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FAQs About Accommodations

A key point to remember is not all deaf people are the same. Accommodations vary by each individual person and situation, and most disability services offices provide a letter of accommodations for the student to share. This will help guide the conversation with the student on how to make courses more equitable. NDC has resources on accommodating deaf students, including answers to some of our most frequently asked questions

NDC’s free e-learning courses for instructors focus on instructional design strategies when building an accessible and equitable learning environment while reducing barriers to engagement:

Service providers (university staff, hourly and contracted employees) are bound by the same employee requirements as any other university employee, and are expected to adhere to the confidentiality framework outlined by FERPA. Furthermore, service provider professions each have their own codes of professional and ethical conduct which addresses confidentiality. While service providers may share important details with their team or the coordinator on a "need to know'' basis, the service provider will not share details about the student's disability with the instructor or information shared during the assignment to others. The only exceptions that apply are the federal and state laws of mandated reporting. Violating confidentiality can be addressed through the university (as an employer) and through the appropriate certification body.

Deaf students can request accommodations for other activities or events, including but not limited to:

NDC’s Equitable Access Guide, Section 5: “Beyond the Classroom: Non-Academic Programs” points out institutions are responsible for providing accommodations for institution-sponsored events, on or off campus. Events or activities that are part of a course but occur outside of class time will also need to be accommodated. Institutions should have a clear request process in place for non-academic and academic-related requests.

There is no one-size-fits-all for each student or each class, and this applies especially when moving to online classes. NDC’s Equitable Access Guide, Section 3 states, “The choice of the auxiliary aid is made on a case-by-case basis...Institutions are to consult with the person and take into account his or her usual or preferred method of communication.” What worked for in-person classrooms may not be equally effective in online classes.

It is important to be flexible, consider a trial-and-error approach to identify what works best for the student, and investigate options depending on the method of instruction (e.g., live online video lecture, pre-recorded video lectures, group discussion using video vs. text chat, etc.).

Substituting one accommodation for another when not requested by the deaf student can cause barriers to access. It is important to engage the deaf student in an interactive process to gain a better understanding of their communication access needs in a variety of settings. Depending on whether your institution is public (Title II) or private (Title III), who determines accommodations varies, but ultimately the accommodation must provide effective communication. The goal of effective communication is to ensure the deaf student is able to communicate, receptively and expressively, with others. If a deaf student primarily uses sign language to communicate and requests interpreting services, a qualified interpreter should be provided.

Dual accommodations (interpreting and speech-to-text services) can benefit students with being able to access information in both sign language and text translation for a class that uses highly specialized vocabulary at the same time. Requests for dual accommodations from students are considered on a case-by-case basis, discussing the student’s subjective experience and challenges with accessing information in the course. For example, some students may prefer to rely on speech-to-text services for the lecture-based content and an interpreter to participate in course discussions. When making the decision in using dual accommodations for effective communication, take into consideration:  

  • The context or setting (including mode of presentation)

  • The length, complexity, and importance of communication

  • The student’s preferred method(s) of communication

Dual accommodations may be beneficial to students in the following courses:

  • Medical & Law School

  • Foreign Language Courses

  • Doctoral level and highly technical courses

  • Advanced STEM courses

Talk to the student to see how note taking can support them online. Keep in mind that deaf students split their attention between the instructor, their peers, presented materials and accommodations such as remote speech-to-text or sign language interpreters. Therefore, students have limited capacity to take notes on top of everything else. In any event, institutions can still ask classmates to share their notes with the deaf student in their online courses.

Additional Information:

If your school offers in-person classes with a limited seating capacity following safe distancing measures, don’t forget to add the interpreter and/or speech-to-text providers in the room count. Notify the instructor and the department as soon as possible to ensure the service provider (or team of providers) is included in the official room count.

If providing interpreters or speech-to-text services for in-person classes is not possible, discuss with the student about using remote services. Consider the following arrangements: 

  • The student attends the class in-person while the service providers are remote (on campus in another location or from an off-campus location).

  • The service providers are in the classroom while the student utilizes remote services from another location.

  • If the class is available online to remote participants, the student and service providers can also consider the following: 

    • The student and service providers can meet in another room on campus while streaming the class or 

    • The student and service providers can access the course from separate remote locations, while staying online only.

While remote services may appear convenient, please review the guiding questions in the Providing Remote Access Services tool. This tool covers the technical capacity needed and potential barriers to the course format that the student and service providers may experience.

It is important to consider the following in determining appropriate test accommodations:

  • The learning and communication background of the deaf student

  • What the test is trying to measure, such as its purpose, the goal and design

  • Test security and how accommodations support the integrity of the test

Utilizing the interactive process, the team of the student, instructor and disability services professional should work to match accommodations that allow the student to show their true ability and knowledge without impacting what the test wants to measure.