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Deaf, Hard of Hearing and DeafBlind 101

Deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind individuals are incredibly diverse in that there is a wide range in communication preferences, educational needs, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and sometimes, additional disabilities. If there is such a wide range of diversity, then what do deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind individuals have in common? Everyone will, to some degree or another, experience communication barriers.

As an educator/instructor, service provider, or administrator, the best thing that you can do is simply ask: What do you need from me to help make your education accessible?

As a learner, you need to be prepared to be able to answer the above question. The Transitions Course, offered by ACE-BC, will help you learn how to effectively answer that question in a way that best serves your specific educational needs.

Duty to Accomodate

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, The Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81) and the British Columbia Humen Rights Code set forth the legal requirements for equitable access to all individuals regardless of race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age. This creates the term Duty to Accommodate.

Remote Services

Post-secondary institutions work to ensure that all students have access to their campus, services, classroom content and related events such as convocation. Remote Interpreting and transcribing or captioning services are tools for facilitating institutional capacity to equitably include a wider range of students, including Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and DeafBlind students. Indeed, we see with the recent pivot to online learning, services such as transcribing and captioning serves to remove barriers for many more participant other than just students who are Deaf or hard of hearing.


Captioned media is a good example of universal design. It shows a source’s auditory information, including spoken dialogue, sound effects, and speaker identification.on the screen as text. This ensures students who are Deaf or hard of hearing have equal access to content being shared. Captions can also serve as a valuable tool for comprehension that benefit everyone: for students whose first language is not English, those with learning disabilities, and those who have ADD/ADHD, those in noisy settings or in online environments when the sound is not always reliable, or any number of other accommodation needs. Captioning transcripts are also a great tool for accessing comprehensive notes of the video content, which meets the UDL principle of multiple means of representation.

Assistive Listening Devices

Assistive listening systems include a broad range of technologies and software. They can include hearing aids, cochlear implants, FM Systems, loop systems, headphones, and speech recognition applications on laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Individuals who wish to use assistive listening systems that are compatible with their hearing aids or cochlear implants are advised to seek help from their audiological provider.


Individuals who used a signed language to communicate with an individual who uses a spoken language to communicate will often use the services of a professional, qualified Sign Language Interpreter.  Sign Language Interpreters in British Columbia are educated professionals who fall under the provincially registered profession of one of three titles: Registered ASL/English Interpreter; Registered Sign Language Interpreter; or Registered Visual Language Interpreter. These titles are restricted for use by members in good standing of the West-coast Association of Visual Language Interpreters.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach based on the work of Ronald L. Mace which proposes that products and environments should be designed to be used to the greatest extent possible for all. This means that instead of focusing on making the course and the classroom accessible just for deaf, hard of hearing, or DeafBlind learners, they should be made accessible to the greatest extent for ALL learners.  For example, captioning has been proven to benefit learners who use English as a second language, learners with dyslexia, and other learners by reinforcing the acquisition of information by combining text with audio input.


UDL provides an opportunity for the post-secondary community to apply teaching and learning methodologies that accommodate and provide equal opportunities for success for all learners, in addition to those who request an accommodation.

Accessibility that is embedded into a universally designed learning environment, such as with captioning for example, illustrates how UDL benefits everyone;and creates educational experiences that allow students to realize their full potential.