Learning to read and write effectively is a challenging task for many adults, particularly for those who are deaf. (The term "deaf" is used here to refer to both deaf and hard-of-hearing people.) In spite of concerted efforts by educators to facilitate the development of literacy skills in deaf individuals, most deaf high school graduates read English at roughly a third or fourth grade level as determined by standardized reading assessments (Allen,1986; King & Quigley, 1985). In their writing, they often make vocabulary and structural errors that include omitting or confusing articles, prepositions, and verb tense markers, and they have difficulty with complex structures such as complements and relative clauses (Swisher, 1989).
Having limited literacy skills acts as a barrier for deaf people in the workplace. They often have had limited opportunities at school for vocational training. They also may have difficulties communicating with hearing co-workers and poor performance on work-related reading and writing tasks. Because of these factors, deaf adults in the workplace often find themselves confined to low-level jobs.
This digest offers possible explanations for these difficulties and describes new approaches in deaf education that show promise for improving the literacy skills of deaf adults.
It is not the inability to hear that causes the most persistent problems of prelingually deaf persons, but the enormous constraints that that inability puts upon the learning and use of the societal language. (p. 187)
Because deaf learners do not have access to English in its spoken form, the challenge for them of developing literacy skills is much greater, in some ways, than it is for hearing nonnative English speakers.
Despite the legitimacy of ASL, many deaf people grow up with ambivalent attitudes toward their own language, often feeling "inferior to hearing persons" (Kannapell, 1976, p. 11). Padden (1987) reports that deaf people's attitudes toward ASL vary between "intense pride" and "a great deal of confusion and shame" (p. 44; quoted in Swisher, 1989). This ambivalence extends to English as well. Because of the need to communicate with the non-signing public and to function in an English-literate society, most deaf adults believe that English literacy is important. Still, many hold an equally strong belief that they are unable to master it.
* Bilingual/bicultural approaches, which integrate ASL and English and include using videotaped stories in ASL as a precursor to writing compositions in English (Humphries, Martin, & Coye, 1989; Mozzer-Mather, 1990; Paul, 1987; Quigley & Paul, 1984)
* Whole language and writing process approaches, which focus on problem-solving skills needed in the workplace and avoid overt correction of errors and breaking language into parts (Heald-Taylor, 1989)
* Interactive writing, in which deaf learners and teachers converse in written English on teletypewriters (Lieberth, 1988; Nash & Nash, 1982), on local- and wide-area computer networks (Peyton & Batson, 1986; Ward & Rostron, 1983), and in dialogue journals (Staton, 1990; chapters in Peyton, 1990)
* Interactive videodisc, in which computerized ASL video and printed English text are used simultaneously to help deaf learners develop their English skills (Copra, 1990; Hanson & Padden, 1989)
* Closed captioned TV programs, which allow extensive exposure to English through a recreational medium (Bean & Wilson, 1989; Spanos & Smith, 1990)
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Copra, E.R. (1990). Using interactive videodiscs for bilingual education. "Perspectives," 8(5), 9-11.
Hanson, V. L. & Padden, C.A. (1989). Interactive video for bilingual ASL/English instruction. "American Annals of the Deaf," 134, 209-213.
Heald-Taylor, G. (1989). "Whole language strategies for ESL students." San Diego, CA: Dormac.
Humphries, T., Martin, B. & Coye, T. (1989). A bilingual, bicultural approach to teaching English. In S. Wilcox (Ed.), "American Deaf Culture" (pp. 121-143). Burtonsville, MD: Linstok Press.
Johnson, R.E., Lidell, S.K., & Erting, C.J. (1989). "Unlocking the curriculum: Principles for achieving access in deaf education." Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Research Institute.
Kannapell, B. (1976). The effects of using stigmatized language. "Deafpride papers: Perspectives and options," (pp. 9-13). Washington, DC: Deafpride.
King, C.M., & Quigley, S.P. (1985). "Reading and deafness." San Diego, CA: College-Hill Press.
Kluwin, T. (1981). The grammaticality of manual representations of English in classroom settings. "American Annals of the Deaf," 127, 852-859.
Lieberth, A.K. (1988) Teaching functional writing via telephone. "Perspectives," 7(1), 10-13.
McAnally, P.L., Rose, S. & Quigley, S.P. (1987). "Language learning practices with deaf children." Boston: College Hill Press.
Mozzer-Mather, S. (1990). "A strategy to improve deaf students' writing through the use of glosses of signed narratives." Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Research Institute.
Nash, J., & Nash, A. (1982). Typing on the phone: How the deaf accomplish TTY conversations. "Sign Language Studies," 36, 193-211.
Padden, C. (1987). American Sign Language. In J.V. Van Cleve (Ed.), "Gallaudet encyclopedia of deaf people and deafness" (Vol. 3, pp. 43-53). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Padden, C., and Humphries, T. (1988). "Deaf in America: Voices from a culture." Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Paul, P.V. (1987). Perspectives on using American Sign Language to teach English as a second language. "Teaching English to Deaf and Second-Language Students," 5(3), 10-16.
Peyton, J. K. (Ed.) (1990). "Students and teachers writing together: Perspectives on journal writing." Alexandria, VA:
Peyton, J. K., & Batson, T. (1986). Computer networking: Making connections between speech and writing. "ERIC/CLL News Bulletin," 10(1), 1, 5-7.
Quigley, S.P., & Paul, P.V. (1984). ASL and ESL? "Topics in Early Childhood Special Education," 3(4), 17-26.
Spanos, G., & Smith, J. J. (1990). "Closed captioned television for adult LEP literacy learners." Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse on Literacy Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 321 623)
Staton, J. (Ed.). (1990). "Conversations in writing: A guide for using dialogue journals with deaf post-secondary and secondary students." Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Research Institute.
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Swisher, M.V. (1989). The language learning situation of deaf students. "TESOL Quarterly," 23, 239-257.
Ward, R. & Rostron, A. (1983). Computer-assisted learning for the hearing impaired: An interactive written language environment. "American Annals of the Deaf," 128, 346-352.
Wixtrom, C. (1988). Two views of deafness. "The Deaf American," 38(1), 3-10.
Woodward, J. (1982). "How you gonna get to heaven if you can't talk with Jesus: On depathologizing deafness." Silver Spring, MD: T.J. Publishers.