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How Students with Hearing Loss Can Prepare Now for College in the Fall

5 min read
Lila West with her student at graduation.
Lila West, MED, SLP-A, Clarke teacher of the deaf and speech language pathology assistant, with Clarke alum Ally* at Ally’s high school graduation in 2023.

Heading to college in the fall? Congratulations on taking the next step in your educational journey! There is much to look forward to as a college student, including greater independence, new friendships and a wealth of opportunities.

While college is a significant transition for all students, those who are deaf or hard of hearing have some extra considerations to navigate. But a bit of preparation can make for a smooth and manageable transition.

What’s the Difference?

While school administrators, teachers, support staff and family members have helped manage IEP and 504 accommodations through high school, students with hearing loss should expect to spearhead this process themselves at the college level. Both state-funded and private colleges are required to provide necessary accommodations for access under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), but the responsibility is on the student to outline what those accommodations are and to ensure they receive them.

“It’s on each student to explain their hearing loss and what they need in college,” says Lila West,  MED, SLP-A, teacher of the deaf and speech language pathology assistant at Clarke.

Every college handles this slightly differently, but Lila explains the general steps students should anticipate.

Before College Begins

Create a Folder of Key Documents

Before finishing high school, students should make sure they have digital copies of all school documents related to their hearing loss, advises Lila. “Typically, that includes things like standardized testing results, an audiological report, a copy of the IEP or 504. You want to make sure you do this before you lose access to the school drive,” she cautions.

Contact the School’s Office of Disability Services to Submit Documentation and Schedule a Meeting

Students will need to send that information to the college’s office of disability services, ideally before they graduate. (The actual name of this department varies but is usually some variation of disability services, accessibility or student support services.) It should be fairly easy to find its contact information on the school website. That page should list the specific steps you’ll need to take, required documentation and any deadlines. Typically, it’s an online application and a meeting with someone in the office. It should also have contact information for an office counselor if you have questions before that meeting.

Review and Revise Current Accommodations

To prepare for the meeting, Lila suggests going over your current IEP/504 with a trusted adult (e.g., a parent or TOD) and questioning the “why” behind each accommodation you currently have and how that would translate to college. “A good test is that if you can finish the accommodation with a ‘because’ statement, it’s an accommodation you’ll still need.” For example, “I need captions on for all videos because I may not hear all the dialogue.” On the other hand, some issues, such as not being able to hear intercom announcements, may not be relevant in college.

“If you aren’t sure if you’ll need a certain accommodation, request it. It’s better to ask for more than you think you might need,” Lila notes. “You can choose not to use an accommodation at given times, but it’s hard to ask for something extra if you discover later that you still need it.”

(Also be aware of any summer orientation sessions that you’ll be required to attend. Speak with the disabilities office to determine how to have accommodations in place at orientation as well.)

Prepare to Lead the Meeting

If feasible, Lila recommends bringing someone to sit in and take notes or ask questions you may not think of. Reminder: when a student is 18 or older, parents or TODs aren’t automatically included. In fact, the student will be expected to lead the meeting. “Before you leave that meeting, make sure you know what the next steps are, the timeline and any tasks you have to take care of,” Lila says.

Follow Up and Make a Plan

After the meeting, the college will create a plan of proposed accommodations. Generally, accommodations will be split between residential and academic, with the Residence Life department handling residential accommodations. The accommodations at college might look different from high school, but they can still achieve the same goal. (For example, Lila notes that in high school you might have been given extra time in a resource room to finish a test, but a college may have you start it earlier or take it at a testing center. But the result is the same — more time.)

In college, the student is responsible for disseminating the plan to their professors. “You can ask the counselor for advice on the best way to do it. But generally, you’ll want to email the professors, introduce yourself and invite them to have a conversation,” Lila says.

Once School Starts

Consider How Much—or Little—You Plan to Share

It’s worth taking some time to think about how, and to whom, you want to disclose your hearing loss. “You don’t need to make it a defining feature of who you are, but people will need to know in some circumstances,” Lila says. “Consider how you want to identify and how you’ll explain your hearing loss to your friends or your employer, for example.” 

Go Meet Your Professors

“At the beginning of the semester, go during office hours [set times professors keep open on their calendars to meet with students] and introduce yourself in person,” says Lila. “Doing so can go a long way in establishing a relationship and making sure the professor remembers you and your accommodations.”

Introduce Yourself at the Office of Disabilities

Along with meeting your professors, make sure to plan an in-person visit to the office of disability services, says Beth Rochon, MEd, EdS, high school counselor at Hampshire Regional High School. 

“Colleges and universities all must provide reasonable accommodations for a documented disability, however, every school is a bit different in what they offer and how they offer it. So don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she advises. It’s also a good chance to ensure you know where the office is, in case you need to go there for testing or to pick up equipment.

Beth says it’s also a good chance to identify other resources at your new school. “Is there a tutoring center you can use if you need support in a specific class? A counseling office with different groups or resources for stress management? Office hours for your professor? A writing center that helps with editing papers? Unlike high school, you’ll need to piece together your supports more independently. But it is possible to be very successful if you are not afraid to ask for help early and often.” 

“Unlike high school, you'll need to piece together your supports more independently,” says Beth Rochon, MEd, EdS, high school counselor at Hampshire Regional High School. “But it is possible to be very successful if you are not afraid to ask for help early and often.”

That office can also help if a student runs into issues with their accommodations. For example, Lila said notetaking may be done by a student hired for that purpose, but the professor may not know who that is or offer much support in managing that connection. “You have to know how to approach it if your professor isn’t consistently providing an accommodation, but also if your fellow student isn’t,” she says. “You’ll want to show you’ve tried to handle it yourself, but it’s not your job to police the professor, so if need be, go to the office for assistance.”

Once you’ve set up your accommodations and made your introductions, take some time to relax and notice how much you’ve accomplished. You are an effective self-advocate!

Students with hearing loss who know their rights and how to prepare for college are much better equipped to thrive, grow and enjoy their college experience. Remember to reach out to the office of disabilities whenever necessary, as the school’s administrative team and faculty want you to succeed as well!

More Resources
  • *Read more about Clarke alum Ally here.
  • Learn more about the first-year experience and gain some time-management tips from college freshman and Clarke alum Austin Henry
  • Interested in sharing any insights or tips about navigating the college experience as a student who is deaf or hard of hearing? Email commteam@clarkeschools.org.
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