Inclusion: A Strategy to Promote Success for Secondary School Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

The issue


The term “inclusion” has many definitions. Here, inclusion is considered as an educational environment in which students participate in their learning experience in a general education classroom. For students who are D/deaf or hard of hearing (DHH), many resources must come together to facilitate a successful academic experience. An inclusive environment for one DHH student may look different than for another. Some students may be included in the general education classroom for an entire day while others may benefit from a partial day with support in a DHH resource setting.

What we know

We know that inclusion can be successful if a serious commitment of collaboration exists among educators. Powers (2002) provided an explicit menu of good practices for successful inclusion for DHH students, some of which specifically address curriculum planning among general education and deaf education teachers. Shared planning time allows teachers to share individual expertise. It is within this collaborative exchange that general education teachers can learn how to include DHH students in the classroom.
A framework for curriculum development that addresses the needs of every learner in the classroom is Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework for guiding education practice that:

provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and the ways students are engaged; and

reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges while maintaining high achievement expectations for all students (

The UDL framework promotes the attitude that when a strategy is implemented for one student’s specific learning need, that strategy will benefit other learners as well, it is good teaching! UDL strategies implemented for students who are DHH may also benefit the student who is a visual learner, or who has a specific learning disability.
Lesson planning using the UDL framework includes three guidelines:

1. Multiple means of representation – multiple ways in which to present content. Multiple representations ensure that information is accessible to learners with particular sensory needs and provides easier access for other learners.

A rich, visual environment is key for DHH students. For example: directions, lesson objectives, and homework assignments are written on the board; graphic organizers are used routinely; and outlines of class notes are provided to guide understanding of key ideas.

2. Multiple means of engagement – multiple ways in which students can demonstrate what they know. Learners differ in the ways they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know. Students who have language barriers approach learning tasks very differently.

An effective communication environment is essential for DHH students to support full membership in the classroom. In order to be fully engaged in the learning experience, the student who is DHH may require specific language support through qualified interpreters, assistive listening devices, and classrooms equipped with adequate acoustics. Regular opportunities to interact with peers through cooperative learning activities or open class discussions will give the DHH student the opportunity to contribute.

3. Multiple means of expression – multiple ways to motivate students by giving choice and allowing autonomy. Learners differ significantly in what attracts their attention and engages their interest. It is, therefore, important to have alternative ways to motivate and elicit learner interest.

DHH students must be given the opportunity to choose the way in which to demonstrate understanding; individual preference allows students to focus on their strengths and promotes self-confidence and ownership. A student who is DHH may prefer to sign a presentation or present an assignment using social media and/or interactive web tools such as text, drawing, story boards, film, or visual art.

What we don’t know

We don’t know to what extent school districts provide professional development for educators to develop curriculum and teaching strategies that foster inclusion, especially for students who are D/deaf or hard of hearing. Are educators aware of the UDL framework and the value it holds to promote successful inclusive environments? Are they prepared to meet the specific and extremely diverse needs of our students who are D/deaf or hard of hearing?


DHH students must be given the opportunity to become full members of their educational experience (Antia, et al. 2002). The middle and secondary years should prepare DHH students for a strong transition into independent adulthood. Due to the complexity of this very heterogeneous population, educators must be prepared to address the specific and unique needs of the individual student who is D/deaf or hard of hearing. UDL is a framework worth considering to meet this challenge.

Posted on July 1, 2015 by
Judith M. Emerson
Georgia State University
jemerson {at}

Further reading