Tutoring for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

Cindy Officer has worked for Gallaudet University since 1995. She has moved through different positions beginning as a Coordinator in the Tutorial & Instructional Programs department. She is currently Director at the Center for Continuing and Online Education.

Cindy and her colleagues often get requests like "Where can I get a tutor? Where can I get a tutor for a deaf child?" and "Is tutoring a reasonable accommodation for an employee who is hearing impaired?" She offers some tips for finding the best kind of tutoring and deciding how to get tutoring.

Tutoring produces results. People who get tutoring show improved study habits, greater confidence, and better grades. Deaf and hard of hearing people, in particular, who get tutoring tend to show significant improvement in their coursework and academic skills. This is why tutorial services are so important. It is not always easy to find the best kind of tutorial support. You will need to work through three processes:

  1. Figure out what kind of tutorial support you need or your child needs;
  2. Devise a tutoring plan;
  3. Determine how you will get this support.
Woman and child using sign language

Figuring Out "Tutorial Support"

Before searching for tutorial services, take time to identify what kind of tutoring is appropriate for you or for your child. In the minds of most people, tutoring means having a knowledgeable, experienced individual sit down with a student and carefully coach this student through areas of academic challenge. However, tutoring can come in many forms. Here are the most common forms of tutoring:

  • One-to-One/ Personal Tutoring: Student gets traditional one-to-one tutoring from a tutor.
  • Group Tutoring: Student works with other students in similar areas with the guidance of a tutor.
  • Supplemental Aides: Student uses tutorials or visual aids that help to facilitate the learning of a subject matter (CDs, games, instructional videos, workbooks, supplemental reading guides, Cliff's Notes.)
  • Online Tutoring: Student goes online to get tutoring. Tutoring can happen in real-time through a chat room or from instant messaging. More and more deaf people are getting tutoring over videophones and webcams. Also, tutoring can happen through e-mail where a student will send a question or a writing sample to a tutor who will respond via e-mail.
  • Workshops, Training, Camps: Student attends a workshop, training or camp that specializes in the area(s) where he or she needs work.

Devising a Tutoring Plan

Have you come up with a tutoring plan yet? Having options makes more room for negotiating, especially in situations when you are working with other institutions (schools, lead educational agencies, Vocational Rehabilitation, employers) that may provide or pay for tutorial support. Look at the options above before devising a plan that you believe would be most beneficial for you or for the person you are advocating for.

When you present a clear plan, it prevents tutoring from becoming a resource left to the discretion of others. It's usually wise to select a combination of tutorial support which will become your "tutoring plan." Examples of tutoring plans could be using a live tutor for two semesters with supplemental aides, or enrolling in a camp, then following up with online tutoring sessions for six weeks. Plans like these don't have to be complex. When you have your tutoring plan, you are ready to find ways to approach getting tutoring.

Getting Tutoring for a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Child

Securing tutorial support for deaf or hard of hearing dependents may require some creativity. Tutoring services vary from state to state, even from county to county. The U.S. Office for Civil Rights, Deaf Students Education Services Notice of Policy Guidance states that "the disability of deafness often results in significant and unique educational needs of the individual child. The major barriers to learning associated with deafness relate to language and communication, which, in turn, profoundly affect most aspects of the educational process."

Once you have a tutoring plan, you are ready to determine how to get tutoring implemented. The quality of tutoring often depends on the services available in your area. Some school districts provide services while other districts provide next to nothing.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Every deaf and hard-of-hearing child from the age of 3 to 21 should already have an IEP. Your tutoring plan needs to be incorporated and described in the child's IEP. The IEP should explicitly state that the tutoring plan will be implemented to meet the child's IEP goals. The school has to come up with the means to help the child reach these goals, specifically tutorial support. The IEP should be as detailed as possible, clearly explaining your tutoring plan so that both the parents and school understand the services that the school will provide. If the IEP has been completed for the year, parents do not have to wait until the next IEP meeting. Parents can request another IEP addendum meeting at any time to modify goals and incorporate a tutoring plan.

On May 21, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that parents of disabled students could sue schools without legal representation, a move that could save families a lot of money. This translates into opportunities for caretakers to defend their child's right to an education. If you want your child to get tutoring and the school has denied tutoring services outright, then you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Before starting any legal proceeding, be sure that you can do both of the following:

  • Show proof that your child is delayed or suffering without tutoring. You will need to have evidence including professional evaluation results, grades or letters from teachers.
  • Show proof that the school has declined or has been avoiding tutoring options. Make sure your request for tutoring is explicit in your child's IEP. (If it doesn't say something along the lines of, "Parents would like for their child to have a tutor in X subjects," then insist on an IEP addendum right away.)

Protection and Advocacy Offices

When a child is not receiving services that parents or guardians want from the child's school district, the parents or guardians can begin formal complaint hearings. Both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) has procedural safeguards for parents on how to challenge school district decisions. Every state has an independent "protection and advocacy office" that will advise parents on how to prepare and conduct a hearing. Some of these offices represent parents free of charge.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)

Children who have reached working age may be eligible to receive support from their state VR program. VR assists individuals in pursuing meaningful careers, including tutoring. Most VR programs keep lists of tutors. Check to find information on your state VR program and initiate contact.

Supplemental Education Services

When a school with Title I funding has failed to meet its state's Adequate Year Progress (AYP) goals for two or more years, the school becomes a school in need and students in these schools become eligible for supplemental services, particularly tutoring. This is a result of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Also, check out your state-approved supplemental educational service (SES) providers, which are generally available on state department of education websites. These providers are probably familiar with the politics of your school district and can advise you on different ways of getting services for your child.

Private Tutor and Private Tutoring Centers

Tutoring can be considered a personal investment. You can pay for a private tutor or for a tutoring service, especially when services are critical. Contact local schools for the deaf, local colleges and universities, and the school board for referrals. Seek tutors who can effectively communicate with your child.

Getting Tutoring for Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Adults

The quest for getting tutorial support for deaf and hard-of-hearing people has often led to infuriating outcomes, accompanied by a fair amount of "pushing and pulling." As tutoring is often deemed arbitrary, this experience often turns into a wrestling match between perceived providers and advocates for the recipient. Once you are prepared with your "game plan," you can seek the best kind of tutorial support for yourself or a deaf or hard of hearing adult.

Bear in mind tutoring is negotiable. Identify a baseline of support that you expect to receive, then set a benchmark higher than what you hope to get. For example, if you believe that three hours of tutoring per week would help you improve your writing skills, that is your baseline. You would then ask someone to pay for tutoring (employer, VR) for eight hours a week. This gives you five extra hours to bargain for.

Also, you should prepare for meetings with appropriate documentation, build good relationships with people who can help you (including the people who will decide your tutorial needs like your supervisor, human resources, or VR counselor), and keep a written record of issues and concerns. Do not assume the worst and, most importantly, keep negotiating. Here are some options for getting tutoring for yourself or a deaf or hard of hearing adult.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)

It is is an employment program for people with disabilities. You may be eligible to receive support from your state Vocational Rehabilitation program. Because VR is designed to assist individuals with hearing loss pursue meaningful careers, this includes funding for tutoring. Most VR programs keep lists of tutors.

Postsecondary Institutions

Tutorial support for adult deaf and hard-of-hearing students is usually comprehensive at most colleges, universities, and career training facilities. Most post-secondary institutions have a writing center and a tutoring center where a variety of tutorial support can be received. For example, the Tutorial & Instructional Programs at Gallaudet University is an accredited tutoring program that provides an array of free tutorial services for Gallaudet University students, the majority of whom are deaf or hard of hearing.

Reasonable Accommodations From Your Employer

Request reasonable accommodations through your supervisor who may refer you to the employer's Equal Employment Office (sometimes the Human Resources Office). Prior to requesting accommodations, secure comprehensive documentation (old IEPs, medical reports, psychological evaluations, expert testimony) that establishes your need for tutoring. You may also need to show evidence of how tutoring would improve your work performance. Your employer might pay for tutorial support if you can show that it is a reasonable accommodation or that it will enhance job performance.

Private Tutors and Private Tutoring Centers

All the considerations for children described above apply to adults. Seek tutors who can effectively communicate with you, or with the adult for whom you are advocating.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, tutoring produces results, especially for deaf and hard of hearing people. Study habits improve, confidence rises and so do grades. Tutoring has long been a springboard for expanding academic skills inside and outside of the classroom or workplace. As you begin to seek tutorial support, keep in mind that getting the right kind of tutorial support is as important as finding ways to get it.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes. Tutoring deaf students.

  2. Office for Civil Rights. Deaf Students Educations Services.

  3. U.S. Department of Education. A guide to the individualized education program.

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.