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Careers in Deafness

"I have a deaf friend who has taught me some sign language, and I think I might be interested in a career working with deaf people."

"My aunt is hard of hearing. It's hard for her to communicate sometimes. Now I'm thinking about a future job working with people who have a hearing loss."

"My neighbor's baby is deaf. I have been babysitting for them for a year. I enjoy taking care of this baby and would like to know more about what it means to be deaf and about a career in the field."

"I have a severe hearing loss and would like to work with others who have hearing losses. Can you send me information on careers that would enable me to work with people who are deaf and hard of hearing?"

However you became interested in a career working with deaf or hard of hearing people, you'll find exciting opportunities await you. You'll work with an interesting and varied group of people. According to current estimates, one in 11 people in our society have some degree of hearing loss. Careers in this field offer the chance to work with a wide range of people in a variety of settings.

As a first step, you may want to ask yourself some basic career-related questions:

Do you want to continue your education beyond high school? Through college? Through graduate school?

Do you enjoy working with people? What ages? Individuals? Groups?Do you enjoy working with machines? With numbers?

If teaching appeals to you, would you rather teach very young children or older students?Does a scientific/medical setting appeal to you?

Careers in deafness encompass all these areas--and many more. You will have to make choices based on likes and dislikes, interests and aptitudes, and your willingness and ability to continue your education and training.

You can work within a professional area such as social work and concentrate on clients who are deaf or hard of hearing. Or you can choose a career area that is specific to deaf people such as sign language interpreting.

Career options include:

  • Audiologist
  • Counselor
  • Dormitory/residence program counselor
  • Interpreter
  • Linguist
  • Social worker
  • Speech-language pathologist
  • Teacher
  • Parent/infant specialist
  • Combined specialties

Work settings include:

  • Colleges and universities
  • Community hearing and speech agencies
  • Consumer associations
  • Government agencies
  • Health departments
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Industry and businesses
  • Legal settings
  • Mental health clinics
  • Private practices
  • Private and state schools
  • Public school systems
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Research centers
  • Social service agencies

If you are interested in any of the career options above, read on for more detailed descriptions. For each career option, under the heading How to prepare, you'll find the most common degree and certifications requirements. For many of these careers, the required credentials may vary from state to state, so check state requirements carefully.


The careers identified above involve demanding responsibilities and knowledge of special modes of communication. General preparation can start in high school, even before you've narrowed down your career choice.

Learn sign language. Classes are often offered through community colleges and continuing education programs. Some high schools offer elective courses in American Sign Language.

Develop your English skills. A strong background in English lays the groundwork for the communication skills required in any professional specialty in the field of deafness.

Do some investigating. Talk to people already working with deaf and hard of hearing people. Ask if you can observe them on the job.

Volunteer. Get experience in a setting that serves people in general, or in a setting specifically serving deaf and hard of hearing people. Any and all experience will help you make progress on your career.


What to expectAn audiologist is a trained professional who specializes in preventions, identification, and assessment of hearing loss. In clinical practice, an audiologist determines the type and degree of loss, assesses the effect of the loss on ability to communicate, and designs an appropriate habilitation program for the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing. In addition to fitting hearing aids and training clients in the use of aids and other assistive listening devices, an audiologist offers such services as auditory training, training in lip-reading techniques, and counseling.

How to prepare

  • Bachelor's degree in speech-language pathology or related field.
  • Master's degree in audiology.
  • A doctorate in clinical audiology (Au.D.) will be the required credential by the year 2007.
  • Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-A) is required.
  • Many states also have licensing requirements.


What to expectCounselors working with deaf people can choose from a variety of specialties-rehabilitation, community, school/guidance, and mental health counselor. In general, counselors assist deaf or hard of hearing clients to become more fully functioning members of the community.

Thevocational rehabilitation (VR) counselorworks directly with deaf or hard of hearing clients to determine career training opportunities and appropriate job placements. In addition to personal and vocational counseling with deaf clients, many VR counselors coordinate services among agencies serving deaf citizens and advocate for clients accessibility. Many VR counselors work for state agencies, but others work in nonprofit and private agencies.

Thecommunity counselorworks with deaf adults in community settings and provides assistance to individuals who experience developmental issues or concerns. The focus of a community counselor's work is on prevention rather than remediation. Community counselors are generalist counselors who have multiple roles including outreach, advocacy, and case management, in addition to counseling.

Theschool counselorguides students in their search for career opportunities and may also help students work out personal concerns through individual counseling. By educating students about careers and self-awareness, and by helping students develop general career and interpersonal skills, school counselors promote confidence and self-esteem in students. In addition, the school counselor develops appropriate career educational resources for students and functions as a liaison with the VR counselor assigned to graduating students, when appropriate.

Themental health counselorworks with deaf people of all ages and their families, providing individual, group, and couples therapy. A mental health counselor's primary role is the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders. The goal of mental health counseling is to promote a client's optimal mental health while dealing with normal problems of living or during the treatment of psychopathology.

How to prepare

  • Bachelor's degree in psychology, social work, education or related field.
  • Master's degree in counseling with specialization in rehabilitation, community, school or mental health area.


What to expectPrivate or state schools for deaf students may have residential programs. Like boarding schools, these schools provide a living environment as well as an educational environment for their students.Dormitory counselorsare responsible for the children who live at school, supervising them between and after classes, helping with studies and activities, and establishing a supportive atmosphere for their students. A related career option is that of theresidential counselorwho works in an independent living center or group home for adults.

How to prepare

  • High school diploma .
  • Bachelor's degree in education, counseling, psychology, social work, or related field may be required in many states .


What to expectProfessional sign language interpreters function similarly to foreign language interpreters. They often serve as the communication link between deaf and hearing individuals in a variety of settings--the classroom, the office, the hospital, the courtroom, or the town meeting. Some interpreters work as full-time, paid staff members; others are self-employed freelancers. Interpreting demands more than superior sign language skills. Interpreters learn specialized techniques and ethical considerations for interpreting in a variety of settings with people of various ages.

How to prepare

  • High school diploma or bachelor's degree with a strong English background and American Sign Language coursework.
  • Associate, bachelor's, or master's degree from an interpreter training program. More programs are requiring bachelor's or master's degrees.
  • Certification by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf .


What to expectFocusing on communication, the linguist who works with people who are Deaf uses highly specialized skills to analyze language and its uses. These skills may be used in research or applied linguistics. Current research in the field includes studies of the grammar of American Sign Language, the history and development of American Sign Language, comparative sign languages, and language development of deaf children. Applied linguistics is especially valuable in a career teaching American Sign Language or in the school setting where a linguist uses theoretical tools to analyze the language patterns of individual students and to determine some strategies for helping these students develop new language skills.

How to prepare

  • Bachelor's degree in linguistics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, or related field.
  • Master's degree and, usually, Ph.D., in linguistics also required.


What to expectPsychologists work with deaf people in a variety of areas. Clinical and counseling psychologists provide psychological services for deaf people of all ages in mental health clinics and hospitals. School psychologists work in a school system either at a residential school for deaf students or a public school with a mainstream program. Experimental psychologists work in universities and research facilities.

Clinical psychologists provide assessment, therapy, and counseling for deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people in mental health settings. School psychologists give diagnostic tests and work with teachers, parents, and students to prepare programs that meet the special needs of each student. Clinical, school, and experimental psychologists conduct research on topics related to psychology, mental health, and deafness. Areas such as sign language, cognition, personality, social psychology, child development, and perception provide exciting opportunities for psychological research in deafness.

How to prepare

  • Doctorate or specialist degree usually required.
  • All states and the District of Columbia also have licensing and certification requirements for psychologists.


What to ExpectSocial workers provide a broad range of services to deaf and hard of hearing people and their families. The knowledge and skills they develop prepare them for career opportunities in diverse settings such as family service and child welfare agencies, schools, mental health and addiction programs, health care organizations, programs serving senior citizens, the justice system, adoption and foster care services, and private practices. Social workers also acquire skills for advocacy in the community and for the development of programs and services to assist people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Social work is a profession that focuses on empowerment and social justice. Social workers identify and work with people's strengths and abilities. They are committed to providing professional services to deaf and hard of hearing people and ensuring that services are made available to them.

How to prepare

  • Bachelor's degree from an accredited program in social work, M.S.W., or D.S.W./Ph.D., depending upon the type of work. All states have licensing requirements for the M.S.W. many also have licensing requirements for the B.A. level.


What to expectSpeech-language pathologists are professionals who evaluate and treat children and adults with communication disorders. They work in schools, private practices, hospitals, clinics, and other health and educational settings. People seeking the services of a speech-language pathologist may experience problems with hearing, voice and sound production, swallowing, language comprehension, and verbal, sign, or gestural expression. These difficulties may be associated with hearing loss, stroke or neurological injury, cerebral palsy, genetic disorders, or other learning and developmental disabilities. Speech-language pathologists teach people communication strategies, foster academic achievement, social adjustment, and career advancement, and help individuals and their families understand and cope with communication issues.

How to prepare

  • Bachelor's degree in speech or related field.
  • Master's degree in speech-language pathology.
  • Certificate of Clinical Competency (CCC-S) is required.
  • Many states also have licensing requirements.

TEACHERThere are many teaching specialties available. Brief descriptions follow.


What to expectThe parent/infant specialist conducts individual sessions for deaf children (birth to 4 years) and their parents in clinics, school, or in the home. Guiding parents to an understanding of deafness, specific communication approaches and a realistic awareness of what the child can or cannot hear, the parent/infant specialist trains family members to assist actively in the child's development. Parents' feelings about deafness in their families are important topic in the sessions.

How to prepare

  • Bachelor's degree in education, early childhood education, or related fields.
  • Master's degree in deaf education, with certification in parent/infant specialty often preferred.


What to expectBecause hearing loss impedes language acquisition, and because language acquisition is the foundation on which later education rests, an early educational start is essential for deaf and hard of hearing children. At the age of 3, most deaf children attend special nursery and kindergarten classes in schools, clinics, or hospitals. Teachers in these settings have specialized training at the preschool level. Classes often involve intensive language and vocabulary development, social interaction activities, and motor skills development. Teachers of preschool deaf children may also work closely with parents.

How to prepare

  • Bachelor's degree in education, early childhood education, or related field.
  • Master's degree in deaf education.


What to expectIn elementary grades, teachers of children who have a hearing loss use special techniques to teach English, reading, mathematics, science, and social studies. They focus on language and communication skills and teach children to use these skills in studying other subjects. Teachers who are trained for this level may teach in a public or private schools for deaf children or in public school programs with classes for deaf children.

How to prepare

  • Bachelor's degree in education or related field.
  • Master's degree in deaf education.


What to expectAt the high school level, teachers specialize in a particular academic area such as art, biology, English, home economics, history, mathematics, physical education, or vocational training. Teachers working with deaf students may teach in schools for deaf children or in public schools in which deaf students are mainstreamed.

How to prepare

  • Bachelor's degree in specific subject areas such as history, art, English, or biology.
  • Master's degree in deaf education.


What to expectTeachers in the postsecondary setting may teach at a university, college, community college, or in adult education or continuing education classes. Teachers have a subject area specialty such as literature, physics, business, or computer science.

How to prepare

  • Bachelor's degree in specific subject area such as art, English, biology, or mathematics.
  • Teaching at the postsecondary level usually requires a master's degree and, more often, a Ph.D. in the specific subject area to be taught.


What to expectItinerant teachers are specially trained to work with a variety of students, teaching different grade levels and subject areas. In an area with few deaf students per school, for example, an itinerant teacher might travel from school to school teaching a specific number of classes each week to a special group of students in each school. A resource room teacher, like an itinerant teacher, is specially trained to work with a group of students on specific content areas. For example, deaf children who are mainstreamed in a public school might meet once a day with a resource room teacher for additional work on reading skills.

How to prepare

  • Bachelor's degree in education or related field.
  • Master's degree in deaf education.


What to expectResponsibilities vary depending on classroom or dormitory situations. Generally, however, the aide-under the supervision of a teacher or counselor-works with deaf children or adults individually or in small groups. The teacher or counselor structures and assigns the aide's tasks.

How to prepare

  • High school diploma with some college course work.
  • College degree not necessarily required.
  • Knowledge of various sign language systems used in schools .


The opportunity to work with people who are deaf or hard of hearing is not limited to the careers described above. Anyone who is willing to learn about the special communication and psychosocial needs of those with a hearing loss can interact with this group. This interaction may be social or it may occur in the context of a service relationship. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, librarians, and teachers at all levels are among the service professionals who have frequent contact with people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Staff in social service agencies, hospitals, clinics, and other settings may also work with deaf and hard of hearing individuals. As the demand and their interest warrant, some agencies and private practitioners may offer services specially designed for deaf and hard of hearing people. For example, a number of medical clinics within large hospitals offer special services to patients who are deaf or hard of hearing. Libraries may offer special access programs for deaf and hard of hearing patrons. In some agencies, secretaries/interpreters work with deaf or hard of hearing professionals or have contact with deaf and hard of hearing clients served by the agency or office in which they work.

Whatever your interest, talent, or career goals, you can work with people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Whatever your choice, we wish you every success in your future career.

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