Social Work and Hearing Impairments

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Social Work and Students with Hearing Impairments

Disabled student social workers can face difficulties gaining employment, because employers often find it difficult to look beyond the disability and focus on what the employee can contribute to the workplace. Historically the medical model of disability implies that a person needs to be healed and employers can think of the person as needing to be taken care of or requiring an intervention rather than as a healthy person, with a disability, who is a competent professional. The question often asked is whether a disabled social worker can provide safe and competent care, and in the case of a student with a hearing impairment applying to study social work, can the student communicate effectively with their clients in sometimes challenging situations? The other question often raised is how the employer can ensure safety in the workplace when working with a disabled colleague.

There are numerous adjustments that can be made within a learning environment for students with hearing impairments. For example, providing the student with a vibrating pager in place of an audio one so that they know when they are needed or using amplified communication equipment, or a sign language interpreter for communication.

Adjustments should be easily made if students are trained to work effectively in teams. Asking for assistance is all part of the teamwork that is essential for survival in a busy, fast-paced workplace. All students will have strengths and weaknesses to bring to the team, regardless of whether they have a disability or not and effectively managing their weaker areas, by asking colleagues to double-check things demonstrates effective team working.

Social workers with hearing impairments are likely to have special skills to bring to the team, such as the ability to lip-read or communicate with clients who use Sign Language. Such students may also find it easier to communicate with clients who have speech difficulties.

Hearing Impairments

Read more detailed information about Hearing Impairments.

Teaching strategies associated with Hearing Impairments

These strategies are suggestions for inclusive teaching. This list should not be considered exhaustive and it is important to remember that all students are individuals and good practice for one student may not necessarily be good practice for another. You may also like to contact the Disability Specialist in your institution for further information. If you have any good practice that you would like to add to this list, please email your suggestions to

  • Provide sufficient time to discuss needs with the student before/during their initial teaching session.
  • People who depend on their eyes to ‘hear’ will not be able to take notes as well as lip read or watch an interpreter, so it is helpful to provide notes or to arrange for copies from another student.
  • Face the person at all times when speaking. Speak clearly and encourage other students to do the same. Speak at a measured but normal speed as speaking too slowly distorts lip patterns, which then become impossible to read.
  • Arrange lighting and seating so that everyone’s face is well lit. Avoid standing in front of a window or light: this places the face in shadow.
  • Do not talk and write on a board or talk and demonstrate at the same time.
  • Try to keep background noise to a minimum.
  • Be aware that loud noises can be distressing when amplified through a hearing aid.
  • Lip-reading is very tiring: students may need to have periodic rests.
  • Unknown vocabulary is hard to lip-read. Write vocabulary down and check that it is understood.
  • It is difficult to lip-read if the context is not known. The better a talk is structured the better is it followed. Handouts and overheads can be very helpful in complementing spoken instructions and descriptions, but provide these in advance, as students cannot lip-read at the same time.
  • Use short clear statements and vocabulary, avoiding or explaining abstract concepts or jargon. If students misunderstand, a different way of explaining the same idea should be explored.
  • Important announcements, key concepts and new technical words should be written on the board or given as a handout.
  • Repeat the beginning of an utterance and not just the end, and do not change the wording. Deaf and hearing impaired people may tune-in late to the fact that they are being addressed and miss the beginning.
  • When working with interpreters make time for them, and always address the deaf person, not the interpreter.
  • Interpreting is tiring: do not speak too quickly. During long sessions allow interpreters to have short rest breaks. There might be times when two interpreters are needed.
  • Any videos or audio tapes that are to be used in the session should have written transcripts. Deaf students will benefit if interpreters and communication support workers have access to these before the session and are given notes, handouts and scripts of videos in advance.
  • If a student has speech difficulties, this is not a reflection of intellectual ability or understanding. Encourage students to contribute to discussions and be patient to allow communication to take place.
  • Students with hearing impairments may experience difficulties with grammar if they are using British Sign Language as a first language. These students may require extra time and/or assistance for their written work.
  • Some students may need to record lectures; others may have a note-taker or interpreter. Make time for interpreters, be aware of time lags, e.g. when asking questions, and allow time for the hearing impaired students to answer.
  • Group work can be difficult for hearing impaired students as they may not know who is speaking and thus who to watch unless an interpreter is present. Encourage students to indicate with a gesture when they are speaking.
  • Provide extra time after group sessions to check that the content has been understood. 
  • Approach a deaf student who is working from the front or side to avoid startling them.

Potential challenges to the achievement of learning