Serving Deaf Students During COVID-19

By Cathy Metcalf posted 04-21-2020 11:25


April 21, 2020

It has always been difficult for 
deaf people to get jobs. Employers look at their resumes, see references to deaf residential schools and colleges and then hire someone else. For the employer, it may be just too complicated to deal with, or there may be a perceived liability in hiring person who cannot hearIf a deaf person does land an interview, they don’t want to emphasize their deafness by requesting an interpreterSo, the deaf applicant struggles through the interview writing notes back and forth or brings someone to talk for them, while they sit idly by. Even worse, they might resort to bringing their mom to interpret for the interviewAll of these refer to true stories of otherwise qualified deaf applicants.   

Having volunteered to interpret for many such interviews, I have often stepped in as a job coach to dispel myths and build confidence of the employers who do hire deaf workers. And now, here we are in 2020 with the highest unemployment rate in America since the Great Depression. Already at a disadvantage, our deaf students, staff, graduate assistants, and even faculty may need assistance more than ever from their career services office.  

How important is giving assistance for post-secondary career services professionals? 

eaf people are part of the community that we serve, although we are not always aware of themAccess and communication have always been important to the services we provide.  But during this time of social distancing, things have changed for everyone.  For the deaf, technology has improved their potential for accessdue to sudden needs to move campus services online, and to train previously reluctant staff and get them up-to-speed on using technology.  Providing access for deaf people is a simply a matter of career services professionals just getting in the know. With many career centers working remotely now, what do they need to know in order to assist them? 

How much do you already know? 

When calling this population, the Deaf, I am referring to a group of people who identify as deaf (with a capital D) in culture as well as language, regardless of audiological status. Some can hear a little, while others are profoundly deaf. Most have the physical ability to speak to a greater or lesser degree, but they may choose not to. I’ve found that most don’t like to be called “hearing impaired”, even though that is the politically correct term, because they don’t see themselves as being broken or impaired. Their language, American Sign Language (ASL), is not “English on the hands”, but rather a beautifully expressive and complex language, with unique syntax that is very different than English. Their culture is unique. And deaf people are individuals, so they have individual communication needs and preferences. So, it is just a matter of asking how they prefer to communicate.  

How do we choose accommodations? 

Colleges and universities in the United States must provide accommodations, according to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws, even if our offices are being moved to our homesSo, what kind of accommodations options are there and what are the best practices for virtual accommodations 


Interpreters are often the preferred accommodation for virtual meetings. Deaf people have used video software, such as videophones, Facetime, and Glide for years to communicate visually, so they often are quite comfortable with it, although they might still need a little guidance on whatever software the career office is using. If using Zoom or other video-conferencing software, it is a matter of adding the interpreter as an attendee to the meeting.  The provision of ASL interpreters is most often the responsibility of the college’s disability services department. They will either have interpreters on staff or under contract to provide this service.  


It is suggested that all video and audio resources be captioned. This has been an obstacle for many deaf students in the past, as many professionals don’t know how to add it or even if it is available. Non-traditional, international, and hard-of-hearing students, as well as those who study in a noisy place often use captions. By providing captions to all video and audio materials, we are giving access to everyone.  
One free and easy way to caption videos is by uploading them to YouTube to take advantage of their speech-recognition process. Upload your video and request captions. It may require several minutes to an hour to process. You may go into the transcript to fix any wording errors made due to speaker’s accent, environmental noise, or other situational effects. The link can easily be emailed to students, pasted into a document, or added to your web site. 

 Apps that can be used to add captions: (Some can be used only for prerecorded videos, while others can be used live streaming. Some offer in-app options for purchase.) 


These might be needed if there are live events where the student cannot take notes OR if there is a deaf student who does not use an interpreter. Some popular services are CART, Typewell, or C-Print. These services are arranged through your disability services department. A good online alternative would be to provide a file of your written program or even a PowerPoint deck in advance of your meeting/presentation.  

Reading lips 

Lip reading is not an acceptable option by itself. This is because it is only 40 percent effective at MOST and is not legally a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Many deaf people read lips much less effectively, and often not at all, and most only use it if no other options exist.  It is quite difficult to read lips and requires intense effort.  

Text/Email (Digital note writing) 

English is a second language for most deaf people, so messaging and email should not be the only means of communication.  It can be easy to misunderstand the complexities, slang phrases, and idioms of English. 

Adjustments in video-conferencing settings 

Make sure that you are facing the camera directly, and that there is good light on your face - not coming from behind you. If you speak while looking down, deaf people, as well as others in the class, may struggle to understand. Deaf people need to read your expressions to catch clues on your lips and in your body language. 

How about universal access? 

Universal access is, in a nutshell, a manner of designing programs and facilities, providing the best access for the most people. Consider the provision of elevators for those with mobility issues, and how it improves transportation between floors for us all.   

Improved access for those who are deaf often means improved access for everyone. That is especially true now that many of our services are online.  

How about more resources? 

Don’t be overwhelmed or in a panic if a deaf student, alumna, or faculty member requests your help.  Every deaf person I’ve ever met has appreciated any small effort done to assist them.  And here are some great resources to help:  

  • The National Deaf Center offers free online 3-hour courses, such as Deaf 101, for professionals and employers who want to learn more about the deaf, and other topics relevant to post-secondary career services professionals and employers. 

  • The National Association of the Deaf has information and resources for accommodations and educational advocacy, as well as up-to-date Corona virus info in ASL. 

  • Your campus disabilities department is always a good place for advice! 

  • Your campus IT professionals can guide you on how to set up services and change settings. 

Lastly, from one career professional to another, you can do this. It’s been quite the learning curve for all of us to get comfortable providing services completely online, hasn’t it? Just by reading this blog article, you are taking the first step towards providing access for deaf students, alumni, faculty, and staff to your wonderful services!  Please let me know if you have any questions!