Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I’m woefully ignorant of the Deaf culture. Are they unable to read print?
A: Reasonable question. No; they are not unable to read print. But reading is a challenge and a chore for them for a couple reasons:
First, the Deaf lack an auditory frame of reference; especially those deaf from birth or early age. Unlike you and me, the Deaf cannot hear and may have NEVER heard the words they are expected to read and write. We don't realize what an incredible help it is that we heard English spoken for 5-6 years before we ever were able to read it.
When we did begin to read, we were able to match these arrangements of letters on the page to sounds that were already very familiar. We felt a certain sense of satisfaction when the light first dawned that the letters d-o-g match up with the word “dog” (you hear the sound of the word in your mind, don't you?) already ingrained as part of our vocabulary. The hearing typically have no clue how much more challenging it is to make sense out of these groupings of letters when they seem so completely random without that auditory reference point. It is not at all a matter of IQ.
Second, public education of the Deaf Is sadly lacking, from what I've seen. A Deaf student is often placed in the “Special Ed” department for the sake of expedience. There may be other Deaf kids at her school, but there may not. Schools are normally required to provide interpreters, but they may only come in one or two days a week for a few hours. And the interpreters may be skilled and well-trained, or they may not. There are many stories of interpreters arbitrarily deciding to “edit” messages to and from the Deaf people they serve according to their own discretion.
Bottom line is the Deaf are very often NOT readers of printed materials. The great majority have a 4th grade reading level, at best, even if they have graduated from High School.
Most Deaf people are bilingual. English is a SECOND language for them; not their primary language. Do many of us have a second language? Do we choose to spend a lot of time reading in that second language? Or do we gravitate towards materials in our primary language?
By the way, I was flummoxed by the same question until someone shared these things with me!