure they get the services they need.
Before classes start, deaf and hard-of-hearing students should contact professors or school officials to communicate their needs. Since online students won’t have access to on-campus resources, they should be especially proactive about reaching out and setting up any necessary accommodations.
Many students that take online courses may not live in the same city as the college they’re attending. But, even if they’re not able to meet in-person, online students can still meet with faculty in real-time using teleconferencing apps such as Zoom.
Online Accommodations for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all public colleges and universities provide deaf and hard-of-hearing students with equal access to all activities. To comply with this law and make their online courses accessible, colleges typically offer the following accommodations to online students:
American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters allow deaf and hard-of-hearing students to understand what their professors are saying without the need for any audio. If you would like to request an interpreter for one of your courses, you should be able to do so through your school’s disability support services.
Many colleges provide an online form on their website that makes it easy to request this service. If such a form is not available, you may need to contact your school’s disability support services office via email or phone. You should also inquire about any details that are important to know about their ASL interpreting service, such as how much advance notice is needed and their cancellation policy.
Zoom and most other teleconferencing platforms are able to generate captions for audio in real-time — this type of transcription is known as automatic speech recognition (ASR). While ASR can be useful in some situations, it’s not ideal for educational settings. Studies have shown that this technology is often inaccurate, and courts have found that auto-captions do not satisfy the “equal access” requirement of the ADA.
For a more accurate captioning option, students can request Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART). This service involves a trained speech-to-text professional manually transcribing spoken language and other auditory information. CART makes far fewer mistakes than ASR when it comes to punctuation, speaker identification, technical jargon, and other aspects of transcription that are still too nuanced for automated solutions.
The only downside to CART is that it’s more expensive than ASR, but this cost is taken on by the school rather than students. As with ASL interpreting, you should be able to access this service by contacting your school’s disability support services office.
In addition to interpreting and captioning services, assistive technology can help deaf and hard-of-hearing students with their studies. For example, e-textbooks offer features such as note sharing and instructor annotations that make it easier for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to collaborate with their professors and peers. There are also a number of devices and applications that deaf and hard-of-hearing students can obtain on their own to improve the quality of their college experience — see section below.
What if your school doesn’t offer accommodations?
If you find that a school will not provide the accommodations that are legally required for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, you have a few options for filing a complaint. Public school students can file an ADA Title II complaint with the Department of Justice, while private school students can file an ADA Title III complaint. If your school receives federal funding, you can also file a complaint with the Department of Education under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Popular Listening Assistance Devices and Applications for Students
As mentioned above, deaf and hard-of-hearing students may prefer online courses over in-person courses because it gives them more control over their learning environment. The following devices and applications are especially useful for these at-home learning setups:
- AfterShokz OpenMove Headphones. These bone-conducting headphones are an excellent option for students who have damaged ear drums but healthy cochleas, as they transmit sound by sending vibrations through the skull rather than the air in your ear.
- Sakobs Computer Soundbars. If you’d prefer not to use headphones, you should consider upgrading from your device’s internal speakers to a more powerful set of external speakers. For example, the Sakobs line of soundbar-style computer speakers are affordable and offer excellent audio quality.
|Google Live Transcribe is a free app that allows you to use your Apple or Android device to capture sound and convert the speech into text.||Download: Android | iOS|
|The Chatable app uses artificial intelligence to remove distracting background noise and help you process speech.|
|Deaf and hard-of-hearing students may have trouble judging the volume of their own voice. Decibel X is a free app that can be used to practice voice control.||Download: Android | iOS|
The Best Colleges for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students
The five colleges listed below are the best colleges for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. That said, we recommend consulting with a disability counselor at each prospective school to get a comprehensive understanding of all offered accommodations. This information will help students and their families determine which choice is best for them.
Founded in 1864, Gallaudet University was originally a grammar school for deaf and blind children. Today, it is the only university in the country where all programs and services are designed specifically for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Gallaudet University designs all of its classes with a focus on direct, visually accessible communication. To be accessible to all students, it uses two languages — ASL and written English.
Gallaudet University is a liberal arts and science college that offers more than 50 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs with online and continuing education.
- Intelligent Score: 92.64
- Tuition: $688 per credit
- Location: Washington, D.C.
- Number of Students: 1,795
In terms of enrollment, California State University, Northridge is one of the largest colleges in the country. They also boast an impressive set of resources for deaf and hard-of-hearing students — you can request video captioning and interpreting services directly through their website.
The school is also quite affordable, and they offer a number of degree programs that are available online. This includes a bachelor’s degree program in public sector management and master’s degree programs in communicative disorders, assistive technology engineering, instructional design, engineering management, and social work.
- Intelligent Score: 89.27
- Tuition: $277.50 per credit
- Location: Northridge, CA
- Number of Students: 38,772
Howard College’s SouthWest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf offers the country’s only self-contained community college experience for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The programs available at this school include an Associate of Applied Science in Interpreter Training degree and an American Sign Language: Deaf Support Specialist certification.
- Intelligent Score: 85.43
- Tuition: $475 per credit (qualified Texas deaf residents are exempt from tuition/fees)
- Location: Big Spring, TX
- Number of Students: 4,379
The National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), which is one of nine colleges that make up the Rochester Institute of Technology, is the largest technological college in the United States for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
NTID instructors are specialized in teaching students who have hearing loss, and their faculty includes 135 in-house interpreters as well as 47 real-time captionists. Also, this school offers a wide range of certificate and degree programs that are available online, including master’s degrees in data science, business analytics, computing security, construction management, and product development.
- Intelligent Score: 84.95
- Tuition: $509.17 per credit
- Location: Rochester, NY
- Number of Students: 18,668
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has ASL interpreting and real-time captioning services available for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. They also offer over 40 fully online degree programs — this includes master’s programs in business administration, computer science, and library and information sciences.
- Intelligent Score: 79.28
- Tuition: $542.78 per credit for residents, $1,037.15 per credit for non-residents
- Location: Milwaukee, WI
- Number of Students: 24,724
Advice From an Expert
Sarah Honigfeld – Education Policy Specialist for the National Association for the Deaf
What advice would you give to a student who is deaf or hard of hearing who is considering college?
My advice for new deaf and hard-of-hearing students is to seek out resources right away. I wish I had done that as a new undergraduate student. When I started my master’s and doctoral programs, I immediately contacted the Disability Office at both schools and developed relationships. Having these relationships in place as early as possible not only helped me get the right accommodations, but also to meet new people in the community and find events or groups to participate in. Being proactive eases your transition to a new school with new people and new expectations.
How can family and friends support students transitioning to college?
Families can support their deaf or hard-of-hearing child transitioning to college as early as high school by including their child in accommodation-related decisions. This helps better prepare a new deaf or hard-of-hearing college student to be proactive about seeking information and making accommodation decisions.
What tools or resources would you recommend to a deaf or hard-of-hearing student attending college?
Deaf and hard-of-hearing students transitioning to college should always contact the Disability Office at their new school (this might also be known as the Disability Resource Center). Establishing that relationship right away gives new deaf and hard-of-hearing students access to campus resources, and sometimes community resources. I also recommend seeking out other students with similar experiences. Developing peer relationships with other students who use similar accommodations means you have someone who can give you advice or share experiences with. The Disability Office may be able to offer support for networking with other students.
Scholarships for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students
There are many scholarships available specifically for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Some of the most prominent financial aid programs for such students include:
- Sertoma’s Scholarship for the Hard of Hearing or Deaf. Every year, Sertoma awards dozens of $1,000 scholarships to deaf and hard-of-hearing students. To qualify, you must have at least a 3.2 unweighted GPA and 40 dB bilateral hearing loss.
- Cochlear Scholarships. The company behind the popular Cochlear implantable hearing solutions offers scholarships to students who use their products. To be eligible, you must be a Cochlear Nucleus, Baha, or Osia recipient. You’ll also need to have at least a 3.0 unweighted GPA. If you win one of these scholarships, you’ll receive $2,000 per year for up to four consecutive years.
- George H. Nofer Scholarship for Law and Public Policy. This annual scholarship program provides three law and public policy graduate students with awards of up to $5,000 each. You must have hearing loss that is bilateral and in the moderately severe to profound range to be eligible for this award. You must also use listening and spoken language (LSL) as your primary mode of communication.
- Google Lime Scholarship. Computer science students can earn up to $10,000 if they’re studying in the United States and $5,000 if they’re studying in Canada with this scholarship. Take note that only students who are currently enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, or doctorate programs can apply — high school students are not eligible.
- John Lepping Memorial Scholarship. This scholarship awards up to $5,000 to students with disabilities who reside in New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania. There are no GPA requirements, though you will need to submit an official school transcript and three letters of recommendation from non-family members.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the following organizations can also provide assistance to deaf and hard-of-hearing students:
All Deaf is a web forum for deaf and hard-of-hearing users that has over 70,000 registered members and 2 million posts. The forum includes specific sections for topics such as ASL practice, experiences with hearing aids, and the American with Disabilities Act, or to simply connect with other members of the community.
Hearing Loss Association of America
Hearing Loss Association of America is one of the leading organizations for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. The association provides support services and advocates for issues that affect the community. There are many local chapters throughout the country — to attend a meeting, check their Find a Chapter map. They also offer college credit for interning at their national headquarters near Rockville, Maryland.
International Federation of Hard of Hearing Young People
International Federation of Hard of Hearing Young People advocates specifically for teens and young adults with hearing loss, and they regularly host professional networking events.
National Association of the Deaf
National Association of the Deaf is the nation’s premier civil rights organization for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, and it can provide free legal representation. They offer internship opportunities as well.
The Deaf Resource Library
The Deaf Resource Library was created in 1995 by a professor at Yale University. This virtual library provides you with a vast collection of reference materials regarding deaf and hard-of-hearing topics.