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A summary of the most frequent or important questions received by NDC's help team. For more information and tips during the COVID-19 crisis, visit nationaldeafcenter.org/covid19

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What are some strategies to determine which interpreter(s) can provide effective communication to meet the student's needs?

The Department of Justice’s Effective Communication guide defines a qualified interpreter as someone who is able to “interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.” The most critical strategy when pairing interpreters with deaf students is to plan ahead and identify interpreters that are a good fit for the student’s communication access needs.

Examples of strategies:

  • Utilize the Interactive Process Tools: Checklist and Sample Questions for Deaf Students during the initial meeting with the student. 

  • Learn about the student’s subjective experience, such as past experiences, along with communication style and preferences.

  • Ask if there are any interpreters the student has effectively worked with before. 

  • Each semester, ask about course loads and possible use of technical terminology.

  • Confirm that the interpreter has the knowledge and skills to be a good fit for the student.

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When a deaf student requests a specific interpreter, do we have to honor their request?

Pairing deaf individuals and interpreters in educational settings is a complex task which requires thoughtful consideration and depends on multiple factors.

There may be circumstances where a specific interpreter may be the most appropriate choice for effective communication, which ensures equitable opportunity for the student to benefit from programs and services. Take into account the reasonableness of the request and the student’s subjective experience. The Department of Justice’s Effective Communication guide emphasizes what a qualified interpreter means; also, there may be certification or licensing requirements to consider for your state.

Evaluate the requested interpreter’s background including any certifications, knowledge or skills in specific content areas, years of experience, and previous experience working with the deaf student. If there are reasons the requested interpreter cannot be scheduled, discuss with the deaf student before scheduling an alternative interpreter.

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If a deaf student has concerns about an interpreter currently assigned to them, what is the best way to address these concerns?

Institutions should have a process in place where deaf students can provide critical feedback and have their concerns addressed regarding interpreting services. In many ways, the disability services office becomes the mediator for addressing concerns between students and interpreters. The following are suggestions to include both the student and interpreter regarding access issues:

When working with the student:

  • Ensure the feedback process is confidential for the student, allowing the student a trusted space to share concerns.

  • Discuss or model ways the student can provide feedback with the interpreter to resolve concerns directly.

  • Consider possible resolutions with the student if there are concerns of insensitive or unethical behavior.

    When working with the interpreter:

  • Collect feedback from the interpreter to identify whether the interpreter may need additional support with course content or language skills.

  • Review your institution’s policies and the Code of Professional Conduct with the interpreter as needed.

  • Determine if the interpreter has the appropriate skill set to meet the student’s communication access needs, or if another interpreter would be more effective in the situation. 

Samples of interpreter evaluations (by students):

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This is my first time teaching a deaf student, what should I be aware of?

A key point to remember is not all deaf people are the same. Accommodations will vary by each deaf individual. Examples of common accommodations for deaf students include interpreters, speech-to-text professionals, note takers, assistive listening systems, and captioned videos. There are strategies you can use to make the classroom environment (face-to-face or online) accessible. Seek guidance from the disability services office as well as the deaf student on how to make your course an equitable experience. If you have specific questions you can reach out to the NDC Help Team for more information and resources. 

NDC resources for faculty and instructors with deaf students:

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How can I communicate with a deaf person through a cloth mask?

Ask the deaf person how they prefer to communicate. If cloth masks interfere with communication, these sample interview questions can help you talk about alternative accommodations. Let the deaf person lead the discussion and ensure they are comfortable with any decisions.

Note that as a federally funded program, we do not endorse or recommend specific products, agencies, vendors, or other services.

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How can I keep a clear face mask or shield from fogging up?

One of the challenges of clear face masks is that they tend to fog up. The Hearing Spot and Knowledge Base provide several tips for care and use of clear masks that could help. Reach out to the NDC listserv for additional tips and recommendations.

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How can I make my own clear face mask or shield?

Finding and buying clear face masks and shields can be a challenge, and people are making their own. Check with your employer or school on whether homemade masks meet their health and safety rules (also review the CDC standards on cloth face coverings).

Check out this comprehensive list of tutorials and DIY instructions for creating clear face masks. Some institutions are also using 3D printers to make face shields. Consider providing face masks or shields for service providers for use when working face to face with students.

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Where can I find vendors that make clear face masks and face shields?

Knowledge Base, a volunteer effort by Catharine McNally & Tina Childress, provides an extensive list of clear mask and face shield vendors. Due to high demand, please contact the vendors directly for more information.

While NDC cannot recommend a specific vendor, you can ask your question to the NDC listserv to see what other colleges and universities are using. Some also started to make their own. You should also review the information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or as outlined by your employer or school prior to buying or making any clear masks or face shields to ensure they provide enough protection.

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Where can I find state agencies serving deaf individuals and families?

The National Association of State Agencies of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (NASADHH) maintains a directory of state-by-state agencies serving deaf individuals. If you do not see an agency listed for your state, NASADHH recommends reaching out to your state’s vocational rehabilitation agency for additional support and referrals.

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Where can I find summer camps for deaf youth?

The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center maintains a list of summer camps for deaf children and teens. Contact programs directly to see if they will offer a virtual camp or have cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additional Resources:

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Where can I find assistive technology or telecommunication programs and providers?

Assistive Technology


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What are some tips for success (shared from other students)?

Watch in ASL

  • Join an online deaf support group. There are several on Facebook!

  • Start a group with friends and/or classmates to motivate and support each other with being accountable to finish the semester strong.

  • Manage your time well. Make sure your schedule has time for YOU, such as meditation, yoga, reading books, and exercise. 

  • Use a Fitbit or similar device to remind you to get up and move.

  • Use blue light blocking glasses to help decrease eye strain. Be sure to schedule time away from electronics to decompress.

  • Set small, attainable goals and celebrate when you complete each one. 

  • Make sure you get the sleep and nutrition you need.

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What resources will help me advocate for my needs with the disability services (DS) office?

Watch in ASL

  • Build a support network!

    • Talk to your instructors about what accommodations you need in the classroom. Request a meeting with the DS office with your instructor present. (Note, you do not need to disclose your disability to your instructor.)

    • Connect with other students who have advocated for what they need. Ask them what worked.

  • Be specific when discussing why you need the accommodations you are requesting. 

    • Be prepared to explain the barriers you are encountering and how the requested accommodations will remove those barriers.

  • Learn and use resources about laws that schools and DS offices must follow for providing accommodations for deaf students. 

  • Become familiar with your school’s grievance (sometimes called appeal or student complaint) process. 

    • This may be available in the DS Student Handbook on their website or given to you during your initial meeting. Ask for a copy from the DS office if you cannot locate one online. 

  • Save all emails and document all contacts made with the DS office, including dates and type of requests in the order they happened. Write down important notes about each situation. 

    • Keeping a copy of this information will be helpful if you need to file a grievance or submit a complaint. 

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What can I do when my video is slow, fuzzy or loses its connection?

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  • During your online class turn off the other devices in your home that are connected to the internet. 

  • Connect your computer to the modem using a direct connection cord (such as a LAN or ethernet cord). Make sure the devices you are using are fully charged.

  • Restart your computer or tablet before class. Close any programs running in the background that rely on the internet.

  • Before class, contact your instructor to remind students to turn off their video and audio.

  • Ask the instructor to record each live online class if there are technical issues. If there were technical issues on your end, ask the DS office to provide a transcript, a captioned copy of the recording, or have an interpreter record/translate the recorded lecture to make up information you may have missed.

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What are some ways to manage the switch to all classes being online now?

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  • Time management: Set up a visual of your schedule and stick to it! Review your course syllabi and list important due dates. Add scheduled meetings and other student support services (e.g. tutoring). Identify dates ahead of time to submit accommodation requests (remote interpreting or speech-to-text services) to the disability services office in a timely manner.

  • Get a notetaker: Request a notetaker to take notes for pre-recorded or live online courses, or for any audio information being presented (e.g. a podcast). A notetaker can reduce the time spent searching for information in several places, allowing you to focus on one screen or item.

  • Stay in touch with your instructor: Take advantage of the instructor’s office hours to meet with your instructor.  Use the time to ask questions or clarification about the material or assignments. Remember, you can ask the disability services office for accommodations for these meetings.

  • Break down assignments: Be sure to take breaks so you don’t get fatigued by reading and watching the screen all day.  Schedule time before and after online classes to review material and take a break before moving to the next class or assignment.

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How can I prepare if colleges continue online classes in the summer and fall?

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  • Connect with your instructors before classes begin. Ask questions such as:

    • What learning management system (LMS, such as Blackboard or Canvas) will the instructor use? Let the instructor know the service providers will need to have access to the course and materials.

    • Is the class asynchronous (at your own pace with due dates) or synchronous (meets weekly at a certain/time date, often with live video)? This information can help with submitting your request for accommodations to the disability services office.

    • Will the instructor show any videos or other media? Make sure the instructor is aware of your school’s captioned media procedure and if any audio content (e.g podcasts) needs to be captioned. Ask your instructor to require accurate captions for student submitted videos.

  • Keep in touch with your disability services office. Share experiences such as:

    • Importance of consistent service providers for classes, especially if hiring remote providers.

    • What accommodations worked best in certain formats or classes. For example, request an interpreted version of a pre-recorded lecture rather than relying on captioning if there is also a powerpoint going at the same time.

    • Discuss a back-up plan with the disability office in case technology fails to ensure you have access to the material.

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What are some strategies when working with remote interpreters or speech-to-text providers?

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Before classes begin:

  • Make sure service providers have access to the Learning Management System (LMS, such as Canvas or Blackboard), or are able to receive emails from the instructor.

  • Do a practice run using the platforms and find out what works best (for example, experiment with viewing the interpreter in a split screen or through dual monitors or practice pinning the interpreter). Make sure you, your service providers and the disability services office have a back-up plan in case technology fails.

During class:

  • Communicate with your service providers. Let them know if something is not working, if your video/captioning stream is choppy, or it is hard to see the interpreter.

  • If using interpreters, work out a strategy for them to let you know when they will switch, allowing you time to locate the team interpreter’s video.

Troubleshooting tips

  • Communicate with your service providers while online. Consider using a live chat or messaging platform to stay in touch during the class.

  • Learn how to troubleshoot with the platforms or systems being used to connect with your service provider(s). Discuss your preferences, such as lightning and background color before classes begin.

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The disability services office says they have no money or I have to pay for my own accommodations. Is it my responsibility to pay?

Watch in ASL

No. If your school says your are responsible for to pay for your accommodations, you can respond by stating:

“Under federal laws, I am not required to pay for my approved accommodations. It is the responsibility of the school to provide and pay for accommodations (interpreters, speech-to-text services, captioned media, notetaker, etc.)”

You can read more about this in the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Auxiliary Aids and Services for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities document and in our Expert Lecture: ADA Series videos. If you need to modify your accommodations plan, these should not be seen as an additional expense. Read “What resources will help me advocate for my needs with the disability services (DS) office?” for more advocacy tips.

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How can I find a vocational rehabilitation (VR) office near me?

If you are interested in learning more about VR services or would like to apply, contact your state VR agency to find an office near you. Many VR offices remain open during COVID-19. Your local office will share how they are meeting with applicants, following individual state guidelines. For remote meetings, consider these strategies: 

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How can vocational rehabilitation (VR) help me?

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs can help identify a suitable career path, and provide funding and services to reach a career goal. VR services are determined based on the person’s needs and goals, but can include the following:

  • Assessments to evaluate career interests and readiness for eligibility and services.

  • Assistive Technologies to support communication (e.g., hearing aids, flashing/vibrating alarm clocks, captioned telephones, personal amplifiers, screen braille communicators and more).

  • Accommodations to participate in training or work (e.g., interpreting and speech-to-text services).

  • Training for future vocational or educational goals (e.g. resources for on-the-job training, funds for tuition, books, supplies and tutoring).

  • Transportation to training or work (e.g. monthly public transportation or mileage).

  • Equipment and clothing to participate in training or employment.

  • Other Services to support an individual to obtain, maintain and retain employment.

Many VR offices remain open and continue to work with individuals remotely. Not yet a client with VR? Contact your local VR office to apply.

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Can I apply to vocational rehabilitation (VR) if I’m still in high school?

Yes! VR provides Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) to deaf youth still attending school. Pre-ETS covers five areas for youth to become ready for training, education and employment after high school:

  1. Job Exploration: discover how interests, passions and abilities match with certain careers.

  2. Work-Based Learning: work in real-life employment settings to practice, learn and apply skills.

  3. Postsecondary Counseling: plan ahead and work towards a career goal through vocational training, college or other training programs.

  4. Work Readiness Training: acquire different skills in communicating, working with others, problem-solving and practicing professionalism.

  5. Instruction in Self-Advocacy: learn what and how to ask for accommodations at college, training programs or work.

Work with your Individualized Education Plan team to ensure that Pre-ETS and VR are included in your plan or directly apply to your local VR office! VR can include families, teachers and the IEP team to make sure everyone is on the same page to prepare for life after high school. Families should participate in meetings with VR to provide additional support, information and guidance. If the deaf student is below 18, a guardian is required to sign off on paperwork.

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Where can I find captioned media?

When searching for captioned media, always make sure the captions follow quality standards (e.g., not auto-captions). To find media with quality captions consider these options:

  • Check to see if a captioned version is available online through various networks (e.g. CBS, NBC, Fox) or streaming service providers (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.).

  • The Described and Captioned Media Program has a free library of over 8000 educational videos geared for K-12 audiences that are captioned. Register for a free account here

  • Check with other local or university libraries to see if they have a copy of the video already captioned available to loan out.

  • Use alternative and comparable media on the same topic that is already captioned.

  • Contact publishers to see if they have copies of captioned media to lend or purchase.

  • Ask your colleagues on different listservs if they have copies of the media you are looking for.

If you cannot find a captioned version from outside sources, or the instructor will not substitute the media with a similar captioned version, develop protocols to get media captioned in a timely manner.

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Captions - automatic, closed captions, real-time, transcription: What do these all mean?

Automatic captions - Also referred to as speech-recognition, automated captioning, or auto-captions, are generated by a computer with Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology. These captions tend to lack punctuation, speaker identification, and require a human to fix mistakes. 

Many platforms include this feature, such as:

  • Video streaming platforms (e.g. YouTube automated captions or Microsoft PowerPoint Translator) 

  • Apps (e.g., Translate or Otter.ai)

  • Learning Management Systems (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas)

  • Live video streaming services (e.g., Google Meet)

Captions - Also referred to as open/closed captions or subtitles. These are captions for pre-recorded video content that are time-synced and embedded into the media. Accurate and edited captions provide equivalent access. Captions also provide auditory information that ASR technology may not be able to identify.

Real-time captioning - Also referred to as live captioning or speech-to-text services. This service is provided by a qualified speech-to-text professional. Examples: Live captioning for news broadcasts or by a third-party vendor streamed into Blackboard for a synchronous online class.

Transcribe/Transcription - Also referred to as a transcript. This process involves converting audio into a plain text document. Transcripts are commonly used for stand-alone audio, such as podcasts or presentations without video. They are also used as the first step towards creating captions for media. Transcripts can be auto-generated using ASR or by speech-to-text professionals.

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How can deaf youth practice and develop their transition skills at home and online?

  • Play Deafverse, a choose-your-own-adventure game, to foster self-determination and develop self-advocacy skills. 

  • Take the Self-Determination Inventory and work on areas to improve self-determination based on an individualized report.

  • Take online transition assessments to connect interests to careers and learn about different skills needed for life after high school.

  • Watch #DeafSuccess community stories of deaf professionals to learn about the skills and self-beliefs necessary to reach career goals.

  • Learn how to build a resume.

  • Practice interview skills by doing mock interviews with family members or through online platforms with teachers, classmates, and/or friends.

  • Learn and practice independent living skills at home.

  • Meet remotely with the school’s IEP team for more ideas and strategies to develop transition skills.

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Where can I find a directory of interpreters?

  • The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) offers several search tools, such as a directory of both individual interpreters and interpreting coordination agencies. RID also has state chapters that can be contacted for local referrals as well. 

  • Many states have state affiliated agencies supporting deaf people that offer information and referrals to interpreters. If your state requires interpreters to be licensed, the licensing entity may also have public search options for finding licensed interpreters. 

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Where can I find a directory of real-time speech-to-text professionals (CART, C-Print, and TypeWell)?

  • Association of Transcribers and Speech-to-text Providers (ATSP) offers a directory of individuals and agencies. 

  • National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) has a directory of certified members. 

  • Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) houses a list of vendors, mainly for captioned media service providers, but some companies offer real-time speech-to-text services as an additional service.

  • Many states have state affiliated agencies supporting deaf and hard of hearing people that offer information and referrals to speech-to-text providers.

  • Subscribe to the NDC Listserv and seek additional service provider referrals from colleagues. 

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Where can I find a directory of captioned media vendors?

Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) houses a list of vendors that provide post-production captions for media. The list also identifies multiple languages the companies can caption. Some vendors on the list may also provide real-time speech-to-text services.

Additionally, you can subscribe to the NDC Listserv and seek additional referrals to captioned media vendors from colleagues.

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Should instructors be responsible for captioning their own videos and recorded lectures?

Instructors alone should not be required to caption media for coursework. Institutions as a whole are responsible for ensuring media is accessible, and the process can be labor intensive. Typically, this process is done by trained professionals/staff who are knowledgeable on captioning standards, such as including more than just spoken language, and knowing how to add captions in different video players. Consider the following strategies when addressing captioned media:

  • Establish a centralized process where media can be sent to be captioned in house or through a third-party captioning vendor. Use a combination of approaches based on turnaround and staff capacity.

  • For in-house captioning, use tools to make the process more streamlined (See “How can I create transcripts for captioning media from auto-captions?”). Ask instructors to provide a list of proper nouns and specific jargon/terminology used in the video for quality and accuracy purposes.

  • Prioritize captioning media when an accommodation request has been explicitly made (e.g., a deaf student enrolled in a course) as well as publicly-accessible materials (e.g., videos on the institution’s website and social media platforms). Captioning everything is encouraged.

  • Encourage instructors to find existing captioned media available on major streaming platforms (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.) or from the Described and Captioned Media Program’s library.

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What are some strategies to create an accessible virtual orientation and/or campus tour for new incoming deaf students?

As schools move orientations and campus tours online, several considerations should be made to ensure deaf students have an equitable experience and opportunities in all related sessions and activities. Incorporating these strategies in the planning stages will save time, money, and promote inclusion for all students!

  • Plan ahead. NDC’s Deaf Student Orientation Guide offers guidance and tips with planning access for a variety of settings. Identify who will be involved in implementing orientation and campus tour. 

  • Post instructions for students to request accommodations. Provide a direct link to your school’s Accommodations Request Form or designate a point-of-contact person to receive all requests for accommodations. Discuss the format of each session with the student to identify which accommodations will work best. Working with a deaf student for the first time? NDC’s Interactive Process Tools can help!

  • Work out the logistics. Find out which LMS and/or video platforms will be used. Work with staff to obtain access and links for all sessions/activities and follow-up when accommodations have been arranged. Share these tools with all staff involved with providing orientation and campus tour activities (e.g., Campus Tour Guides, Orientation Leaders, Academic Advisors, Speakers).

  • Coordinate accommodations requested for all live sessions. It is important to be flexible, there is a chance the student may request interpreters for some sessions, speech-to-text services for others, or dual accommodations. Be sure to provide session links with access to assigned service providers!

  • Make sure to caption ALL pre-recorded videos. Only time-synced, verbatim captions provide full and equitable access to video content. Replacing captions with other accommodations, such as interpreting, real-time captioning, or a transcript, will not provide complete access.

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Why should extended test times be considered for deaf students, even for online courses?

Deaf students have unique linguistic and educational experiences, which can result in an inaccurate measurement of the student’s knowledge and abilities during exams. Test Accessibility: What Professionals Need to Know mentions several factors contribute to the barriers for deaf test-takers, including:

  • Limited access to English language for deaf students means tests may have terms they are unfamiliar with.

  • Language style and test structure is usually different than everyday English, and will be in a different language for ASL users.

Online courses pose unique challenges for deaf students as the content is heavily text-based. Accommodations, such as extended test time, allows deaf students to access English-based text.

Consult with the student and disability service professional to determine how extended time can be applied to tests and other online course content. Additional testing accommodations are also discussed in Why Test Accommodations Are Important for Deaf Students.

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How can deaf students access audio content online (without an FM system or other tools)?

Strategies for students to maximize audio access at home:

  • Connect your computer directly to the internet (using an ethernet or LAN cord) rather than relying on Wifi. Using Wifi may reduce audio quality.

  • Use an external speaker plugged into your device, either hardwired or connected via Bluetooth and has its own power supply and amplifier, which will boost and enrich sound quality.

  • Find headphones that fit over the personal hearing device (e.g., hearing aids or implant) or can cover the microphone. Circumaural headphones (that completely cover the ears) help block out external noises, especially those with noise-cancelling capabilities.

For more information, please see the Tipsheet.

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How can students continue to use Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT) at home?

Check with your audiologist to see if the following options below are available to allow your personal hearing assistive device to stream audio from a computer, tablet or other device. Ask your school to continue to use the FM/DM system while accessing online content at home.

  • Direct Audio Input

    • Some personal hearing devices can connect directly using a hardwired cable to a computer or other electronic device. (Note: Cochlear implant users should NEVER use the direct audio input cable to connect to a computer or any electronic device that is plugged into the wall. There is always the risk of electric shock and stray electric currents during a surge that could make its way into the internal cochlear implant device!)

  • Telecoil

    • Ensure the telecoil is turned on/active to stream audio from the connected device. If you find that the telecoil audio is softer than with the microphone activated, you may need to have your audiologist/hearing aid dispenser properly re-program the telecoil output.

  • Streamer

    • Check the instruction manual (or with your manufacturer) on how to connect your computer or tablet with a streamer to access the sound directly to your device.

  • Connecting personal FM/DM systems

    • Place the FM/DM system microphone next to the computer/tablet speaker or connect a direct audio input cable from FM/DM microphone transmitter.

For more information, please see the Tipsheet.

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What are some considerations when planning for an accessible, virtual commencement for deaf participants?

If your school is planning a virtual graduation ceremony, be sure to plan for communication access for all deaf participants (graduates, alumni, families and other viewers). Access considerations for deaf participants should include:

It is also important for schools to advertise in advance that the ceremony will be broadcasted with interpreting and/or real-time captions. Advertise contact information where additional requests can be made.

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How can notetaking as an accommodation be provided for online 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:

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What strategies are available for deafblind students using interpreters remotely?

It is important to remember that there are varying levels of combined hearing and vision loss for deafblind students. Interpreters (tactile/protactile/low vision) and Support Service Providers (SSP) are considered essential workers, but the safety of the interpreter, SSP and deafblind student should always be a priority. Some interpreters and SSPs will continue to work using protective gear if everyone feels comfortable in doing so. The DeafBlind Interpreting National Training and Resource Center (DBI) discusses this in their COVID-19 statement. Some of the tips below are also from the New York Deaf Blind Collaborative.

Technology options:

  • Allow time for trial and error with technology in advance. Find what works best for the student and the interpreter. Multiple screens or windows may be needed to view the information and interpreter at the same time. When possible, do a test run of things before to make sure the set-up works.

  • Some videophones allow the deafblind student to zoom in to see the remote interpreter. If interpreters have access to a videophone, this would be a good method in providing remote interpreting.

  • Webcams may have the option to zoom in on the user. Make sure auto-focus is turned off, otherwise the video will become blurry when the interpreter moves on camera.

  • Other low vision aids may be used (e.g., digital magnifiers, smartphone apps, and tablet cameras with zoom in capabilities) to increase visual access on the screen.

For the remote interpreter:

  • Communicate in advance how the student can contact the interpreter if issues arise.

  • Ensure the interpreter's background is dark (e.g., black or dark blue) and solid with no patterns. Interpreters should wear solid, contrasting color to their skin tone. Wear shirts that are ¾ sleeve or longer, covering up to the neck.

  • Pace the sign language production, slow down fingerspelling and keep sign placement within a smaller frame.

  • Lighting is important! The interpreter should be illuminated from the front, without glare.

  • If tactile interpreters are needed, the interpreter could work remotely with the support person available in the home.

Additional resources:

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What accommodations should be considered when a deafblind student’s class is moved online?

It is important to remember that there are varying levels of combined hearing and vision loss for deafblind students. When determining appropriate accommodations for virtual meetings or classes, it is vital that the deafblind student is included in the discussion. The U.S. Department of Education has also issued guidance on ensuring continuation of services in alternative communication formats (K-12 and postsecondary).

  • If the student utilizes interpreting services, refer to, “What strategies are available for deafblind students using interpreters?” for information on remote interpreting for deafblind students.

  • If the student uses braille, it is possible to provide remote speech-to-text if the student has a refreshable braille display that plugs into their computer.

  • If the student uses screen reader software (e.g. JAWS, ZoomText, NVDA) at school, ensure the student has access to the software at home. There are some free software versions available.

  • If the student uses a hearing assistive device, be sure they are able to connect and use the audio options available.

  • If the student uses a portable magnifier or CCTV, allow the student to continue to use it at home. Some vendors will allow schools to rent equipment that can be sent directly to the student’s home.

  • Allow the student to adjust font size, text, and background colors if using text-based chats. If remote speech-to-text services are being provided, make sure the output is set to the student’s preferences.

  • Provide accessible reading materials in the student’s preferred format. For example, make sure PDFs or other attachments are accessible for screen readers. Consider sending the student plain text documents. Add alternative text or image descriptions to pictures.

  • Ensure the Learning Management System (LMS, e.g. Canvas, Blackboard, Google Classroom) are accessible to deafblind students. If not, identify which LMS discussion boards are accessible. Consider alternative approaches, such as group email with threads.

  • Consider low-tech options, such as scanning and emailing documents between the teacher and student, or read material out loud over the phone.

Additional resources:

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Can students request a change of accommodations for classes being provided online (that were previously face to face)?

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.).

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Can remote speech-to-text services replace live interpreters for deaf students for online lectures and meetings?

Substituting an accommodation for another (e.g., remote speech-to-text services for interpreting services), not requested by the student may inhibit the student’s ability to access the course. The U.S. Department of Justice regulations emphasize important considerations when deciding effective communication accommodations and to take the student’s preference into account. 

The goal is to ensure the deaf student is able to access the course and also effectively participate and communicate with others. For example, if the student requests and prefers to communicate using sign language, an interpreter should be provided. Replacing interpreters with alternative methods may not be effective and could cause additional barriers for the deaf student to effectively participate.

Schools should continue providing remote interpreting services for synchronous courses, or arrange for access for asynchronous courses using interpreters on video for audio portions. Efforts to continue using the same staff or contracted interpreters is important for consistency purposes. For additional information on providing remote access services, please see:

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How can we accommodate students using speech-to-text or interpreting services during online tutoring sessions?

For group tutoring sessions, check with the deaf student to see what accommodations would be most effective in this type of setting. If they request speech-to-text or interpreting services, coordinate these services the same way you would for any online appointment.

  • Remind students they should continue to follow the same procedures to request accommodations.

  • Discuss what options are available for the student, tutor and service provider to get connected on the platform being used.

  • Have a back-up plan or a second option to connect virtually (e.g., logging onto a different platform).

  • For one-on-one tutoring situations, consider using interactive approaches (e.g., Google Docs) to support visual support with chat features in one screen to discuss back and forth.

For more information:
Remote Access Services
Tutoring Deaf Students

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Can I use the “captions” feature or auto-captions during live online video rooms or for recorded videos?

Most live conferencing and video production platforms (e.g., Zoom, YouTube, Streamer, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams) claim to have live captioning capabilities.

While auto-caption software accuracy has made some advancements in recent years, often this type of transcription may not have proper punctuation, speaker identification, or other audio descriptions to provide adequate access. Accuracy of auto-captions also relies on the speaker’s use of a high-quality microphone and enunciation of words (i.e., speaking clearly and at a normal pace without an accent). This will also be problematic when multiple individuals are speaking without the use of microphones.

In the rush in providing online accessibility, consider how the student will receive information on their end. If the student spends a considerable amount of time trying to follow inaccurate auto captions, this becomes a barrier to accessing the information being taught.

For more information:
NDC’s Why Captions Provide Equal Access
YouTube’s Automatic Captions Prove Insufficient for ADA Compliance
Are Automatic Captions WCAG, ADA or 508 Compliant?

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How do you pin the interpreter or live-stream captioning window across different video conferencing platforms (e.g., Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, etc)?

There are a number of video conferencing platforms available (WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting), and each has its own unique features and limitations.

  • Review online instructions offered by the platform for video layout options and any specific settings for interpreters/speech-to-text professionals.

  • Contact the platform’s technical support specialists or knowledge base.

  • Work with your IT department on integrations or other solutions.

Note: Blackboard integrates with Zoom. D2L/Brightspace can integrate with Microsoft Teams, Bongo, or Zoom.

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Can Video Relay Services (VRS) be used in place of Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) services for live-streamed online courses?

VRS and VRI may provide similar services but their purposes are very different. VRS is governed by the FCC and is to ensure telecommunication, such as phone calls, are made accessible for deaf individuals. VRI is used as an option for providing interpreting services if an in-person interpreter is not available.

VRS should also not be used in lieu of VRI interpreters in live, online classes for the following reasons:

  • Consistency cannot be maintained. Every time a deaf individual places a call through VRS they get a different interpreter from anywhere in the country.

  • ASL has regional dialects and inconsistent specialized vocabulary, especially in academic subjects.

  • VRS interpreters do not have prior knowledge or advance preparation of course content and who is involved in discussions to identify speakers.

  • The burden is on the deaf student to manage communication because VRS interpreters do not have visual access to the online classroom and only rely on phone call audio.

  • Utilizing VRS for classes may cause longer queue times, especially deaf people trying to navigate the crisis and essential activities from home. There is no guarantee a VRS interpreter would even be available at the scheduled time of class.

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How can I create transcripts for captioning media from auto-captions?

While using auto-captions for live online classes is not accessible (see Can I use the “captions” feature or auto-captions during live online video rooms or for recorded videos?), auto-caption transcripts CAN be used in the process of post-production captioning for videos. For more information on how to edit auto-captions for captioning videos, please see How Do You Create Accessible Videos? from the National Center on Accessible Education Materials.

For more information on accurate captions, please see the Described and Captioned Media Program’s (DCMP) Captioning Key.

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How can I add live-stream captioning within online meetings or Learning Management Systems (LMS) platforms, such as Canvas, Blackboard, or Zoom?

Most online conferencing or Learning Management Systems (LMS) have tutorials in their knowledge base/support sites explaining how to connect live captioning. Refer to the following direct links. If you need additional support, contact your IT department.

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How can we add sign language interpreters in “live” online courses?

Give the remote interpreter(s) access to the video platform service (e.g., Zoom or GoToMeetings) or LMS (e.g., Canvas or Blackboard). Ensure that students are aware of and have enabled the features to choose how the videos appear on screen (gallery, side-by-side, etc.), that they have any necessary permissions, and that they know how to set up their preferences to view the interpreter and instructor.

If for any reason the interpreter is not able to login to the preferred LMS/online course platform, consider a multi-platform approach. For example, the student can be logged into LMS (e.g. Canvas or Blackboard in one window and an interpreter on an online video platform (e.g., Zoom, FaceTime or other video service).

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How should schools/institutions utilize staff interpreting and speech-to-text providers when transitioning from in-person to online classes?

Staff, hourly and contracted service providers (interpreting and speech-to-text) should continue to provide services remotely. This ensures consistency with services for the student. Work with service providers to ensure they have:

  • Access to high-speed internet.

  • A private space to work from (e.g., some schools are allowing service providers to use offices on campus as long as they observe self-quarantine protocols).

  • Appropriate equipment, such as headphones with a microphone and a computer with webcam and any necessary software.

  • Access to LMS or live video platforms.

  • The student and instructor’s contact information in case of technical troubleshooting.

Staff and hourly providers can also assist with: 

  • Captioning media for online courses (or prepare a transcript).

  • Provide interpreting for pre-recorded lectures.

  • Be available remotely for online tutoring, meetings or online school activities unrelated to the classroom.

Additional information:

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What should I look for in a captioned media vendor?

Questions to ask a captioned media vendor to ensure quality, accurate captions should include:

  1. What is your accuracy rate and what quality standards do you use to measure accuracy?

  2. What is the process of creating a transcript?

  3. How do you handle difficult or technical content?

  4. What is your turnaround timeframe and are expedited services available?

  5. What video formats do you accept, and what caption formats do you provide?

Vendors may claim variable accuracy rates (some as high as 99%). Accuracy rates are important, and equally important is whether the vendor is following benchmark guidelines from these resources to measure accuracy: