College Advice for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

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Career Paths, Accessibility Tips and Resources for Success at School

Access to higher education is vital for the success of people who have experienced hearing loss. According to the non-profit Deaf to Work, there are 9 million deaf or hard of hearing individuals in the U.S. and 19 percent are underemployed. For those interested in using higher education as a career stepping stone, there are support systems available to make college a more familiar, welcoming and accessible place for deaf or hard of hearing students. Continue reading for college and career advice created specifically for aspiring students who are deaf or hard of hearing, no matter where they are on their journey to a degree or career.

Common Terms within Deaf and Hard of Hearing Culture

  • Deaf When uppercased, “Deaf” refers specifically to the Deaf community, individuals who are members of the community, and an identity beyond that of deafness and fluency in American Sign Language.
  • Hard of Hearing Individuals who do not have full hearing — but are not necessarily completely deaf — may identify themselves as “hard of hearing,” or “HOH.” This is a very broad term that can refer to both individuals inside and outside of the Deaf community.
  • deaf When lowercased, “deaf” refers to the medical condition of being unable to hear. The term does not share the same community and cultural connotations as when uppercased.
  • Hearing-impaired While “hearing-impaired” was previously a widely used term, it has fallen out of favor because of its negative connotations; it focuses more on what deaf and hard of hearing individuals aren’t rather than on who they are.
  • Deafness “Deafness” is, broadly speaking, the condition of being deaf.
  • Late-Deafened “Late-deafened” refers to individuals who were not born deaf, but rather became deaf as adults.

The College Transition for Students with Hearing Loss

Beginning college includes many changes and transitions, especially for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Students accustomed to support provided by state agencies and their local high school may find themselves without that same network. This is largely because the guidelines for deaf or hard of hearing students that high schools follow do not necessarily apply to colleges. However, many of these concerns and uncertainties can be easily resolved with a little research and foresight. Here are some things to do prepare before heading to college:

  • Transitioning to College

    Talk to the Disability Services office
    Contact the Disability Services office to learn about assistive technologies and other accommodations they provide. For example, the University of Washington DHOH Handbook has details on accommodations, resources and helpful how-to’s for deaf and hard of hearing students. Ask how the school would work with you if you were to become a student.

    Ask about residency accommodations
    Residency accommodations, such as a dorm room with a visually alerting doorbell, are often determined by the same office that handles academic accommodations. Deaf students interested in living on campus should ask about what residency accommodations the schools have provided in the past, and what accommodations currently available.

    Be familiar with your IEP
    The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) requires deaf students to have an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Beginning around high school, IEP meetings should occur annually between students, parents, teachers and professionals from assistive agencies. Students with IEPs should have a plan in place for how they will transition to college and career life beyond education.

    Explore school choices
    Some deaf and hard of hearing students may want to consider colleges and universities that will unequivocally focus on their needs. The three major Deaf colleges in the United States are Gallaudet University, Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and Howard College’s Southwest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf.

    Know your rights
    Colleges and Universities provide accommodations and services for deaf and hard of hearing students under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The National Association of the Deaf provides a complete rundown of your rights and a college’s obligations.

    Prepare for independent living
    While some students may already be up to speed on devices and services to help them live independently, others may not. Assistive Tech is a useful database of over 22,000 assistive technologies.

  • How to Get Your College or University Up to Speed

    Be familiar with assistive technology and other tools
    Your college should be up-to-date on assistive technology for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, but they also serve a wide variety of students with a wide variety of needs so be sure to be familiar with the options yourself, so you can advocate for changes.

    Join or create a student organization for deaf and hard of hearing students
    Depending on the school and the diversity of the student body, there may already be a group for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Otherwise, students can create organizations and recruit other students who have similar experiences and needs. For example, the Phi Kappa Zeta sorority is a national Greek organization for deaf women.

    Know national, regional and local resources
    There are dozens of organizations across the country geared towards helping students who are deaf or hard of hearing succeed in higher education. The National Youth Transitions Center, DO-IT, DREAM and the National Association of the Deaf are just a few examples of organizations that promote inclusion and accessibility on campus and in classrooms.

    Talk with professors
    While instructors are required to offer the accommodations decided upon by the school’s disability services, they may also be able to offer additional accommodations tailored to their specific courses. Work with your instructors and professors to make their courses more accessible and they will have a blueprint for teaching other deaf and hard of hearing students in the future.

Advice from the Pros: College and Career Inspiration

There are still many stereotypes about deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the workforce, but the skills of people with hearing loss are as varied and useful as those of any other group or community. There are thousands of deaf and hard of hearing individuals working alongside hearing people in a variety of industries and careers around the world. For aspiring students looking for career and degree inspiration, we’ve compiled advice from a variety of accomplished professionals who are deaf or hard of hearing below.


    Freelance Photographer and Graphic Designer
    Stephanie Steinlein-Balding is a globetrotting artist specializing in photography and graphic design. She was born and educated in Germany but today she works out of Hawai’i. Her broad portfolio includes projects for the European Deaf Youth and the Aloha State Association of the Deaf.

    “Don’t forget we Deafs have outstanding visualization skills. These are a great benefit; visualization is one of the most important things in graphics! Today’s technology is advanced, tomorrow it will be more advanced; this means there is a superior number of apps and technologies that make us accessible and able to communicate with everyone.”

    Median Salary: $47,640 per year

    Job Outlook: 5 percent growth (average)

    Degree Level: Bachelor’s degree and/or photography courses

    Who is this job a good fit for?
    “Creativity, multitasking and curiosity may be the most important skills from my experience. Yes, you may not receive positive feedback [in the beginning] from teachers, customers and others, so being patient is key also.”


    Healthcare Entrepreneur
    Kyle DeCarlo-Gahagan is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. With two other deaf graduate students at Johns Hopkins, Kyle founded the Deaf Health Initiative with the goal of changing healthcare practices and policies in order to improve deaf and hard of hearing individuals’ access to quality medicine. In addition to co-founding the Deaf Health Initiative, Kyle is a 2017 TEDGlobal Fellow.

    “When there are barriers in the healthcare field because of misconceptions or existing policies, there are always loopholes in which you can capitalize on to overcome those challenges. It’s just a matter of identifying these loopholes.”

    Median Salary: $96,540 per year

    Job Outlook: 20 percent growth (much faster than average)

    Degree Level: Bachelor’s degree

    Who is this job a good fit for?
    “I know it sounds cliché, but having true motivation and a passion for what you do is a common denominator among many successful individuals (not just in healthcare) who I have had the pleasure of meeting. When you have an internal fire to pursue an idea or career path in which you truly believe in, it doesn’t feel like work or a burden to overcome those challenges. Train your mind to view challenges as learning experiences.”


    Hitesh Gupta, Esq., holds degrees in both computer engineering and law from respected Florida universities. He currently practices personal injury and real estate law in Boca Raton, Florida. Prior to beginning his own practice, Hitesh clerked for a U.S. Magistrate Judge, worked with the Miami-Dade Public Defender Office, and clerked for a Third District Court of Appeals judge. Hitesh is currently a member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association.

    “Don’t allow doubt to get in your way. If you want to pursue a career in the legal field, go for it and don’t look back and don’t let anybody else tell you different because you just happened to be deaf. Sure, it will be hard but if you have the passion for it, don’t let your deafness be an obstacle, but a source of strength.”

    Median Salary: $118,160 per year

    Job Outlook: 9 percent growth (average)

    Degree Level: Doctoral or professional degree

    Who is this job a good fit for?
    “[People with] passion, dedication, attention to details and a hard work ethic.”


    Freelance Writer, Editor and Small Business Owner
    Trudy Suggs holds multiple degrees and has operated in a variety writing-related professions, from editing to journalism to publishing. She has authored books, been editor-in-chief of Silent News, and is the owner-operator of Savory Words Publishing and T.S. Writing. In addition to her writing work, Trudy is an active member of the Deaf community and has held executive board positions with multiple national organizations such as the National Association of the Deaf.

    “Being Deaf has absolutely nothing to do with whether you can pursue a career or not. Even if you weren’t Deaf you’d face obstacles, too. Pursuing a career in [writing] has everything to do with recognizing your own skills, knowledge and passion — and being determined to incorporate them into your career. Most importantly, if there aren’t opportunities, create them.”

    Median Salary: $61,240 per year

    Job Outlook: 2 percent growth

    Degree Level: Bachelor’s degree

    Who is this job a good fit for?
    “Definitely being super-organized, especially with deadlines and all these little details that go into writing and editing. Being very much a people person and sincerely loving it… Finally, have no pretense. If you make a mistake—even if it’s an editorial mistake, which is every editor’s worst nightmare—cringe and bemoan it if you want, but also be okay with it. Own up to it, fix it, then do better next time.”


    Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering
    Dr. Lina Reiss earned her bachelor’s degree at Princeton University followed by her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University. She is now an associate professor and researcher at the Oregon Health and Science University’s Hearing Research Center, Department of Otolaryngology, and Department of Biomedical Engineering. Dr. Reiss’s research focuses on the association between electrical stimulation and hearing loss as well as methods to improve cochlear implants.

    “I would suggest doing a summer research internship in a science lab. If you can find a mentor with hearing loss, or someone who has already mentored students with hearing loss, that would be even better. We have a deaf/HOH mentoring network for researchers [who study hearing], called HI-ARO, that can help students find mentors in the hearing research field.”

    Median Salary: $85,620 per year

    Job Outlook: 8 percent growth (average)

    Degree Level: Doctoral or professional degree

    Who is this job a good fit for?
    “If you are interested in a career in hearing research, coursework in biomedical or psychological sciences is good preparation. You need to be willing to get out there and network, advocate for yourself and let people know that you have a hearing loss, so they can communicate with you. Don’t pretend to be hearing and that you’ve heard everything—let people know if you didn’t hear something or if you need accommodations such as assistive listening devices or captioning.”

Careers Working with the Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have friends and family who are deaf can also find work in professions that work with the Deaf community and serve deaf youth. Some of these professions are geared towards easing communication between the hearing and Deaf communities, some advocate for accessibility and inclusion, and others coordinate assistive technologies and services. We’ve listed a few of the fastest growing careers that engage with the wider Deaf community and individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing here.

  • Audiologist

    Median Salary: $75,980

    Job Outlook: 20 percent growth

    Degree Required: Doctoral or Professional

    Good Fit For: Individuals passionate about science and technology. Audiologists frequently test infants and toddlers; the ability to work with children is helpful.

  • Communication/ Captioning Assistant

    Median Salary: $46,120

    Job Outlook: 17 percent growth

    Degree Required: Bachelor’s

    Good Fit For: Communications and captioning assistants benefit from fast typing and computer skills. A strong grasp of grammar and the English language are also helpful.

  • Disability Services Coordinator or Academic Advisor

    Median Salary: $54,560

    Job Outlook: 11 percent growth

    Degree Required: Master’s

    Good Fit For: Strong-willed individuals who can actively advocate for the needs of their students, but who can also maintain sensitivity and respect for the students they work with.

  • Sign Language Interpreter

    Median Salary: $46,120

    Job Outlook: 17 percent growth

    Degree Required: Bachelor’s

    Good Fit For: Sign language interpreters benefit from good interpersonal skills and general communication skills. It is often a good fit for people who are outgoing and are good at multi-tasking.

  • Social and Human Services Assistant

    Median Salary: $31,810

    Job Outlook: 16 percent growth

    Degree Required: Diploma

    Good Fit For: Organized individuals with good interpersonal skills. The job can also involve significant amounts of research to find the best services for client’s needs, making computer skills helpful.

  • Social Services Manager

    Median Salary: $64,680

    Job Outlook: 16 percent growth

    Degree Required: Bachelor’s

    Good Fit For: People who excel as leaders and are skilled at coordinating different groups and working with a variety of people. Organization skills are also necessary.

  • Speech-Language Pathologist/Speech Therapist

    Median Salary: $74,680

    Job Outlook: 18 percent growth

    Degree Required: Master’s

    Good Fit For: Individuals interested in healthcare fields who are skilled at teaching and communicating. Speech therapists frequently work in schools, so this career may be a good fit for those who enjoy working with children.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Student Advocacy & Leadership Programs

There are many international, national and regional organizations that offer opportunities for students, both hearing and deaf or hard of hearing, to get involved with the Deaf community. Take a look below and see how to get involved:

Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss

A group of audiologists, musicians and music educators aiming to prove that “the loss of hearing does not mean the loss of music”.

College Bowl (CoBo)

The College Bowl is a team-based competition for deaf and hard of hearing students at the nation’s top colleges and universities, held yearly at the National Association of the Deaf’s conference.

Council de Manos Youth Líderes Program

Latinx deaf and hard of hearing youths who join this program have opportunities to participate in conferences and retreats where they learn leadership skills, how to be a community activist and more.

Deaf Planet Soul

Deaf Planet Soul is a Deaf youth advocacy and community service program based in Chicago, IL that also performs humanitarian aid in Deaf communities around the world.

Deaf Professional Arts Network

A resource for ASL music videos, digital workshops and more, designed to connect deaf and hard of hearing individuals with music and music culture.

Deaf Women United

This organization of deaf women supports and promotes other deaf women through scholarship opportunities, conferences and resources

.International Federation of Hard of Hearing Young People

From summer camps to professional networking and advocacy programs supporting policy changes for deaf and hard of hearing people worldwide, this advocacy group is designed especially for teens and young adults.

National American Sign Language Honor Society

A program designed to enrich ASL classrooms, introducing students to Deaf Art, scholarship opportunities and more.

National Association of the Deaf Summer Internships

Offering college students and other young adults the opportunity to work with the NAD, interns can learn a wide variety of leadership skills and access networking opportunities.

National Association of the Deaf Youth Ambassador Program

The Youth Ambassador Program is an annual competition for deaf young adults; two winners help represent the National Association of the Deaf and address issues the Deaf community faces.

National Black Deaf Advocates

An organization that focuses on civil rights and equal education, employment and services for the thousands of people in the black Deaf community.

National Student Life for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Comprised of educational institutions around the nation, the NSLDHH designs after school programs and summer programs for youth with hearing loss.

Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf

An educational, leadership, advocacy and social group for members of the Deaf LGBTQ community with over 20 chapters in the U.S. and Canada.

Say What Club Gen-Y

A social media group for 18-40 year olds with hearing loss.

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