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Accessibility and Inclusivity to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students: Bridging the Gap with Loom

by Jubal Metzger-Smith

Old Dominion University and Hampton City Schools

Publication Details

OLOR Series: OLOR Effective Practices
 Author(s): Jubal Metzger-Smith
 Original Publication Date: 20 SEPTEMBER, 2023


Jubal Metzger-Smith, author of "Accessibility and Inclusivity to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students: Bridging the Gap with Loom," is the first recipient of the Global Society of Online Literature Educators (GSOLE) IDEA Innovator Award. The award is an initiative sponsored by the GSOLE Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Committee and is designed to diversify the authors represented in the Effective Practice journal and to highlight teaching practices that enhance diversity, equity, and/or access.


Language delay or language deprivation is common with many deaf and hard (DHH) students and making the curriculum accessible can present unique challenges. Because DHH students do not fit into a "one size fits all" style of learning, educators are often confused about how to make the curriculum not only accessible but inclusive. Many DHH students communicate via American Sign Language (ASL), using sign language interpreters, yet the question that arises is how can sign language interpreters be used in an OLI setting? One tool that instructors and interpreters can use is Loom, a website designed for OLI and asynchronous learning. Loom allows interpreters to screen record and record themselves, while interpreting lessons, videos, and other digital instructions. When finished the recording is saved to a Loom account and closed captions are generated, making curriculum accessible and inclusive for deaf and hard of hearing students.

Resource Contents

1. Overview

Type of Institution:  Higher education; K-12
Course Level & Title: Various levels in K-12; History and English courses in higher education
Course type(s) (asynchronous, synchronous, online, hybrid):

Asynchronous, hybrid, online

Delivery platform(s):

Zoom, Canvas (Blackboard)

[1] Making the curriculum accessible to deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students presents unique challenges. This article addresses some of those challenges and is written from my perspective as an instructor and a nationally certified sign language interpreter. For 15 years I have interpreted in public education where I have seen children begin pre-k with little to no language, English or signed. According to Mitchell and Karchmer (2004), 90-95 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents with little to no exposure to deafness , and parents are often given conflicting advice regarding how to effectively communicate with their children. Although well meaning, many educators do not understand that American Sign Language (ASL) is a recognized language with its own syntax, and lexicon, separate from English, not simply “English on the hands,” therefore, children are learning English and ASL simultaneously. Research has shown that unless early intervention takes place, DHH children will experience linguistic delays with long term effects on academic, cognitive, and socio-emotional health. Unless a deaf child is born to deaf parents where American Sign Language (ASL) is their first language, or their parents learn sign language early, children entering public education will experience language delay. Deaf children lag behind their hearing peers academically, and Swanwick and Marschark (2010) note that only about 30% of deaf college students actually graduate which often leads to isolation and exclusion. In light of that, how can educators mitigate lack of accessibility and inclusion when working with DHH students? The Global Society of Online Literacy Educators (Warnock, et al., 2019) has established 4 Principles for effective online literacy education and this article will focus on the first principle: “OLI Principle 1: Online literacy instruction should be universally accessible and inclusive.” I will address practical application, specifically the use of Loom, a tool designed for asynchronous learning.

2. Brief History

[2] Through advocacy and legislation, accessibility for DHH has evolved over the years. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 brought interpreters to the forefront by providing visual language access in the classroom, and in 2008, Title IV of the ADA was revised to address the unique challenges those with hearing, vision or physical impairments faced accessing features in digital communication.

[3] Closed captioning, a critical component for accessibility, has only been around since the 1980s. In 2012, the FCC adopted rules establishing closed captioning requirements for programming delivered through the internet, guaranteeing its universality. When the pandemic hit in 2020, captioning and accessibility became paramount to the DHH students who now transitioned from in person learning to OLI. Platforms such as Zoom and Loom now incorporate live closed captioning via voice recognition software integrated into their system. Full accessibility for the DHH community is relatively new and there is therefore a learning curve on the part of not only the community, but those who work with them including educators.

3. Accessibility and Inclusion with Loom 

[4] Sign language interpreters are ideal in synchronous and even hybrid classroom settings because live interpreters are either in the classroom or the online platform being used. If, however, the course is asynchronous, how is the curriculum accessible for DHH students? I took one asynchronous course where the instructor posted videos of her lecture. She explained complex aspects of phonology and phonological processes using PowerPoints and other examples. As a person with a background in deaf education, I realized that a DHH student would be unable to access the information because there was no captioning available, and if she had a DHH student, how would interpreters make the curriculum accessible on a pre-recorded lecture? Additionally, many DHH students may not feel comfortable with captioning alone because English is not their first language.

[5] One solution is using Loom, an accessible public website designed for asynchronous businesses and educators, offering services free to educators. Its platform allows users the ability to screen record and is an effective tool interpreters use when making curriculum and OLI instruction accessible. Below is an example of how Loom works. In the case of an asynchronous course featuring video lectures from professors or other videos from the course, interpreters would pull up the video lecture and access Loom, selecting ‘screen and cam,’ where they would record interpretation of the video.

Figure 1: Example of Loom Video

The video embedded in Figure 1 includes an example of how Loom can be an effective tool for deaf and hard of hearing students. If a video or other digital information does not provide captioning, interpreters are able to screen record and enable their cameras to interpret information not otherwise accessible.

[6] Once the interpretation is finished, Loom saves the information to an account. The interpreters would send a link to the professor who would then share it with the DHH student who can access the information at any time. Loom provides accessibility and inclusivity in two ways: ASL and closed captioning. DHH students do not fall into a one-size-fits-all accommodation and using Loom helps those whose first language is ASL, those who do not sign but prefer reading, or some students who would benefit from accessing the curriculum in both modalities.

4. Linguistic Differences

[7] I worked with one elementary student who identified as hard of hearing. They used two cochlear implants and had clear audible speech and pronunciation. Much of the focus in small group settings however involved phonetics, the ability to classify and understand differences in speech sounds. Although research has shown the importance of phonetics as a foundation for acquiring literacy skills, the pedagogy used for DHH looks different. To a profoundly Deaf child however, teaching phonetics the same as hearing students can be confusing because they process phonetics visually and depending on the degree of hearing loss, may not be able to differentiate similar sounds. For example, the letter /c/ can sound like an /s/ as in city; however, it can also sound like a /k/ as in cat. A hearing child can auditorily process the differences but a deaf child cannot.

[8] This often parallels literacy skills. ASL syntax and English syntax differ greatly. For example, auxiliary verbs are incorporated into the verb, and propositions are incorporated into the noun, and adverbs and adjectives are often noted by facial expressions. There is one signed gloss for the adjective, “pretty.” English however uses many synonyms for ‘pretty’: beautiful, lovely, ravishing, gorgeous, etc. A DHH student can visually see the differences through facial expressions and body language, but they may experience challenges identifying the differences in orthography. These linguistic differences highlight the importance of accessibility for diverse students and using Loom allows DHH students fluent in ASL to clearly understand instruction in courses they are taking.

5. Factors of Inclusion

[9] An important aspect to keep in mind when instructing DHH students involves the ability to multi-task or more precisely, the inability to multitask. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for a student to read captioning and watch ASL interpretation at the same time. In this situation it falls on the DHH student to choose which mode to utilize during instruction. Trying to understand complex English language structure or materials, Shakespeare for example, is generally easier if the information is presented in the DHH student’s native language, ASL.

[10] It is also important to remember that first year college students are nervous already as they learn to adjust to the pace and curriculum outside of the familiar K-12 setting. Most DHH students have been under the “special education” umbrella and have had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in place that offers support and specific accommodations. While accommodations will continue at the college/university level, the IEP team support that the student has become accustomed to will no longer be in place, and they must learn to navigate their own path in their continued academic journey. Finding their own voice and learning to advocate for themselves may present a new challenge. Instructors should not coddle a DHH student but should be mindful of how to make the curriculum accessible using the many tools available, including how to help them feel included in the classroom. Once an instructor is aware that accommodations are required, do not be afraid to speak to the student in whatever mode they are comfortable (chat, email, interpreters, etc.). Ask questions about their preferred mode of accessibility and communication. “Equal access” is a good phrase to keep in mind. If a hearing student can access the curriculum, is it equally accessible to a DHH student?

    6. Conclusion

    [11] Most instructors have little to no experience working with DHH students and it is understandable that there is a learning curve. When a DHH student registers for a course, they will most likely contact their university’s Office of Educational Accessibility (OEA) services requesting accommodations. If their accommodation is a sign language interpreter, the office will coordinate with the interpreters, who will then collaborate with the instructor and students making the process as seamless as possible. An asynchronous course looks different because course instruction is not live and interpreters would likely not be assigned. In this case it is up to the student to advocate for the need to have videos and other online information interpreted. If the student takes this initiative they will contact the university’s OEA and the instructor, and at that time coordination with the team begins.

    [12] Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) covers students with special education needs up to age 21 (US Department of Education, 2023), its principles still apply to educators working with the DHH population beyond high school. Part B of IDEA encourages educators to consider language and communication needs and mode of communication when designing or implementing curriculum. Julia Silvestri and Maria Hartman (2022) outline several steps toward accessibility and inclusion:

    • Universal Design for Learning (UDL): This involves incorporating a variety of pedagogies so the curriculum is accessible.
    • Auditory access: OLI is ideal for some DHH students who benefit from devices that enhance hearing and the environment can be quiet.
    • Visual access: This includes ASL interpreters, closed captioning, clear access to instructors and projected material, and turn-taking strategies so the DHH student clearly knows who is speaking.
    • Multimodal access: Multimodal access is more specifically for students who are deaf/blind or DHH students with multiple disabilities.
    • Classroom technology: Silvestri and Hartman (2022) note that OLI has integrated technology and adapted to the evolving landscape of remote learning. One noteworthy aspect is availability of voice recognition software built into online platforms such as Zoom, Teams, and even Loom, which provide transcripts of the OLI interaction.
    • Identity: Silvestri and Hartman (2022) suggest that identity is a “socially constructed process” (section 7.1.) and it may take some time for students to understand where they fit in culturally. Identification in the deaf community is diverse; being aware of these differences will help facilitate the transition to university life.
    • Peer interactions: Many DHH students suffer from feelings of isolation because none of their peers speak their language. Instructors can look for opportunities to pair them with hearing students on projects or online meetings. ASL interpreters can be used in such meetings, thus fostering an inclusive environment.

    7. References

    Mitchell, R., & Karchmer, M. (2004). Chasing the mythical ten percent. Sign language studies, 4(2), 138-163.

    Silvestri, J. A., & Hartman, M. C. (2022). Inclusion and deaf and hard of hearing students: Finding asylum in the LRE. Education sciences, 12(11), 773. 

    Swanwick, R. & Marschark, M. (2010). Enhancing education for deaf children: research into practice and back again. Deafness & Education International, 12(4), 217-235.

    Warnock, S., et al. (2019). Online literacy instruction principles and tenets. Global Society of Online Literacy Educators. https://gsole.org/oliresources/oliprinciples 

    US Department of Education. (2023). About IDEA. https://sites.ed.gov/idea/about-idea/

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