Access, Belonging, and Affirmation

Deaf Postsecondary Access and Inclusion Scale 2022–2023

Authors: Jeffrey Levi Palmer, Carrie Lou Bloom, Lore Kinast, and Tia-Nikki Ivanko

During the 2022–2023 academic year, NDC surveyed deaf students in higher education institutions across the nation. This report provides a comprehensive overview of survey results and offers suggestions for improving access and inclusion for deaf students on campus.

Key Findings

Deaf College Students are Diverse

Deaf college students are diverse. Many have an additional disability, and the number of deaf college students of color are steadily increasing over time.

Deaf Students Use Multiple Accommodations

The majority of deaf college students used more than one accommodation.

Deaf Students Rated Institutions 65 out of 100

Average ratings varied from 62 to 70 – lowest for deaf-affirming climate and highest for accommodating learning environments.

Institutions are Stepping Up to the Challenge

Institutions are creating more welcoming spaces for deaf students by designing programs, improving funding systems, and establishing campus centers and clubs.

Who Took This Survey?

Deaf students enrolled in any postsecondary training or educational program in the United States who were at least 18 years old were eligible to take the survey. The sample in this report consisted of 180 students attending 65 colleges and universities. Among the deaf students who participated, 55% had an additional disability, 49% were BIPOC, and 11% were gender nonconforming, reflecting a wide range of deaf students. This sample is a good representation of deaf college students, based on national demographics. For more information, review our undergraduate enrollment report.

What Accommodations Did Deaf Students Use in College?

Deaf students used a range of accommodations to access classroom instruction and campus activities. More than half of the respondents (60%) reported using at least two accommodations. The most prevalent accommodations were sign language interpreting services, captioned videos, note taking services, extended test time, and assistive listening devices. Speech-to-text services are commonly used accommodations, but few students in our sample used these services. Most students surveyed used a combination of accommodations, such as interpreting, captioned videos, and extended test time.

Deaf Postsecondary Access and Inclusion Scale

This report uses the Deaf Postsecondary Access and Inclusion Scale (DPAIS), a validated 17-item questionnaire for deaf college students. DPAIS consists of three main categories: accommodating learning environments, campus connectedness, and deaf-affirming climate. The survey is presented bilingually in American Sign Language (ASL) and English and contains optional demographic questions.

How Did Students Rate Accessibility and Inclusion on Campus?

This report is framed around the idea that access is more than accommodations. Even when deaf students receive appropriate accommodations, they can feel isolated on campus. Overall deaf students did not provide favorable ratings of their postsecondary education and training environments. On average, survey respondents rated their institutions at 65 out of 100, or somewhat likely to be accessible and inclusive for deaf students.

Overall Average Rating: 65 / 100

This survey provides a framework for understanding the experiences of deaf students on college campuses across the nation and helps guide institutional improvement activities. Participants responded to questions about accommodating learning environments, campus connectedness, and deaf-affirming climate, and average ratings varied across those three categories. Students were least likely to feel like their campus was deaf affirming; the only exception was for deaf students enrolled at campuses that serve more than 1,000 deaf students.

“The office of admissions, advising office, and disability services need to work together to make sure deaf/disabled students are moved through the system quickly to ensure accommodations are being arranged in time. My first week, I had no accommodations.”

Accommodating Learning Environments: 70 / 100

Questions in this area asked students about their experiences with faculty/instructors and accessibility offices. These two groups play a significant role in facilitating accommodations in learning environments for deaf students.

  • Most students (71%) said that faculty were likely to use slides or handouts, but only 65% stated that these items were provided ahead of time.
  • Only 65% of deaf students believed that faculty were likely to adjust their teaching strategies to accommodate their communication preferences.
  • A majority of students (74%) believed that faculty were likely to support individual differences and diverse perspectives in the classroom.
  • Most deaf students (73%) felt that the accessibility office responded to their requests in a timely manner and 73% said they were likely to get consistent access providers (e.g., captioners, interpreters).

When asked about support from the accessibility office on their campus, deaf students responded fairly positively. Though there was some general optimism from students about accommodating learning environments at their colleges, there is room for improvement. Students explained that colleges should “integrate more universal design principles,” “understand that auto captioning is not accessibility,” and be more accountable for “professors who do not adhere to accommodations.”

“My graduate school is not doing a good job in terms of accessibility. They complicate the accommodations process for deaf students who have additional disabilities.”

Spotlights from the Field

Portland Community College

Portland Community College in Oregon offers a specialized program tailored to nonnative English speakers, including deaf immigrants and refugees. The college employs deaf interpreters who have expertise working with this population. This promising practice allows emerging ASL signers to maximize their learning so that they can ultimately matriculate into a degree-seeking program.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison

The University of Wisconsin–Madison adopted a centralized funding system to increase efficiency and reduce barriers related to requesting and providing accommodations. This shift made it easier for deaf people to request accommodations, increased the college’s capacity to plan for access, and streamlined the process of coordinating accommodations.

Campus Connectedness: 63 / 100

Questions in this area asked students about their experiences with classmates, friends, and student activities across campus. Campus connectedness and belonging can be key contributors to student retention and well-being.

  • Deaf students indicated that they were somewhat likely (63%) to feel a sense of campus connectedness.
  • Only 62% of deaf students said they were likely to call campus home and 60% said they were likely to participate in campus student activities.
  • Slightly more than half of deaf students (62%) said that their classmates would work with them on solving access challenges, 66% felt that they were likely to become friends with their classmates, and 68% felt welcome to have conversations with classmates.
  • More than half (62%) of deaf students said they were likely to ask for help from their friends.

Though most deaf students reported that they did not feel “at home” on campus, they felt slightly more positive about their relationships with friends and classmates. Responses in this category may seem somewhat neutral or slightly positive, but almost half of deaf students not feeling connected and engaged on campus is indicative of deeper problems. Student belonging is a critical aspect of the college experience, and these findings demonstrate an urgent need for improvement. Students explained that colleges should “encourage deaf students to participate in activities.”

“I feel isolated as a deaf person of color on campus.”

Spotlights from the Field

Mt. San Antonio College

Mt. San Antonio College in California established a cultural and academic center for deaf students. This center is a physical space for deaf students to cultivate relationships and social networks. In addition to accessibility services, the center offers mentoring, tutoring, and even workshops for deaf students.

Bergen Community College

Bergen Community College in New Jersey has an American Sign Language Club run by deaf students. This club provides an opportunity for deaf students to lead and connect with members of the community who sign. The club hosts events and is involved in campus-wide initiatives and functions.

Deaf-Affirming Climate: 62 / 100

Questions in this area asked about deaf peers and faculty members, deaf-related events, and the availability of captioned materials across campus. All of these factors contribute to being what is often called “deaf friendly,” or a sense of welcoming deaf people and deaf communities and validating their experiences.

  • Surveyed deaf students reported that they were somewhat likely (62%) to feel that their campus fostered a deaf-affirming climate.
  • More than half of deaf students (59%) said that videos displayed around campus were captioned and 70% reported that videos shared by classmates were likely to have captions.
  • More than half of deaf students (59%) shared that their school was likely to host deaf-related events and 58% shared that they were likely to see a deaf faculty member on campus.
  • A slight majority of deaf students (62%) felt that they were likely to have a supportive deaf peer with whom they could talk.

This category received the lowest ratings of the three DPAIS categories. Generally, slightly more than half of deaf students felt that their campus was likely to be deaf affirming through ensuring captions were available and having deaf-related events and deaf faculty members as role models, but a slightly higher percentage felt that they had access to support from deaf peers. This finding indicates that deaf students may be able to find support from each other, even if their campus is not deaf affirming. Students shared that colleges should “caption everything,” have “more deaf-friendly staff,” and ensure that hearing staff and instructors participate in “deaf culture lessons and workshops.”

“I wish there were more deaf faculty and opportunities to be an ASL tutor for students who are taking ASL.”

Spotlights from the Field

Riverside City College

Riverside City College in California hosts a monthly social event for deaf students to connect with each other. These meetings provide opportunities for deaf students to support each other as peers and engage with their community on campus. Additionally, they can connect with accessibility office staff and other departments. During one meeting, deaf students collectively registered for classes, offering them the chance to share information and enroll in courses together.

Cerritos College

Cerritos College in California hires deaf students and deaf graduates in the accessibility office. This practice leverages deaf students’ experiences with accessibility and creates a welcoming environment for deaf students. The accessibility office also offers an array of services, including advising and accommodations.


This section provides recommendations on three key aspects of the DPAIS. Ensuring accommodating learning environments requires faculty involvement and streamlined accommodation processes. Facilitating opportunities for campus connectedness relies on transparent communication and supportive relationships to enhance students’ sense of belonging. Creating a deaf-affirming climate involves validation through events, consistent captioning, and culturally affirming spaces. These strategies foster an inclusive educational atmosphere for deaf students.

Ensure Accommodating Learning Environments
Creating accommodating learning environments requires a campus-wide commitment—it cannot…

  • Consider a thorough evaluation of campus protocols and practices to identify barriers or challenges to the process of getting appropriate accommodations. Identify ways to make requesting, coordinating, and providing accommodations easier and more streamlined across departments.
  • Evaluate the type of additional support and guidance faculty need to make their teaching more accessible—for example, training, guidelines, examples, or checklists. Then integrate that support and guidance with existing faculty resources that support instructional best practices.
Suggested Resources
Create a Deaf-Affirming Climate

Ensure that deaf students feel welcomed and that their experiences as deaf people are validated and affirmed across campus. This can be accomplished in many ways—for example, hosting deaf-related events, having campuswide captioned media policies, and creating opportunities to connect with other deaf people on campus. These activities can contribute to being a “deaf-friendly” campus.

  • Create culturally affirming spaces for deaf people through strategies like hosting deaf-related events, coordinating meet and greets, or establishing clubs for deaf students or signing students. These strategies can help reduce deaf students’ feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Evaluate the availability and consistency of captioning across campus—for example, are the videos your college shares on social media always captioned? Does everyone on campus know about the importance of adding captions and accessibility to video content?
Suggested Resources
Facilitate Opportunities for Campus Connectedness

Strengthening deaf students’ sense of connectedness and belonging requires a holistic approach. This effort should involve the collaboration of multiple departments across campus—for example, accessibility offices, academic advising, student life, and student support services.

  • Increase transparency of information about how to access campus resources and activities—deaf students may not realize what they are missing and may not be comfortable asking for help. This could include improving orientation and first-year experiences, ensuring that campus activities include information about accommodations, or ensuring that academic advisors can recommend programs and services tailored to deaf students.
  • Commit to building relationships with deaf students and checking in with them to reduce feelings of isolation. Ask students for their feedback and input on how things are going and be prepared to make adjustments to campus protocols, practices, and policies in response to their suggestions.
Suggested Resources
The data in this report comes from the American Community Survey (ACS), which is a yearly survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. It gives us the most up-to-date information about education trends for deaf people in the United States. We used survey participants who identified as deaf or having serious difficulty hearing to represent the deaf population in our analyses. These estimates are based on a sample of 12,181 deaf people between the ages of 16 and 24 from 2017 to 2021. For additional details, please refer to our FAQs page that provides more information about the ACS data.
Palmer, J. L., Bloom, C. L., Kinast, L., & Ivanko, T. (2023). Access, Belonging, and Affirmation: Deaf Postsecondary Access and Inclusion Scale, 2022–2023. National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes, The University of Texas at Austin.

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