Many deaf students have support staff to aid communication. The main roles are as note takers, lipspeakers, sign language interpreters, speech to text reporters and deafblind communicators. They are usually booked by the student or by your institution’s Disability Office. You should be aware of the following points.
Apart from the roles listed above, deaf students may also require specialist study skills support. For example, at Nottingham Trent University separate English language tutorials are provided by a bilingual (BSL–English) tutor.
The Access Unit for deaf and disabled students at the University of Bristol has produced a series of useful and detailed fact sheets on working with deaf and hard of hearing students who are using different types of communication support worker.
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There are an estimated 70,000 users of BSL in the UK. It is the first language of many deaf people, and is often preferred by those whose first language is English because they find it less tiring and easier to understand than lip-reading the spoken word.
A sign language interpreter translates from written or spoken English into BSL. When the deaf student wants to participate in discussion or ask a question the sign language interpreter will provide a spoken version of what he or she wishes to say. The role of the interpreter is to convey every piece of information that is given in one language into another without omitting or adding anything to it. The interpreter is not there to participate in any way.
The interpreter is unlikely to be a subject specialist and so will need to be introduced to any new words. There may be no signs in BSL for specialist subject specific words; these may need to be finger spelled one letter at a time. Online dictionaries of signs for specific topics are being developed and are available for some subjects.
You may feel anxious about working with a BSL interpreter for the first time, particularly about the pace at which they speak. Some general tips for teaching or communicating with a deaf student who is using a sign language interpreter are available in Effective communication with deaf students.
Note that some deaf students may use Sign Supported English (SSE) rather than BSL. SSE is not a language in its own right, but is based on spoken English with signs borrowed from BSL.
Other English-speaking countries have their own sign languages which may be very different to BSL, such as American Sign Language (ASL).
Students who rely on lip-reading in lectures may wish to use a lipspeaker. A lipspeaker is someone who has been trained to use easy to read lip-reading patterns and make lip-reading less tiring. Lipspeakers silently repeat the speaker’s words using clear lip shapes, facial expression and gesture to aid the lip-reader’s understanding. They can finger spell if required.
The general tips for working with a lipspeaker are similar to those for a sign language interpreter.
There are two types of note taking for deaf and hard of hearing students: manual and electronic. Both produce summary rather than detailed notes. A note taker is useful for a deaf student who needs to watch a tutor, lipspeaker or sign language interpreter and so cannot take notes. They can also be used by someone who has limited lip-reading skills or who does not use sign language.
A manual note taker produces handwritten notes for the student in a structured format, showing the main points. The student can then adapt these notes later to suit their own style.
An electronic note taker produces typed notes of the lecture or seminar using a laptop computer.
Many universities provide trained manual note takers, sometimes recruited from their own students. Some are also developing their own electronic note-taking resources, but these are more often provided by external services such as the RNID’s SpeedText.
A speech to text reporter uses a special keyboard to produce a verbatim report. This is displayed on a computer screen or a large screen, via a data projector, for the deaf person to read. The words are typed phonetically and are converted into English by special software. This system is suitable for deaf people who can read at high speed for long periods.
Don’t confuse speech to text reporting with electronic note taking, which provides a summary report rather than a verbatim report.
Speech to text reporting is an expensive service and is most likely to be used where a number of deaf people are present, for example at a conference. Examples of speech to text systems are Palantype and Stenograph.
Deafblind people vary widely in their needs and may use a combination of communication methods with support staff, including sign-based communication such as
Sense, the organisation which supports deafblind people, provides useful information about how deafblind people communicate.
Prelingually deaf students and those whose first language is BSL may have considerable difficulty reading and writing in English. Trained study skills tutors can provide specialist language support for deaf students. They can assist by