Strategies for Post-secondary Success

The issue


For deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) learners, graduation from secondary school presents a crossroads—to continue with further education or to enter the workplace.  For whichever road is taken, the fundamental question is “How can I/we ensure the greatest possibilities of success in either choice?”

What we know

On the institutional level—that is, in the workplace and at post-secondary institutions—we know several things. The personnel offices of many workplaces and post-secondary Offices of Disabilities are sometimes not fully aware of the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for accommodations for DHH workers and learners who are working and studying with hearing peers.  In many workplaces and post-secondary institutions, written examinations are often not adequately accommodated to DHH learners’ needs such as having unambiguous wording, detailed context in the stem of multiple-choice items, and test items that avoid content that is inaccessible to DHH test-takers (e.g., items related to music). At the same time, employers and instructors in post-secondary institutions often value workers and learners who are effective problem-solvers—individuals who can appropriately use thinking skills.

On the individual level, DHH workers and learners must assert themselves to exercise their rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the ADA, for example, requesting additional time for taking written examinations and, for those who use sign language, having the services of qualified sign language interpreters for obtaining instructions and information from hearing supervisors or instructors. In novel situations, workers and learners who regularly apply problem-solving skills will enhance their success—skills such as finding patterns, analyzing, comparing, categorizing, and using logical reasoning. In addition, learning to think about their own thinking (metacognition) will also improve work, school, and social problem-solving, such as after solving a problem or resolving a situation, asking oneself “How did I get that answer?” and “How could I solve a similar problem more effectively next time?” Another road to success is through applying study skills to all academic and work-related requirements including scanning the task in advance, reviewing what one already knows before starting the task, doing pre-reading such as reading the titles of sections before starting to read in depth, pausing after each instruction to ask oneself what is actually being expected,  taking the time to check one’s work for accuracy before moving on to the next task, and developing a systematic approach to starting any new project. Post-secondary institutions often have tutorial services available for extra help in gaining these skills.

What we don’t know

For evaluation purposes, observation, professional portfolios of prior work, and one-on-one interviews can serve as substitutes for written examinations for DHH individuals. However, we do not know yet whether the success rate for DHH learners is higher with such methods than with written tests that have been revised to include accommodations. We do not yet have a complete picture of how various cognitive and problem-solving strategies enable DHH learners with a variety of characteristics to improve their understanding, retention, and use of knowledge in post-secondary educational or employment settings.  We also don’t know yet how much the learner’s academic progress and social functioning is improved through the use of tutorial, coaching, and similar services.


DHH learners who are graduating from secondary school and planning either entry into the workplace or further education need to become explicitly familiar with the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the ADA to become proactive self-advocates for accommodations.  Teacher education and professional development programs for deaf educators must incorporate the methodology of cognitive education so that they can infuse effective learning strategies across all school subjects. Further research is needed to determine the differential effects of such instruction according to several demographic variables within the DHH population. Employers and post-secondary institutions must be informed that the results of DHH learners on written examinations may not reflect the individuals’ true capabilities due to the inaccessibility of some test items and, in that case, they should provide alternative means of assessing DHH individuals’ capabilities. Tutorial centers in post-secondary institutions must be given full orientation to the unique academic needs of DHH learners, including essential study skills.
Everyone who works with DHH post-secondary learners should  communicate to them the importance of learners’ knowing their rights, having a clear sense of forward direction in their lives, taking charge of their own progress, and aiming high.

Posted on July 1, 2015 by
David S. Martin
Gallaudet University
DavidChina_2000 {at}

Further reading