From Beth Rice and John Kirsh, MDE-LIO Education Consultants for Deaf/Hard of Hearing 

In education and disability studies, it is clear that students who demonstrate strong self-advocacy skills have enhanced educational and personal outcomes (Schoffstall, S. J., & Cawthon, S. W., p.25).

Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (DHH) experience unique communication needs depending on the situation. To access instruction, some students need hearing assistive technology, such as cochlear implants and hearing aids. Other students use American Sign Language and require an interpreter during instruction time. Students may also enter into situations that require different accommodations. Having self-advocacy skills, or the ability to explain these needs to others, empowers students to succeed.

Consider the challenges faced by a student who is DHH in the cafeteria, in the classroom, or hanging out with friends in the hallway. High noise levels, obscured facial expressions, group conversations, and other factors can make it more difficult for students who are DHH to communicate with others at school. These same communication challenges can also be experienced at home. To ensure everything is clear and understood, it is helpful for students to first build their self-awareness, which then develops into self-advocacy.

Importance of Self-Advocacy

It is critical for students and children to begin developing self-advocacy skills at an early age. Without self-advocacy skills, students who are DHH miss out on information and instruction as well as social cues and opportunities to interact with peers. For example, when a student lacks the skills to ask for repetition or clarification, he may miss out on key instructional information or family discussions and fun. These missed opportunities can cause delays in academic and social-emotional progress.

Self-Advocacy Tips

Parents can help young children start to develop self-advocacy skills by describing their hearing level and communication needs using simple terms and wording. For example:

  • “My ears don’t work the way yours do. My hearing aids help me hear you.”
  • “I am Deaf. I use sign language.” 

As children grow, parents can encourage them to communicate for themselves at restaurants, with friends and family, and at community events. With support from parents, children can learn to share specific information. For example:

  • “It’s harder for me to understand you when you turn away/when music is playing/when we are in the car.”
  • “I use an interpreter. When we communicate, please look at me and talk.” 

School personnel can also help students work on self-advocacy skills by teaching specific communication repair strategies such as asking for repetition, clarification, or rephrasing, and then creating situations for practice. Older students can begin to articulate their communication needs to teachers and peers themselves. For example, students can explain their unique needs and communication preferences by creating a one-page flyer, PowerPoint presentation, or video.

Upcoming Events

Learn more about self-advocacy skills at MDE-LIO’s April 20 LIVE With LIO webinar.

Our spring conference, Building Bridges: Working Together to Empower Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, will feature a breakout session on self-advocacy skills.

MDE-LIO Resources

For more information about how to assess, teach, and track a student’s self-advocacy skills, visit our Self-Determination and Advocacy page and check out the following documents:

Other Resources


Schoffstall, S. J., & Cawthon, S. W. (2013). From theory to practice: Self-advocacy skill development of students who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing who are transitioning into post-secondary settings.