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Disability Experiences: Writings and Perspectives

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November 16, 2010

The following article, Difficulties that the Deaf Encounter Because of the Lack of Educational Materials for the Deaf, is written by a mother, grandmother, Carol Hill, who has experienced raising her own children and grandchildren who are deaf. She is advocating to not only make literature and printed materials, videos more available to children who are deaf, but that children also require a way to see and feel the sounds of language in order to develop language and reading skills. To compensate for this inequality she developed a system of visual symbols and hand signs for the deaf called Visual Phonics. The program is further developed at the University of Ohio, Literacy and Learning Center. This strategy should not be confused with the commercially available products and materials on the market under the same name.

In Carol's own words, "The Visual Phonics book that I designed, was first printed in 1981 by our company, Communication Arts. The symbols appeared on one side of the page with the letter, and the opposite side of the page showed a drawing of a child making the sign for the sound--so a parent or teacher could make the hand sign and sound and the deaf child would see the symbol and letter at the same time. My sister and I did all the art work for the book, as we were both artists. The first little book was yellow, and looked like a small binder-so the pages could be easily turned. The first seminars were always free--and we only asked for travel expenses. Only the materials - little books or charts cost money. We were all in agreement, that this program belonged to children who are deaf and handicapped, and should be made available freely to them--I've alway believed that this is the missing part of sign language --the sign language for sounds--and it belongs to them. Visual Phonics is now being used all over the country and in many schools for children who are deaf."

Carol continues to work on producing books for deaf children, with ASL sign language videos included. We look forward to sharing information on these books in the future.

The following article,is included here on our New Horizons Un-Limited website with permission from the author.
© Copyright, 2010, Carol Hill, All Rights Reserved

Difficulties that the Deaf Encounter Because of the Lack of Educational Materials for the Deaf

I am the mother of 3 deaf adults, and now also have deaf grandchildren. I have been appalled at the lack of literature and printed material and videos available to the deaf for their development of language and reading skills. The majority of people believe that although the deaf can't hear our language, that they can still develop language skills through reading, as they can see----they think that just as the blind can develop language skills through their hearing ability--that the deaf can do the same through their visual ability. This is an incorrect assumption, as language and reading skills are based on hearing the language--as reading is based on sounds. To compensate for this inequality, years ago, with my first deaf son, Mark, I developed a system of visual symbols and hand signs for the deaf that represented sounds---called Visual Phonics. This provided a way for the deaf to see and feel the sounds, and transfer that into their reading program.

For the first time, profoundly deaf children were able to see that the letters do not all sound the same. A, for instance, can have several different sounds --as in words like --about, cake, cat and any. But this is still not enough, the deaf also have their own language--ASL in our country---American Sign Language, and it does not follow the same grammatical structure as the English language--it is indeed another language. The blind have thousands of books in Braile and talking books--available in many libraries at no cost. But, however, if you go to any local library anywhere, you will find nothing available for the deaf in their language, ASL. If you go to any book store and ask for a book for the deaf, you get the same response--the only thing available is for the hearing to learn sign language.

Now, it is very popular to teach your young child sign language, as it develops quickly for a child and therefore they are able to communicate their needs and desires--for milk, food, etc. at a very young age, but these are not books for the deaf. The deaf, according to the statistics I have read from several studies at schools such as Gallaudet, have a low reading comprehension level--only around a fourth grade level after graduation from high school---and one cannot even read the newspaper well at that level. Relying on closed captioning, is not enough---have you ever watched programs or news reports and seen how many of the words are misspelled? It is true, with the video phone and translators, more is being done today than ever before, but what about the many books, and stories that could be translated into ASL--that the profoundly deaf will never enjoy?

Within the deaf community there has also raged a life-long battle between those that advocate sign-language and those that remain strict oralists. I believe that this has also hindered the development and organization of the deaf community to demand more materials for their educational development. I hope that one day there will be greater advocates to push for more materials in behalf of the deaf that rely on sign language as their main means of communication.


Carol Hill

© Copyright, 2010, Carol Hill, All Rights Reserved

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