The Best Colleges for Blind and Deaf Students

Preparing for college is a daunting task, and it is even a very complicated process for blind and deaf students. Enrollees with these disabilities, therefore, should start their preparation early. It is crucial to start considering a career path as early as the first year of high school. That way, you get to begin exploring your options and identify which institutions are suitable for your needs.

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As you begin to plot your transition plans, it is best to approach your Individual Education Program (IEP) team. Ask them about your possible options. Your interests may lead you to a two-year college, a vocational school, or even to a four-year university. Nonetheless, planning early is critical in your college application plans.

Table of Contents

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College Preparation for the Hearing Impaired

In the US, 9 million residents are recorded to have hearing impairments. From this number, 100,000 are aged between 18 and 44. But how many of these can attend college? The National Center for Educational Statistics reports roughly 20,000 hearing-impaired and deaf enrollees in post-secondary educational institutions each year.

The Common Categories of Hearing Loss

  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL) is called nerve-related hearing loss and can be problems that exist in the inner ear.
  • Conductive Hearing Loss occurs due to problems within the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear. It is possible to have a mixture of both – Mixed Hearing Loss combines the two types of hearing loss mentioned above.
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The intensity of these types of hearing impairments can create a massive impact on the academic success of the student. This is particularly challenging in mathematics and reading. According to research, mild to moderate loss of hearing can cause a student to fall behind up to four grades. Thankfully, education services designed for the hearing impaired are now available nationwide in a bid to prevent these common but challenging academic setbacks. This eventually led to a significant rise of deaf students enrolling in college. 

Schools are also starting to acknowledge every student’s unique needs and the full range of services needed to meet these particular needs. For instance, accommodations vary on whether a student identifies himself as deaf or just has a slight hearing problem. Some students who identify themselves as having hearing problems may or may not communicate using ASL (American Sign Language). Others who describe themselves as deaf share a standard ASL and culture and may sometimes request for an interpreter. Those with hard hearing issues may opt for an assistive listening device. As schools start to be mindful of these differences, institutions have increased their sensitivity towards those with hearing impairments.

While these services are now practiced in most institutions, the level of effort put into them generally varies. Some provide mere services just to comply with disability laws. Others bring in new hearing technologies or even offer personal mentors so that they can meet the needs of the students who have a hard time hearing. But despite these, students with hearing problems still come across a handful of challenges by the time they enter higher education.

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Accommodating Hearing Impaired and Deaf Students

The constant advancement in technology, coupled with a better awareness of this disability, has further enhanced the creation of tools specially designed for the deaf and hard of hearing college students. Although the availability of a specific technology may vary by a program or school, all institutions that enjoy federal funding are compelled to have their schools accessible to deaf students, according to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Furthermore, the American with Disabilities Act stipulates that all public universities and colleges must ascertain that deaf and hard of hearing enrollees are provided with equal access to all school activities, regardless of funding.

To comply with these laws, institutions hire interpreters, utilize captioning, or invest in assistive listening devices; all these just to deal with the needs of the hard of hearing or deaf students.

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Devices Used for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

Below are some of the most common devices utilized by the hard of hearing and deaf students at universities and colleges.

Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)

This is used to convert speeches into texts. Also called captioning, CART is done with the use of either a computer, a stenotype machine, or any relevant software to capture the words one is saying. The speech is then displayed on a screen and converted into a text. The beautiful thing about CART is that students can conveniently use this either on their smartphones or laptop. This can also be displayed even a projector or a considerable monitor, perfect for an entire class.

CART involves a stenographer, either live or thru remote feeding. In remote CART, an audio source, like an internet phone service, is required for the speaker. Once a speech is captured, it is directly transmitted to the student in a text format. The student no longer needs any special software to convert the speech since CART just provides the email link where the streaming text can be viewed.

CART is far better than interpreters and note-takers as well. Its accuracy rate for translation is 98.5%. Apart from living captioning in class, CART also allows students to obtain an electronic file of the transcription after class. However, this service is fee-based, and unfortunately, not all schools are willing to shell out money for the additional cost.

Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)

These devices are designed to filter out background noise so that the sound is directed right to the student’s ear. They have a receiver, a transmitter, and a microphone. While there are several types of transmission as to the type of ALD, the three most common ones include:

  • Infrared System. This uses infrared lights and works by transmitting sound to the user’s ears using an earphone and a receiver. This technology is light-based, thus giving the user ample privacy because the sound doesn’t travel where the light doesn’t.
  • FM System. This ALD type uses a radio broadcast technology in transmitting the teacher’s voice directly to the user. The teacher has a microphone that picks up the voice before it is directly transmitted to the student’s headphones, hearing aids, or cochlear implants.
  • Inductive Loop System. For this system, an electromagnetic field is used to deliver sound. The teacher’s voice passes through an induction loop and on to the hearing aid telecoil. This induction loop is installed either on the floor or ceiling. Students without a telecoil-equipped hearing aid can still enjoy this system through a combination of a receiver and a headphone.
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Understanding Assistive Technology

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The deaf and the hard of hearing students have wholly taken advantage of the power of technology. Institutions and classrooms today use different software and hardware to help assist students with hearing problems. Online enrollees can also enjoy several online support services.

Today, e-textbooks are gaining more popularity among schools. This format of learning is utilized by more than half of US college students for at least one of their classes. E-books are readily accessible on computers and various electronic devices, and along with added features, these formats are more advantageous, especially among the deaf and hard of hearing students. From interactive features like polls, note sharing, and even quizzes, instructors can seamlessly interact and collaborate with their students without having to go to school physically.

Digital recorders are also very helpful for students with moderate hearing loss. These recorders capture school lectures and discussions as sound files, which are then secured in a device. Students can then replay and review the record at their leisure. This is specifically helpful in large seminars or in locations where assistive listening devices are not available.

At present, most institutions have their own Assistive Technology Center, where you can find the most valuable resources for the hard of hearing and deaf students. The center is equipped with devices and support services to help students with disabilities to deal with both their academic and extracurricular performance efficiently. While ATCs are practically found in most primary schools, it’s still wise to inquire how extensive these services are since schools differ from each other.

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Online Tools for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

There are also software applications and online resources that the hearing impaired can utilize, whether via their devices or the school’s Assistive Technology Center. Some of the more popular ones include:

  • AbleData is a resource center where you can find several solutions and assistive products designed for the dead and hard of hearing students.
  • HearMore has several products created for independent living (on or off campus).
  • iCommunicator provides independent communication thru real-time translation, whether speech to sign-language or speech to text.
  • MotionSavvy is the latest invention and works as a two-way communicator that translates voice to text or sign to voice, using speech and gesture technology.
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Colleges for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing Students

Most colleges and universities in the US today have taken ample steps in creating learning environments, no matter the individual differences of the students are. Below are some US colleges that offer programs that allow the deaf and hard of hearing students get a full college experience still.

Gallaudet University

For more than 150 years, GU is the only college institution in the world designed to cater to the needs of the hearing impaired. This is the only school in worldwide that offers BA, MA, and Ph.D. programs within an ASL-immersive setting. Located in Washington, DC, this institution is the most significant book publisher aimed at the deaf community. GU is home to the prominent 1988 Deaf President Now movement, a notable student protest that commenced the Americans with Disabilities Act into realization. GU also offers an intensive network of service projects and internship programs for its students. It also has yearly funding of $4.7 million intended for students and faculty research.


Rochester Institute of Technology

This is another model school that provides educational access to hearing-impaired students. The school is home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and offers notetaking, sign language interpreting services, FM systems and tutoring, and captioning. Some personal advisers can accommodate deaf students for job search services and career counseling.


SouthWest College for the Deaf

The SouthWest College for the Deaf (SWCD) – located in Big Spring, Texas, is a part of the Howard College district and is the only self-contained community college educational environment in the nation that serves deaf and hard of hearing students. SWCD provides an exciting learning community for students seeking certificates for career training and workforce entry as well as associate degrees. This barrier-free campus adapts the ASL as its primary mode of communication. The classes in the institution are aimed explicitly towards deaf and hard of hearing students and are delivered in sign language. The campus is inclusive and offers residential options for students. Apart from academics, students are encouraged to join student organizations, athletic programs, residential activities, and internships to begin a lifetime of growth. *

* Information was provided by featured school.


California State University (Northridge)

You can find the National Center on Deafness at this university. With more than 200 deaf students on average, CSU is proud of its Disability Resources and Educational Services, the backbone of its Journey to Success program, where students are provided with personalized learning plans from college entry until after graduation.

This initiative has three phases. The freshmen students start in Transition Year, and they receive assistance as they adjust to college life. They are also provided with accessible services and mentoring programs with the instructors. The second stage is the Foundation Years. The mentorship continues at this stage, but this time, students are trained to become independent and are encouraged to join in co-curricular activities. Lastly, the University and Beyond stage is the final phase. Here, students begin to learn skills in job advocacy and start to plot their life plans after college.


The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Of the 24,000 students enrolled in this institution, roughly 1,000 use ASL, and around 50 of these are deaf. The school has an Accessibility Resource Center intended for the hard of hearing and deaf students. These students meet with an ARC counselor and are provided with their own personal VISA (Verified Individual Services and Accommodation). The VISA is given to the instructor at the start of a course and is annually updated when necessary.

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College Preparation for the Visually Impaired

In 2015, the National Federation for the Blind estimated there are 7.29 million adults with visual disability. 42% were successful in their workforce, while no more than 15% were able to obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited higher learning school. Studies also resulted in 29% of visually impaired persons sadly live below the poverty line.

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Visually Impaired People When in Class

The blind or visually impaired are expected to come face to face with a handful of unique challenges when in school. The good news is, numerous institutions these days are dedicated to helping these students overcome these struggles by providing them with different accommodations concerning their visual disabilities. Unique and structured courses, along with distinct teaching strategies, allow the blind and visually impaired learners to receive proper education and, eventually, guide them towards being qualified professionals.

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Visual Impairment Defined

People with visual disability fall under any of these three categories:

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  • Visually Impaired. The American Foundation for the Blind defines vision impairment as “visual acuity of 20/70 or worse in the better eye with the best correction, or a total field loss of 140 degrees.” This impairment could be affected by one’s inability to adapt to darkness, light, glare, or contrasts.
  • Legally Blind. Technically speaking, legal blindness is the level of vision loss that requires an individual for a specialized education, proper job training, disability benefits, accommodating devices, and tax exemption.
  • Total Blindness. The American Foundation for the Blind clarifies that total blindness is the inability to see anything with either eye. Total blindness is usually caused by eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts, Stargardt’s disease, or Late-onset retinal degeneration. People with advanced diabetes are also prone to total blindness.

According to the World Health Organization, 285 million people are visually impaired. They further estimate that around 82% of adults who are 50 years old and above, live with blindness.

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Visually Impaired: Transitioning to College

When one is categorized as visually impaired or blind, transition planning is very critical. One teacher for the visually impaired noted that students having visual issues are expected to be independent by their senior year in high school.  

However, there is still a need to meet a career counselor that will help a student come up with an Individual Plan for Employment. The goal of this is to discover post-school activities relative to the student’s career plans.

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Accommodating Students with Visual Disability

Academic experts agree that the key to integrating the blind students into a college classroom dynamic is the Universal Design of Learning (UDL). This method modifies and addresses course curricula that can help students with disabilities to learn and receive instructions in a class setting. To create universally accessible courses, there are some critical steps an institution must follow to guarantee that the campuses are inclusive.

  • Course instructions have to be modified to meet the specific needs of a student. For the visually impaired students, large-font presentations, Braille materials, or auditory software is needed.
  • Students with special needs should be given ample time to complete their coursework, show presentations, and undergo exams using an alternate format.
  • Instructors should take the extra mile to work with visually impaired students to help them gain access to adaptive technologies and software.
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Assistive Technology for the Visually Impaired

Thanks to specialized software and devices, academic barriers are entirely removed. Students with disabilities are now able to receive a proper education. The most common methods of adaptive technology for the visually impaired are:

  • Screen Reader. This device utilizes a speech synthesizer that allows visually impaired students to read texts on-screen.
  • Screen Magnification. As its name implies, this app zooms in graphics and texts automatically to assist students with limited vision.
  • Video Magnifier. This is also called CCTV (closed-circuit television system) and works by projecting magnified graphics and tests on the screen of a handheld or mounted camera.
  • Braille Embosser. This is secured to a printer so that documents can be printed in Braille.
  • Braille Display. This uses pins in transcribing on-screen texts to tactile Braille.
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Colleges for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Many states across the US have schools designed primarily for students with visual impairments. Most of the traditional colleges across the country are well-equipped to accommodate students with visual disabilities.

University of Connecticut

UConn’s Center for Students with Disabilities started operating in 1967. To this day, CSD operates in a 12-room state-of-the-art facility to cater to more than a thousand students with visual impairments.


University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Just an hour away from Detroit, the public university does not only have the best location but is globally known for its being an advocate for college students with disabilities. The Office of the Services for Students and Disabilities serves as a model for other institutions that vow to support their students with disabilities.


University of Arizona, Tucson

The school’s Disability Resources Center allows visually impaired students to request and receive the accommodations and support they need. The center conducts a unique orientation among all students, plus they have an Access Consultant aimed at helping students with disabilities pinpoint the unique accommodations they need personally.


College of Charleston

This college is deeply committed to giving access to students with disabilities. Professors and staff are highly encouraged to incorporate the Universal Design for Learning towards the educational environment of the students. They also have a program called SNAP (Students Needing Access Parity) to ensure that all students with disabilities are provided with specialized advising and personalized accommodations like assistive technology.


California State University, Fullerton

The university’s Disability Support Services is more than just your usual request forms and advising. One of the programs, the Abled Advocators Program, regularly meets to organize social and professional events, raise campus disability awareness, and ensures that all its students with disabilities experience what it feels like to belong at CSUF.

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Earning a college degree is, in itself, very challenging. And when you have visual and hearing disabilities, the obstacles are endless. Thankfully, you can find lots of colleges and institutions these days that accommodate people with disabilities.