Normally hearing students acquire most of their reading vocabulary from printed context, but little is known about this process in hearing-impaired students. Two studies, therefore, investigated hearing-impaired students' ability to derive lexical and syntactic information about unknown words embedded in short passages of text. The passages varied in their informativeness about the meaning of the unknown words. Ability to derive at least a partial meaning for a word in context was determined both by the type of context and the reading comprehension levels of the students. However, there was no relationship between reading comprehension scores and ability to determine the form class of the words in context. The results are related to the importance of integrating semantic information into a meaning schema for the passage in order to acquire new meanings for unknown words and to the local strategies adopted by poorer readers when attempting to answer comprehension questions. Implications for explaining, and trying to ameliorate, the well-documented vocabulary limitations of hearing-impaired students are discussed.