Providing Learning Support for d/Deaf Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

This guide is intended to provide information and advice to teaching and support staff in geography, earth and environmental science departments when planning and providing fieldwork experiences for d/Deaf or hearing-impaired students. Managers and disability advisers may also find the guide of use in making decisions about resourcing and supporting fieldwork. The authors would like to acknowledge, with thanks, the contributions and comments from a wide range of d/Deaf and hearing-impaired colleagues and students and from disability support colleagues during the development of these Web pages.

What is Deafness?

d/Deaf students in higher education: opening doors

Equality of opportunity now means that deafness and hearing-impairment need no longer be a barrier to study. With improved access, assistive technology, and "Human Aids to Communication" (HACs), the inability to hear need no longer stand in the way of academic success. Some barriers, however, are difficult to remove, the most stubborn being lack of awareness of what d/Deafness actually means in the higher education context. Lecturers may be confused by the mass of technology, amazed by the entourage of HACs accompanying d/Deaf students on field-trips, or puzzled at a d/Deaf student's difficulty with textual material. The attitudes of fellow students may be helpful or even downright hostile. d/Deaf and hearing-impaired students may also suffer from low self-esteem and isolation, particularly where they have had to adjust to hearing loss later in life.

They can lip-read, can't they?

While this may be true for some d/Deaf people, for many lip-reading is only an aid to communication, and an unreliable and difficult one. Lip-reading can help only when the d/Deaf person has full command of English: for many Deaf people English is a second language (see the sections on What is BSL? and What is Deaf Culture?). Even with full English, lip-reading is difficult: many words have the same lip-pattern, and confusion is common. Lip-reading is also exceptionally tiring: watching a person's face in order to understand them is a strain, and is not helped if the lecturer moves around, covers his/her face, does not enunciate clearly or turns to point out features of the landscape (see Communication and d/Deafness). It is estimated that a person can lip-read only some 30 per cent of what is said.

Can't I just write it down?

Many d/Deaf students - particularly those whose first language is British Sign Language (BSL) (see What is BSL?) - have difficulty reading and writing English. This is not an indication of limited intellect, nor is it dyslexia; rather it is a combination of educational and linguistic factors (see Communication and Deafness). It is inappropriate to rely solely on written communication, as well as inconvenient.

Deaf? deaf? What does it all mean?

The term 'hearing-impaired' (see What's in a name?) is used generally to describe all persons with significant hearing loss, although many d/Deaf people feel that it is not an accurate description of them.

Information about different categories of d/Deaf people
'Categories' of d/Deaf people General information
Deaf with capital D is used (after the convention first described by Woodward, 1972) to define people with severe to profound d/Deafness, who regard themselves as belonging to a cultural and linguistic minority. Most likely born deaf or became deaf in infancy before acquiring language skills; communicate in BSL, using interpreters to facilitate communication with hearing people; may wear hearing aids, but only to raise sound levels generally - they would not help in distinguishing speech or other precise sounds. Profound difficulty in spoken conversation.
deaf with lower-case d refers to people with severe to profound deafness, who choose to speak and lip-read (also known as 'Oral deaf'). Probably born deaf or became deaf in infancy; communicate orally; may use Sign-Supported English (SSE - see Why do some d/Deaf students use English and others use BSL?), interpreters, and hearing aids/loop systems. Extreme difficulty in spoken conversation.
deafened refers to those who experienced severe/profound hearing loss after maturity. Lost all useful hearing after having grown up as hearing people; use hearing aids/loops; may use Sign Supported English interpreters; extreme difficulty in spoken conversation.
Partially-deaf people have moderate to severe hearing loss. May benefit from hearing aids/loops; use English and may use BSL/SSE; great difficulty in spoken conversation.
Hard of Hearing means those with mild to moderate hearing loss. Can benefit from hearing aids/loops; some difficulty in spoken conversation.

These categories should only be used as guidelines as preferred support may be affected by individual circumstances and evolve over time.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock