Mainstream Education Through the Eyes of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students


By Lisa Marino, Brock University

“The secret in education lies in respecting the student.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

According to Foster, Long and Snell (1999), the enrollment number in higher education for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing (D/HH) has increased specifically in mainstream settings. Even with increased enrollment, an issue noted by Myers and Taylor (2000) is that between two-thirds and three-quarters of D/HH students never graduate once they begin their post-secondary studies.  As a result of high enrollment, an increasing sense of inclusivity in a classroom for these students is needed. In the case that an inclusive environment is achieved, students will have equal opportunity access to the curriculum while being a member of a school community.

With the unique sociocultural context of post-secondary atmospheres, students face a tremendous adjustment when attending mainstream higher education institutions. There are significant problems among D/HH students such as a high dropout rate and increased experiences of depression and loneliness (Cheng, Hu & Sin, 2016). We have come a long way from trying to figure out accommodation methods; the issue is now the appropriate use of these and the increase of support each D/HH student is receiving. Foster et al. (1999) comment that services are provided such as interpreters, note takers, and tutors. Through these third-party services, students are still lacking the clarity and immediacy of a teacher-to-student or student-student interaction (Long, Vignare, Rappold & Mallory, 2007). The overall issue is the quality of higher education life among D/HH students.

The majority of student attend higher education with the hopes of achieving career readiness and skills to land a well-paying job. Success in higher education has a significant impact on the future employment among D/HH individuals who often enter the workforce feeling unprepared (Smith, 2004). Today’s modern workforce is a complex aim for any and even more so for D/HH students.

Nagle, Newman, Shaver, and Marschark (2016) note that D/HH students are taking fewer courses than hearing students. Therefore, D/HH students are at a disadvantage when reaching the workplace because their academic background knowledge is limited. The underemployment of D/HH individuals suggests why this issue needs to be addressed in order to encourage the focus on their future careers.

Delaney (2017) explores the idea that many post-secondary institutions are not reaching out to draw more D/HH students to campuses. A useful tool for rethinking the way to approach support issues is the minority model (Smith & Andrews, 2015). The minority model encourages self-advocate and resistance of ableism among people with disabilities. This connects to viewing D/HH individuals as a linguistic minority rather than a category of people with disabilities. It is important to note that deafness is not itself a learning disability. These students are more visual and process information differently from hearing students (Heffernan & Cradden, 2017).

In my opinion, a possible solution is increasing the number of mainstream environments in K-12 school settings, therefore, the expectations of post-secondary institutions are to also provide similar support. D/HH students report issues communicating with faculty and support services and outline the limited chances for social interactions between their hearing peers (Smith, 2004). Similarly to hearing students, D/HH crave the personal integration into the social fabric of campus life and suggest these limitations play a role in their academics (Smith, 2004). Therefore, I suggest extracurricular activities that D/HH students can relate to. D/HH students’ sense of belonging is lacking but encouraging these interactions will result in a strong sense of social success and satisfaction (Antia, Stinson & Gaustad, 2002).

Rather than increasing the ability to “treat” deafness, closing the divide between the D/HH and the hearing world will decrease. Positive support and academic and social experiences in higher education encourages persistence for D/HH post-secondary students. The future for D/HH students in mainstream learning environments depends on more and accurate research. Delaney (2017) mentions the need for research to draw on the students ready to learn and provide voices on issues surrounding D/HH students. Moving toward, respect among D/HH students in higher education will be the result of offered accessible resources.

Higher education should look at K-12 inclusive environments to similarly offer all students the support they need. I argue that we must evaluate the way higher education serves D/HH students and smoothly integrates them into our loud society. These improvements are essential to keep in mind as enrollment increases among D/HH students.


Antia, S. D., Stinson, M. S., & Gaustad, M. G. (2002). Developing membership in the education of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in inclusive settings. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education7(3), 214-229.

Cheng, S., Hu, X., & Sin, K. F. (2016). Thinking styles of university deaf or hard of hearing students and hearing students. Research in Developmental Disabilities55, 377-387.

Delaney, C. (2017). Letter to the editor: The university under represents deaf students. The Daily Illini. Retrieved from

Foster, S., Long, G., & Snell, K. (1999). Inclusive instruction and learning for deaf students in postsecondary education. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education4(3), 225-235.

Heffernan, C., & Cradden, J. (2017). Deaf children and their families fight to be heard. Irish Times. Retrieved from

Myers, M. J. & Taylor, E. M. (2000). Best practices for deaf and hard of hearing student success in postsecondary education. Journal of the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association, 34, 13–28.

Smith, D. H., & Andrews, J. F. (2015). Deaf and hard of hearing faculty in higher education: enhancing access, equity, policy, and practice. Disability & Society30(10), 1521-1536.

Smith, J. A. (2004). Deaf students in collegiate mainstream programs. Deaf Studies Today! 1, 289-305.




2 thoughts on “Mainstream Education Through the Eyes of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students

  1. Hi Lisa,

    This is such an important issue to address moving forward. You have written this piece with passion, and your argument for change is well stated.

    I have learned a lot from this blog. You have articulated the needs of D/HH students in very practical terms. If I have one takeaway from this piece that has shifted my perspective, it is when you stated that “deafness is not itself a learning disability. These students are more visual and process information differently from hearing students”; thank you for that lesson.

    You stated that D/HH students are taking fewer courses than hearing students. I would be interested in learning more about that. Is it because there are fewer courses available that provide the necessary accommodations, and if so, then why?

    I agree that integration is necessary for any minority group to feel a sense of engagement and community within their school. Are the currently any examples of schools that are doing this well? I did a search for Canadian schools that are doing positive things on this front, but I was unsuccessful. I did however find an American site that could be useful.

    As well, you mentioned, “Higher education should look at K-12 inclusive environments to similarly offer all students the support they need”. I would be interested in knowing more about these inclusive environments.

    Finally, you stated the need for more and accurate research. I found an article that may be helpful for elaborating on that point.

    Lang, H. G. (2002). Higher education for deaf students: Research priorities in the new millennium. Journal of deaf studies and deaf education, 7(4), 267-280. Chicago

    Cheers, Mark

  2. Hi Lisa,

    I loved reading your post as I haven’t explored issues surrounding D/HH students. Specifically, I think you have done a great job of discussing numerous topics that pertain to D/HH at the post-secondary level such as the prevalence of D/HH students who do not complete their programs, the potential development of mental health issues, the discrepancy between inclusive practices at K-12 levels in comparison to those present at post-secondary, career readiness etc. I wonder if any additional programs/support exist in regard to career readiness for D/HH students? I think it is important that you have explored numerous topics that contribute to the issue of D/HH and graduation rates as it will allow you to develop an extremely comprehensive synthesis paper that can suggest possible solutions. Additionally, you have further explored this topic by offering a theoretical perspective based on the “minority model”. Being unfamiliar with the model, it is important that you have provided a definition as I am better able to apply the model to the exploration of your topic.

    As an individual interested in mental health issues, I strongly agree with your following statement: “Rather than increasing the ability to “treat” deafness, closing the divide between the D/HH and the hearing world will decrease”. Regardless of one’s disorder or disability, we want to find ways to accommodate and integrate them into our educational environments/practices rather than trying to “treat” or “rid” them of their disorder/disability. Furthermore, I think it would be interesting to further explore the issue of depression/loneliness due to high dropout rates. I found the following resource which touches upon a study conducted on loneliness amongst hearing impaired college students: (Murphy, J. S., & Newlon, B. J. (1987). Loneliness and the mainstreamed hearing impaired college student. American Annals of the Deaf, 132(1), 21-25). Perhaps this will be helpful if you wish to include topics of loneliness in your synthesis paper!

    Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post and I believe you did a great job of touching upon and providing examples/definitions of all related factors/theories to D/HH students at the post-secondary level.

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