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Updated: Feb 14

Thinking about college? Before you go learn tips to overcome the challenges you may face with this information provided by Intelligent. Accommodations, interpreters, captioning, technology, and advice from experts? Plus five of the BEST colleges for you to consider in your search. Just for you.

Written by: Higher Education Team - Updated: Nov 1, 2022

According to the National Deaf Center of Postsecondary Outcomes, deaf and hard-of-hearing students are more likely than other students to attend college courses online (17.1% of deaf and hard-of-hearing students take their entire college program online, while only 10.7% of students with no hearing issues do the same). This preference to online courses is likely because it allows students to set up their own accommodations like online captioning and ASL interpreters rather than relying entirely on their school’s resources.

There are still challenges for deaf and hard-of-hearing students taking online courses, though. Such students should do their research and seek out schools that fully accommodate their needs.

Below, we’ll go over these challenges and accommodations in more detail. We’ll also review the top colleges and scholarships available for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, as well as additional resources that may be helpful.

Common Challenges Facing Deaf

and Hard-of-Hearing Students

It can be difficult enough to learn new concepts and absorb information even when students can clearly understand every word their teacher is saying. But, for the 1.3% of deaf and hard-of-hearing college students in the United States this can be even more difficult — especially without the right accommodations. Without those, deaf and hard-of-hearing students can struggle to follow along with lectures or understand instructions to assignments.

Difficulty with communication and accessing information happens outside of the classroom too, as deaf and hard-of-hearing students may have issues communicating with their peers. This makes it harder to collaborate with other students and can lead to feelings of isolation. This in turn can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

While some aspects of online learning may be more accommodating for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, it’s not without its challenges. Some of those issues include:

  • Issues with the teleconferencing platform or the instructor’s device can result in poor audio quality.

  • Excess noise in the student or instructor’s location can make it more difficult to hear.

  • Poor image quality or lighting in the instructor’s video feed can make it difficult to read lips. This also extends to interpreters.

  • Not being able to see everyone in a virtual classroom if fellow students don’t have their camera turned on.

  • Multiple students talking at the same time

Transitioning to Higher Education

With Online Courses

In high school, teachers and administrators will generally take the lead on providing deaf and hard-of-hearing students with the necessary accommodations. But in college, students over 18 are legally adults and must take responsibility for making sure they get the services they need.

Before classes start, deaf and hard-of-hearing students should contact professors or school officials to communicate their needs. Since online students won’t have access to on-campus resources, they should be especially proactive about reaching out and setting up any necessary accommodations.

Many students that take online courses may not live in the same city as the college they’re attending. But, even if they’re not able to meet in-person, online students can still meet with faculty in real-time using teleconferencing apps such as Zoom.

Online Accommodations for Deaf

and Hard-of-Hearing Students

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all public colleges and universities provide deaf and hard-of-hearing students with equal access to all activities. To comply with this law and make their online courses accessible, colleges typically offer the following accommodations to online students:


American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters allow deaf and hard-of-hearing students to understand what their professors are saying without the need for any audio. If you would like to request an interpreter for one of your courses, you should be able to do so through your school’s disability support services.

Many colleges provide an online form on their website that makes it easy to request this service. If such a form is not available, you may need to contact your school’s disability support services office via email or phone. You should also inquire about any details that are important to know about their ASL interpreting service, such as how much advance notice is needed and their cancellation policy.


Zoom and most other teleconferencing platforms are able to generate captions for audio in real-time — this type of transcription is known as automatic speech recognition (ASR). While ASR can be useful in some situations, it’s not ideal for educational settings. Studies have shown that this technology is often inaccurate, and courts have found that auto-captions do not satisfy the “equal access” requirement of the ADA. For a more accurate captioning option, students can request Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART). This service involves a trained speech-to-text professional manually transcribing spoken language and other auditory information. CART makes far fewer mistakes than ASR when it comes to punctuation, speaker identification, technical jargon, and other aspects of transcription that are still too nuanced for automated solutions.

The only downside to CART is that it’s more expensive than ASR, but this cost is taken on by the school rather than the students. As with ASL interpreting, you should be able to access this service by contacting your school’s disability support services office.

Assistive technology

In addition to interpreting and captioning services, assistive technology can help deaf and hard-of-hearing students with their studies. For example, e-textbooks offer features such as note sharing and instructor annotations that make it easier for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to collaborate with their professors and peers. There are also a number of devices and applications that deaf and hard-of-hearing students can obtain on their own to improve the quality of their college experience — see section below.

What if your school doesn’t offer accommodations?

If you find that a school will not provide the accommodations that are legally required for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, you have a few options for filing a complaint. Public school students can file an ADA Title II complaint with the Department of Justice, while private school students can file an ADA Title III complaint. If your school receives federal funding, you can also file a complaint with the Department of Education under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.