Magazine Feature

Toolkit for Clear Connection

Educators at mainstream schools can use the three activities in this toolkit to teach their colleagues and students about deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

More than 75 percent of deaf and hard-of-hearing (D/HH) students attend mainstream public schools. Yet, as Marilyn Elias captures in “Clear Connection,” D/HH students comprise only 1 percent of school-aged children and many classroom teachers feel ill-equipped to effectively meet all of their needs. This toolkit offers three activities that educators in mainstream schools can use in the staff room or classroom: (1) a set of myths and realities about D/HH students, (2) an overview of vocational rehabilitation opportunities for D/HH students provided through the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and (3) a set of free, student-facing, anti-bias texts featuring D/HH people.


Essential Questions

  1. What steps can educators at mainstream schools take to teach their colleagues and students about D/HH students?
  2. How can educators provide more opportunities for D/HH students to see themselves in the curriculum and for non-D/HH students to learn about D/HH experiences?


Activity 1—Debunk myths about D/HH students.

Below you will find a list of common myths and facts about D/HH students. Consider going through this list with your fellow educators or using the list with students to help debunk myths and expand their knowledge about D/HH individuals.

MYTH 1: If D/HH students can speak fairly well, they’re hearing well with hearing aids.

REALITY 1: Not necessarily. Well-spoken D/HH students may still need classroom accommodations like interpreters or amplification systems.

MYTH 2: Cochlear implants always solve hearing problems.

REALITY 2: Success rates vary widely. You can’t assume anything about the hearing ability of a D/HH student with an implant.

MYTH 3: A sign-language interpreter will provide the only bridge a hearing teacher needs to a signing student.

REALITY 3: Some interpreters don’t convey important information to students, and they won’t necessarily be helpful in building relationships. Teachers should communicate primarily with students, not their interpreters.

MYTH 4: If students can read lips, face reading should provide all the classroom information they need.

REALITY 4: Research shows that face reading alone yields about 30 percent of what someone says. Even good lip-reading students typically need other aids.


Activity 2—Learn about vocational rehabilitation opportunities for D/HH students.

Vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies help transition-aged youth with disabilities—including D/HH students—improve academic and workplace skills, gain hands-on experience and explore career interests. Educators who work with D/HH students say it’s crucial that VR opportunities be available to these students throughout high school, not just when they are about to enter their senior year.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)—signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 22, 2014—shares this perspective. As of July 1, 2015, WIOA will make internship and apprenticeship opportunities, post-secondary education support and access to transition services available to, among others, eligible D/HH students and youth, starting at age 14.

Take these steps—either individually or with colleagues—to improve your knowledge about WIOA:

  • Learn more about WIOA on the websites of the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Education.
  • Connect with and draw on the expertise of a special education director, transition teacher or 504 coordinator in your district. You can also connect with the rehabilitation counselor for the deaf or a transition counselor at your local vocational rehabilitation office.
  • Familiarize yourself with the WIOA’s key provisions and eligibility criteria for in-school and out-of-school youth, as spelled out in this fact sheet.
  • Watch a series of webinars designed to guide the implementation of WIOA.


Activity 3—Use texts about D/HH individuals in your instruction.  

Perspectives for a Diverse America is a free, literacy-based curriculum from Teaching Tolerance for grades K-12. It offers hundreds of texts that educators can use to surround their students with crucial “mirrors” and “windows”—to use anti-bias educator Emily Style’s analogy— texts in which students see themselves reflected and texts through which they see into the lives, identities and experiences of others.

The Perspectives Central Text Anthology offers the following three texts on D/HH individuals. You can use these texts a la carte or couple them with tasks and strategies also available in the curriculum.  

“Deaf Culture,” Paula Kluth (Lexile 1390): In her article, Paula Kluth takes care to distinguish among the small “d” deaf, big “D” Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. Both medical and cultural views on the different groups are discussed. 

“Disability Etiquette,” Disability Rights and Resources (Lexile 1150): Disability Rights and Resources outlines appropriate behavior, conversational cues and common courtesies to internalize and enact when spending time with a person with a disability.

“StoryCorps: Mitchel’s Sister Is Deaf,” Debbie Watterson and Mitchel Watterson : This text is a conversation between Debbie Watterson and her son‚ Mitchel Watterson‚ recorded for StoryCorps‚ a nonprofit oral history organization in the the United States. Mitchel describes what it’s like to be a big brother to a sister who is deaf.