How to provide access for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students

Boston University works hard to provide equally effective communication and classrooms. We partner with faculty to make sure your materials are in accessible formats for your Deaf and hard of hearing students. Please keep this in mind when designing your syllabi and selecting media. Please see our Faculty Resource Guide and tip sheets below about closed captioning, accessible media, CART services, and American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters.

Captioning of Course Materials

In keeping with Accessibility Law  and University policy, all digital media (Lecture Capture, Video Players, YouTube, podcasts, films, Zoom recordings, etc.) shown in your classroom and/or assigned to your course when identified accommodations are requested and approved, must be professionally English (not auto-generated) closed-captioned.

My video does not have Closed Captions or Subtitles, can I still use it as a part of my course? See Closed Captioning Guidelines.

How can I ensure that my media is captioned? 

The most efficient strategy is to select media that is already captioned. Often, instructors wait until they learn that they have a deaf student or, more concerning, until they show the media for the first time to address the need for captioning. Though selecting already-captioned media is ideal, the reality is that the availability of captions varies greatly by media type. Expect the following concerning captioning:

• Commercial media, produced by large production companies, is often already captioned.

• Smaller or independent production companies may not have thought to include captions. However, they may add captions upon request.

• YouTube videos are most often not captioned, thus captions will need to be added. (YouTube’s automatic captions are notoriously inaccurate and cannot be relied upon for access.)

• Instructor-produced media will most likely not have captions.

How Do I know If My Media is Captioned?

1. Check for existing captions.

  • Sometimes they are found in the settings tab. Look for headings such as subtitles, languages, captions, or special features to enable the captions.

2. If you found captions, check to make sure they are accurate.

  • Sometimes captions do not match the audio content. If you are using a video that already has captions, please make sure that they are accurate.

3. In the event that captioning is not readily available, please work with Disability and Access Services (dhhods@bu.edu) in advance to get your media professionally captioned. Please note that a minimum of 48 business hours is required for all captioning requests. 

Deaf and hard of hearing Students in Your Classroom 

Top Ten Things Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students Would Like Teachers to Do

ASL interpreters & CART Providers in Remote Classes

Since the inception of the Learning  from Anywhere (LfA) model of instruction, it has become even more important to keep the following in mind when working with a Deaf or hard of hearing student and providers in remote classes.

 The providers will need the Zoom link to your class, please email that to dhhods@bu.edu. Please include dhhods@bu.edu and providers in email correspondences to students so we can ensure the student and providers have the support they need for this learning format. If you are using other platforms, please share the information with the providers/DAS.  

Helpful Tips for Teaching Deaf & hard of hearing Students Online:

  • Online access to updates: Include the interpreter on your email and online discussion group rosters.
  • Record meetings and lectures if possible. It provides access in case of technology or internet connectivity issues. It allows for accessibility features (closed captioning) to be added.
  • If possible, limit the number of participants on screen. (Rotate participants as needed.). It makes it easier to follow what is going on and makes it easier to facilitate the course. It improves video and audio quality.
  • Establish participation protocols, including rules for turn-taking. It makes it easier for the student and the service providers to follow the conversation. For example, students must comment or use built-in “hand-raising” features in the chat box of the video conferencing software to ask or answer a question or to turn their video on.
  • State your name when talking. It makes it easier for the student and the service provider to follow the conversation, especially for participants who don’t use video.
  • Build in pauses. This makes it easier to follow along. Deaf students often have to watch the interpreter, look at the information on the screen, and read captions at the same time. Deaf students need time to process visual information before responding to a discussion prompt. Lag time is expected and should be built in.
  • If you are assigning people to a breakout group in Zoom, make sure that the providers are in the room assigned to the right room to provide access.
  • As a facilitator, keep an eye out for direct communications to you via the chat feature of a student who needs to make you aware of inadequate access to the course for any reason.
  • Use the chat feature to share technical terms or proper names that are significant to the course.
  • Notetakers can continue to provide access as they have all along and/or they can email notes after the fact. You do not need to do anything on your end. 

If you are using an asynchronous model or are going to post videos including recorded lectures outside of your standard lecture, please make sure you are providing access. Each video will need to be accessible (e.g., captioned, transcribed, etc.).  Keep in mind that auto-generated captions are not considered accessible. Please reach out to DAS well in advance so that we can work to provide this access. 

Helpful Tips for Teaching Deaf Students Online 

ASL Interpreters in the Classroom

ASL interpreters facilitate communication between ASL and English. The Deaf community is comprised of members with a variety of linguistic and cultural backgrounds. In educational settings, a team of interpreters is often utilized.

Helpful Strategies for Working With ASL Interpreters in the Classroom

  • Share course materials and teaching aids (course syllabus, handouts, readings, and vocabulary lists) that will be useful for the ASL interpreters to use to prepare for class.
  •  Allow the student and the interpreter to choose the seat that provides the best visual vantage point.
  • Speak at a natural or reasonable pace: Too slow of a pace is as difficult to interpret as too fast of a pace.
  • Build in time for PowerPoint presentations: The visual learner cannot watch the interpreter and look at a PowerPoint at the same time. After introducing the PowerPoint, allow time for the student to obtain the information conveyed and then focus on the screen.
  • Refrain from talking during written class work: This is important for the all the same reasons described above.
  • Have all videos/films captioned: Many new videos/films are already captioned. Nevertheless, always check to make sure that (a) they are indeed captioned and (b) you know how to turn on captions should the media be “closed captioned.”
  • Know how to orchestrate an interpreter and student-friendly class discussion: Always ask all students to raise their hands and be recognized before speaking. Wait until the interpreter has finished interpreting the entire chunk of information (i.e., a discussion question), so that the student has time to process the chunk of information and raise their hand to participate in the discussion. Remember, the interpreter is usually one to two sentences behind the speaker. There is nothing more frustrating for a deaf student than not being able to participate in class because the instructor is moving too quickly to acknowledge someone else’s raised hand.
  • Plan breaks: Visual learning is physically challenging and can cause eye fatigue. The task of interpreting is cognitively and physically challenging. The allowance of breaks is especially important when there is only one interpreter.
  • Talk in the first-person: When talking to your student, look directly at the student, and not at the interpreter. Use “I” and “you” rather than such third-person statements as “ask her” or “tell him.”

National Deaf Center Sign Language Interpreters 

CART Service Providers in the Classroom

Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is a speech-to-text service that displays a complete transcription of all spoken words and environmental sounds to communicate a message. This may be through an onsite CART provider who comes into the classroom, or through a remote service. The remote service is done via Zoom.

Helpful Strategies for Working With CART Providers in the Classroom

  • Share course materials and teaching aids (course syllabus, handouts, readings, and vocabulary lists) that will be useful for the CART provider to use to prepare for class. The specialized vocabulary for the class will be entered into the provider’s dictionary, which will help to maintain a high translation rate. This is advantageous for both the provider and the student(s).
  • Permit the CART provider to sit in a location that makes hearing you and the students in the class as easy as possible. Please note that it may be necessary to wear a microphone to ensure the clarity of the audio for the CART provider, the student will be responsible for providing you with one if necessary.
  • Since the translation and text display are usually one to four seconds behind the speaker, it may take the student who is deaf or hard of hearing a few seconds longer to respond. Try to limit the class discussion to one person speaking at a time, so that all students have the opportunity to participate.
  • Restate or summarize students’ comments if they are hard to hear, or somewhat disorganized. The CART provider knows they must follow the intent of the speaker at all times. The CART provider will render as near a verbatim translation as possible, always conveying the content and spirit of the speaker. Sometimes, a new term is introduced that will not translate properly. The CART provider may then use a substitute language which is computer-translatable so that the term can be understood by the student.