How to create an inclusive environment for your Deaf student and increase their academic engagement
For many school teachers and college lecturers the 2020/21 academic year might be the first year in which they have a Deaf student in their classroom. This is a whole new experience for everyone involved and can be an alarming prospect for some. However, please remember that Deaf culture is exciting and interesting and your contact with this whole new world will enhance the learning environment for everyone in such a positive way.
We want to put some deaf awareness information together, so that if you find yourself in this situation, you can have all the information you might need to create an inclusive and fully accessible learning environment.
Nobody can become a proficient Signer overnight, but teachers and lecturers could consider learning some fingerspelling or some basic sign language to being able to say, “My name is…” or “Good morning. How are you?”. This will not only put your deaf student at ease, but will enhance your learning environment and allow an inclusive environment for the whole class to develop new skills, thus helping put all new students at ease.
Your deaf or hard of hearing student may use different support to listen, communicate and participate more fully such as hearing aids or an Interpreter.
If your deaf student is using an Interpreter service, you will need to understand that Interpreters and Communication Support Workers are certified professionals who train for many years to do their job and who abide by a Code of Ethics. They are not your substitute; they facilitate communication between you and your class and the deaf/hard of hearing student.
When using an Interpreter service you will need to maintain direct communication with the student. Look and speak directly to the deaf or hard of hearing person, not the interpreter, e.g.. don't say "Has she done her homework?" but rather, "Have you done your homework?".
The Signer will interpret everything you are saying, so avoid private conversation with others in the presence of deaf persons.
It is OK to speak naturally at a reasonable speed. The Signer will let you know when clarification or a slower pace is needed.
Remember to allow enough time during class discussion for your deaf student to get the information from the Signer and being able to participate and reciprocate.
You will need to give special consideration to your teaching/learning material in order to support your deaf or hard of hearing student’s learning and increase their potential to succeed. Providing written handouts (bullet points please) and visual content, will really make a difference and will help your student not to miss anything important.
When using a video as part of your class teaching, try to always use captions/subtitles.
Is your classroom environment accessible? There is a functional relationship between the physical environment and both an increase in levels of academic engagement and a decrease in levels of disruptive behaviour.
Paying particular attention to the following aspects will help to mitigate any possible challenges your deaf/hard of hearing (HoH) students might face in the classroom:
Allow your deaf/HoH student to have a clear view of you, the Signer, any visual aids and its classmates. You might need to make minor rearrangements to your classroom, e.g. arrange desks in a semicircle. If this is not possible, invite your deaf or HoH student to sit in front and to the side if they are comfortable with this.
If you need to turn the lights off to use a projector, make sure the lighting is adequate and that the deaf student can see their Signer.
If your deaf or HoH student uses hearing aids it would be helpful to try to reduce the background noise in the classroom.
We hope that the tips above help you to understand and to create an inclusive environment for your deaf or HoH students.
This is a great opportunity for both you and your students to access and learn from Deaf culture. Your positive attitude can help ensure an excellent experience for all, and really make a difference.
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