Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from C.M., Rochester, NY

This morning in “RID Interpreting in the News” I read a story about several people learning sign to communicate in school with a deaf student. His interpreter said the following: “Ninety-eight percent of families with a deaf individual never learn sign language, said, a statistic she called staggering.” Can this be true?

Question from C.M., Rochester, NY. Posted October 15, 2010.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

Actually, I would have guessed the number was closer to 99%. But, notice that the interpreter was talking about “deaf individuals,” not deaf students. There are millions of older people in the United States who have lost their hearing and whose families will never learn sign language. Unfortunately, there are no good statistics about how many families of deaf children use sign language. It has been estimated that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use American Sign Language, but many more (especially hearing families) use other forms of signed communication. Data from the Gallaudet Research Institute’s Annual Survey of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children and Youth recently indicated that over 24% of deaf K-12 students’ families “regularly sign,” but we have no idea how many others use sign language some of the time. Another important factor is the age of the student. Many parents who adopt an oral approach to education and family communication early on end up signing, along with their children, during the later school years. It thus appears that the interpreter’s statement was either misleading or wrong… but then it is an election year in the United States.