Advocating for Service in College as a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Student

A deaf or hard-of-hearing student with a hearing aid being handed several resources.

Disabilities are a stigma in society as a whole but are far more common than the general population may realize. According to the U.S. Census, one in five Americans has a disability. This is defined as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” In fact, hearing loss is the most prevalent disability, affecting nearly 30 million people nationally, and is the primary disability worldwide. Hearing loss also affects every 15 in 1000 children and teens under 18.

a student in class with a sign language interpreter to the left with a teacher to the right
A deaf or hard-of-hearing student in class with a sign language interpreter to the left with a teacher to the right. Illustration by Anna Leon.

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act came into effect, protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. But the law only goes so far, as discrepancies often happen and are swept under the rug. Another barrier is the lack of advocacy by college students, as many are afraid to address their needs for fear of stigmatization or anger at a staff member’s ignorance or dismissiveness. The decision to advocate for themselves can be a relentless task where they may feel judged, misunderstood, or unimportant as a college student striving to get their education with fair and equal access. On average, 11 percent of college students report having a disability, but many more go unreported due to their fear of being stigmatized.

Having been diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss when I was six months old, I know firsthand the challenge of advocating for oneself from a young age and of educating my peers, teachers, and friends who did not understand how to communicate with someone with hearing loss. I have learned along the way that there will always be people who will remain ignorant but also that there are many others who will work with you if you explain how and why specific services are needed.

Having the opportunity to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY, I was able to use a variety of services to help with my education. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and was much more helpful than what I had experienced in a mainstream classroom in elementary, middle, and high school. Although I had the assistance of the teacher’s amplified microphone in class that connected to an FM system that allowed me to hear their voice clearer, I was unable to get additional services.


As a college student with hearing loss, there are the following main services to advocate for:

  • Sign Language Interpreters – whether you are fluent in American Sign Language or Signed Exact English, you can request an interpreter for your classes to help you.
  • Notetakers – a student notetaker will take notes for the class, so you don’t miss out on pertinent information while the teacher is lecturing. You will be provided a hand copy or will be able to access notes online after the class.
  • C-Print – a captionist will type out a teacher’s lecture and student comments in real-time while you are in class. You will be given a laptop to use to read the transcribed notes as they are taken. You will also be able to access the notes online after class.
  • Closed captioning – the requirement that videos, TV, and movies be captioned online. Request this, so you do not miss out on what is being said within online educational material.


A great resource to see a more in-depth look at your rights as a deaf and hard-of-hearing student can be found by visiting NAD – Education Advocates, among others. There are also other websites where you can explore variety of college resources: Resources And Tools For Students (

What works for one individual with hearing loss may not work for another, so finding the method that works best for you is important to your success. Everyone deserves equal access, and that includes college students with disabilities. After all, as a deaf and hard-of-hearing society, “we can do anything except hear.”


Originally published in the Zealousness e-magazine in 2018. Revised and updated in 2022. Read more personal development related articles on Zealousness blog Personal Development – iN Education Inc. (



  1. United States Census Bureau. 2018. “Nearly 1 in 5 People Have a Disability in the U.S., Census Bureau Reports – Miscellaneous – Newsroom – U.S. Census Bureau.” 2018.
  2. 2022. “Guide to Disability Rights Laws.” November 19, 2022.
  3. Barger, Theresa Sullivan. 2016. “ADA Compliance across Campus.” University Business. June 29, 2016.
  4. “Disability on Campus: The Challenges Faced and Change Needed.” 2017. Times Higher Education (THE). May 18, 2017.
  5. Grasgreen, Allie. 2014. “Students with Disabilities Frustrated with Ignorance and Lack of Services.” April 2, 2014.



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