Inclusive Education for Students Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The issue


Educational placement for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) is an important decision. Inclusion, that is placement within the general education classroom with typically developing peers, is an increasingly preferred placement for DHH students. Advocates of inclusion promote the social and academic benefits which include fostering acceptance of diverse learners and supporting the education of all students. The first iteration of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was developed initially as a response to civil rights issues for special needs students. The original intent of the law was that children with special needs should have equal access to the general education curriculum through a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. As the law evolved, “least restrictive environment” has been widely accepted to mean the general education classroom, and “inclusion,” while not explicitly mentioned in the law, has increasingly become the goal for students with special needs.

What we know

Over 86% of DHH students ages 6 to 21 years spend part of their day in general education settings, with 60% spending the majority of their day (80% or more) in a general education classroom. In practice, inclusion incorporates two underlying philosophical concepts: (1) general education classrooms and teachers change to accommodate the needs of diverse learners and (2) the general education teacher, rather than the special education teacher, is primarily responsible for educating special needs students.

For students who are DHH several accommodations and modifications are available to support learning in the general education classroom.

  • Communication Accommodations:  Accommodations that give DHH students equal access to instructional communication are paramount for successful inclusion. When considering appropriate communication accommodations for DHH students, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that the preferences of the student are considered. Communication accommodations include:
    • Assistive technology such as FM or loop systems that enhance auditory access by reducing interference caused by background noise, poor acoustic environments, and distance from the speaker.
    • Sign language interpreting or captioning of classroom communication by sign language interpreters who translate classroom discourse into the preferred signed language of the student, or by captioning services that translate speech into text.
  • Environmental Modifications: Classroom modifications include:
    • Visual access to communication, materials and safety features through lighting, preferential seating, and flashing fire alarms.
    • Noise reduction through use of sound-absorbing materials.
  • Instructional Modifications:  These might include extended time on tests, frequent breaks to accommodate for visual or auditory fatigue, and supplemental materials to enhance instruction.

DHH students placed in an inclusive program often need support beyond accommodations; they may require specific services to benefit from instruction in inclusive settings. Most DHH students in inclusive programs are served by itinerant teachers. Itinerant teachers support individual DHH students by providing pull-out instruction for several hours a week. They provide instruction in academic areas such as language, communication, and literacy as well as non-academic areas such as self-advocacy, study skills, and social skills. Itinerant teachers also consult with classroom teachers regarding accommodations and modifications that would facilitate student progress. Support is also provided by speech/language pathologists for spoken language development while educational audiologists provide support for auditory access.

What we don’t know

While the number of DHH students placed in inclusive programs has steadily increased, many questions remain to be answered. For which students are accommodations sufficient? Can general education teachers provide effective accommodations for all the special education students in the classroom including DHH students? Is pull-out instruction by the itinerant teacher or speech/language pathologist appropriate or effective? How do itinerant teachers make decisions about the kind and intensity of pull-out instruction to provide? Should pull-out instruction focus on developing specific skills, or should pull-out instruction focus on pre-teaching content taught in the general education classroom?


For inclusive education to be successful, several factors must be in place. School administrators must support inclusion. General education teachers who are primarily responsible for the education of all students must be prepared to accommodate the needs of DHH students. Teachers of DHH students must be prepared to team with general education teachers and be knowledgeable about the general education curriculum. DHH students’ progress should be monitored closely to ensure that support services are beneficial.

Posted on April 1, 2016 by
M. Christina Rivera
Disability and Psychoeducational Studies
University of Arizona
mcrnuna {at}

Shirin D. Antia
Special Education, Rehabilitation, and School Psychology
University of Arizona
santia {at}

Further reading