A ‘deaf’ person is someone with a hearing loss. But behind a hearing loss expressed in decibels lies a whole series of issues: language choice, communication mode, self-perception and identity.
Hearing loss and deafness are related to the volume of sound that a person can perceive, and also to the pitch (or frequency) of sound.
Some people have particular difficulties hearing high or low-pitched sounds, which can translate into a difficulty hearing high-pitched or low-pitched voices and have implications for teaching and learning situations. This is not something that can be corrected or restored by using a hearing aid. Hearing aids can increase the volume of sound but cannot compensate for loss of frequency.
There are many causes of deafness. Some people are born deaf due to a hereditary condition, or had congenital problems such as those associated with rubella. Others may become deaf as a result of injury, illness or exposure to excessive noise.
The type of deafness or hearing loss, and the time in life that it developed, often has an impact on a person's communication style. Most deaf and hard of hearing people use a variety of communication methods, including sign language, and often several forms simultaneously.
A deaf student's experiences depend very much on the type of hearing loss they have, on their communication preferences, on their previous experience of deafness and on their relationship with both deaf and hearing culture. Even in a university that works hard to provide a friendly environment and to respond to the needs of its deaf students there are still likely to be unresolved issues relating to communication and social inclusion.
It is important to remember that deaf students are always the best source of information in this matter, and to listen properly to their comments and concerns. Many deaf students have very positive experiences of study in HE.
However, in an environment that takes little or no account of deafness a deaf person can feel isolated, confused and frustrated. Information is likely to be missed or misunderstood - this applies to both verbal and non-verbal sounds. Striving to hear or to lip-read can be challenging and tiring.
The University of Sheffield offers information about Teaching Students with Hearing Impairments.
Hear to Help (PDF, 570kb) - Open University guidance notes for deaf and hard of hearing students and their tutors.