Smiling teacher standing in front of eight older boys in Africa
Class for deaf students in Kayieye, Kenya

Deaf education is the education of students with any degree of hearing loss or deafness which addresses their differences and individual needs. This process involves individually-planned, systematically-monitored teaching methods, adaptive materials, accessible settings and other interventions designed to help students achieve a higher level of self-sufficiency and success in the school and community than they would achieve with a typical classroom education. A number of countries focus on training teachers to teach deaf students with a variety of approaches and have organizations to aid deaf students.

Identifying deaf studentsEdit

Children may be identified as candidates for deaf education from their audiogram or medical history. Hearing loss is generally described as slight, mild, moderate, severe, or profound, depending upon how well a person can hear the intensities of frequencies.[1] Of the children identified as deaf, only 5% are born to deaf parents.[2] This percent of deaf students may have a linguistic advantage when entering the education system due to more extensive exposure to a first language.[3]

In cases of congenital hearing loss (hearing loss from birth), parents can start to notice differences in their kids hearing as soon as newborn to three months old. If a child doesn't respond to sudden loud sounds, this could be an indication. As the baby begins to age to around four to eight months, they should turn their head towards where the sound is coming from. Around a year to 16 months, if they don't pronounce words correctly, or don't speak at all, this could also be an indication.[4] All those are indications of congenital hearing loss, which means the child was born this way.

A child can also acquire hearing loss at a young age due to a middle ear infection, a serious head injury, exposure to loud noises over a long period, and many other ways. If this occurs, the same symptoms would occur as they do with congenital hearing loss. If this happens when a child is older, around toddler or preschool age, there are more signs to look for. Signs could include a child not replying when their name is called. The child may pronounce words differently than the rest of their peers. If the child turns up the TV incredibly high or sits very close, this could also be an indication. One of the biggest indications that a child may have hearing loss is when they are having a conversation with someone, they intensely focus on the person's lips and facial expressions to understand what they are saying.[5] If a child has these signs, getting a screening for hearing loss would be the next step.

In as recent years as the 1990s, many parents in the United States were unaware that their child was deaf until on average 2.5 to 3 years old, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health.[6] Worse yet, many other children were not identified as having any hearing impairment until they reached 5 or 6 years of age. In 1993, the National Institutes of Health’s Consensus Development Conference on Early Identification of Hearing Loss concluded previous risk-based assessment was not sufficient and that all infants should receive hearing screenings, ideally prior to hospital discharge postpartum.[7] At the time of this decision, only 11 hospitals nationally were performing screening on 90 percent of babies born, according to the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management.[7] Since then, universal hearing screening has greatly improved early identification.[6]

Language deprivation is defined as lack of access to language during a child’s critical period for language exposure, which begins to taper off precisely around the age of five.[8] Unlike any other population, the vast majority of Deaf and hard of hearing children are at risk of having this type of limited exposure to language in early childhood. Research on language deprivation and early childhood interventions to prevent language deprivation are burgeoning. Language Equality & Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K),[9] for example, is a national campaign that aims to ensure that D/HH children in the United States gain the early language foundation necessary to be kindergarten-ready.

For D/HH adolescents and adults who have passed the critical period for language acquisition and have experienced language deprivation, the consequences are far-reaching. Delayed age of acquisition of a first language has deleterious effects on all levels of language processing, ranging from syntactic, to lexical, to phonological difficulties,[10] not to mention cognitive delays, mental health difficulties, lower quality of life, higher trauma, and limited health literacy.[8] Additionally, delayed exposure to a fully accessible language (i.e. a natural sign language) in early life not only affects the ability to acquire such a sign language later in life, but "leads to incomplete acquisition of all subsequently learned languages".[10] The impact of language deprivation is severe and must be considered in efforts toward early identification of deaf and hard of hearing children as well as intervention.

Individual needsEdit

Deaf education programs must be customized to each student's needs, and deaf educators provide a continuum of services to deaf students based on individual needs.[11] For instance, if a student is in a regular class, a note taker or interpreter might be an accommodation provided in their education plan.[12] In the United States, Canada and the UK, education professionals use the acronym IEP when referring to a student’s individualized education plan.

Educational philosophiesEdit

There are a variety of educational philosophies that differ in their views both regarding language use and goals for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Bilingual-bicultural educationEdit

Alumni Hall, the middle and high schools at the Indiana School for the Deaf (a bilingual-bicultural school)

(Variations: bilingual education, dual language) In this philosophy, deafness is approached as a cultural, not a medical, issue (see models of deafness).[13] In a bilingual-bicultural program, deaf children learn sign language such as American Sign Language (ASL) as a first language, followed by a written or spoken language such as English as a second language.[13][14] Bilingual-bicultural programs consider spoken or written language and sign language equal languages, helping children develop age-appropriate fluency in both.[14] The bilingual-bicultural philosophy states that since deaf children learn visually, rather than by ear,[13] education should be conducted in a visual language. To promote students' accuracy and fluency in either language, sign language and spoken language are not used simultaneously, because natural sign languages, such as American Sign Language (ASL), possess their own phonological system (with visual phonemes),[15] morphology,[16] and syntactic structure[17] that differs greatly from that of spoken languages. In addition to bilingualism, this philosophy also emphasizes mastery of two cultures, both Deaf culture and hearing culture.

Proponents of this philosophy emphasize the need for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to have exposure to a fully accessible language (i.e. a sign language) from a young age for optimal cognitive development.[8] Supporters believe that, due to the widely recognized variability in cochlear implant and hearing aid outcomes,[18][19] sign language access is critical to ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing children do not experience language deprivation, which has significant effects on mental health, socioemotional development, language fluency, and educational outcomes, among other factors.[8]

Critics of this philosophy believe that without a strong emphasis on spoken communication, this philosophy may lead to students being unable to integrate into the typically-hearing world.[20]

Auditory-oral and auditory-verbal educationEdit

In this philosophy, deafness is approached as a medical, not a cultural, issue (see models of deafness). There are two main educational philosophies for deaf and hard-of-hearing students based on an emphasis on auditory and verbal skills. The names of these philosophies are sometimes used interchangeably, but the methods primarily used in each philosophy are distinct.


Oralism is a philosophy that the education of deaf students should be conducted through and should promote the use of spoken language. This philosophy utilizes a variety of approaches, including lip reading and speech training. Oralism was popularized in the late 1800s and largely enforced throughout Europe and North America, following the Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf in 1880. Oralism was established as an alternative to manual (sign language) education and stands in opposition to the use of sign language in the education of deaf and hard of hearing students.

Total CommunicationEdit

Total Communication is an educational philosophy for deaf and hard of hearing students which encourages the use and combination of a variety of communication means, including listening, lipreading, speech, formal sign languages, artificial sign systems (or manually coded language), gestures, fingerspelling, and body language.[21] The goal of the Total Communication philosophy is to optimize communication skills using a combination of means that are most effective for each individual child, leading to implementations of this philosophy that greatly differ from one to the next.

Whereas the Bilingual-Bicultural philosophy emphasizes the separation of spoken and signed languages, the Total Communication philosophy allows simultaneous use of signed and spoken languages. It also allows the use of artificial signed systems, which are based on the grammar and syntax of spoken language and stand in opposition to formal sign languages, which have their own distinct grammar and syntactic rules.

Proponents of this philosophy believe that flexibility in communication strategies is critical for the success of deaf and hard of hearing children and that no one approach is effective for the majority of these children. Total Communication emphasizes taking the strengths and needs of individual children into account and believes that mixed communication strategies that cater to these strengths lead to optimal outcomes.[22]

Critics of this philosophy argue that using multiple modalities (sign language and/or sign systems alongside spoken language, also known as simultaneous communication) is problematic, because it reduces the linguistic quality of both languages[23] and therefore does not constitute full language exposure for deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Educational settingsEdit

Specialized settingsEdit

Signing schools (Variation: Deaf institute, State School for the Deaf, manual school)Edit

Students are taught through sign language, and instruction is designed to allow children to develop age-appropriate fluency in two languages: a signed language and a written language. Many bilingual-bicultural schools have dormitories; students may commute to school or stay in a dormitory as part of a residential program (see boarding school), visiting their families on weekends, holidays, and school vacations. Additional supports include speech-language pathology (SLP) services and assistive listening devices (ALDs) such as hearing aids and Cochlear implants.

Signing schools often adopt a Bilingual-Bicultural philosophy in which mastery of both a signed and a written language are equally prioritized, with supports provided for students who also wish to gain fluency in spoken language. Some signing schools utilize a Total Communication philosophy.

Examples of Bilingual-Bicultural K-12 programs in the United States include Texas School for the Deaf, California School for the Deaf, Fremont and The Learning Center for the Deaf. Bilingual-bicultural colleges and universities include Gallaudet University and National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID).

Oral schoolsEdit

Students are taught through spoken language and instruction is designed to allow children to develop age-appropriate written and spoken fluency in the spoken language of their country. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students in such settings are taught to listen and talk through the use of assistive listening devices (ALDs) such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, or frequency modulation (FM) systems. Additional supports include lipreading and speech therapy.

Oral schools adhere to an auditory/verbal philosophy (either oralism or listening and spoken language) in which mastery of spoken language is prioritized.

Examples of auditory/verbal K-12 programs in the United States include Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, Cleary School for the Deaf, and Memphis Oral School for the Deaf.

Hubbard Hall is the main building on the Northampton campus of Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, an oral school.

Mainstream settingsEdit

General education schoolsEdit

Students are taught through spoken language in a public or private school where they join a class of predominantly (if not exclusively) typically-hearing peers. In this setting, deaf students can utilize a variety of supports including, but not limited to, sign language interpreters, amplification, assistive hearing technology (e.g., hearing aids, Cochlear implants), speech-to-text closed captioning, and note-taking services.

Self-contained classroomsEdit

Students are taught in a self-contained classroom within a public or private general education school. Educational philosophies and languages of instruction vary by individual school and district. In self-contained classrooms, deaf and hard-of-hearing students may be placed exclusively with other deaf and hard-of-hearing peers or with other special education students.

Some deaf children exclusively attend a mainstream program; others join select mainstream classes for part of their day.[24] Students may receive accommodations, such as itinerant teachers, interpreters, assistive technology, note-takers and aides.[25][26]


John Bulwer, an English physician, [27] wrote five works on bodily human communication (particularly gestures). He was the first person in England to propose educating deaf people, [28] outlining plans for an academy in Philocophus and The Dumbe mans academie.


Charles-Michel de l'Épée pioneered deaf education in France. He did charitable work for the poor, and on one trip into the Paris slums saw two young, deaf sisters who communicated with a sign language. Épée then decided to dedicate himself to the education of the deaf, and founded a school in 1760. In line with the philosophy of the time, Épée believed that deaf people were capable of language and developed a system of teaching French and religion. During the early 1760s his shelter became the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris, the world's first public school for deaf children.[29]

Great BritainEdit

The grandson of Sir John Popham, Alexander, was born in 1650. He was either deaf at birth, or became so before acquiring speech. Two eminent men came to his home at Littlecote House to teach him to talk: John Wallis, mathematician and cryptographer, and William Holder, music theorist.[30]

The first school for teaching the deaf to speak and read in Britain was Thomas Braidwood's Academy for the Deaf and Dumb in Edinburgh, established during the 1760s. The school moved to London in 1783.[citation needed] Braidwood used an early form of sign language: the combined system, forerunner of British Sign Language (recognized as a language in 2003). Under the management of Braidwood's nephew the school expanded, encouraging the establishment of an Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb in Edgbaston in 1814 and others in Liverpool, Edinburgh, Exeter, Manchester and Doncaster.[citation needed]

Britain's first free school for deaf pupils, the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, was set up in 1792[31] by three men: Henry Thornton, MP, abolitionist, and reformer; Rev John Townsend (died 1826), educator and independent minister; and Henry Cox Mason, rector of Bermondsey.[32]

In his ministerial relation, Mr. Townsend became acquainted with a lady, whose son was deaf and dumb, and who had been a pupil of Mr. Braidwood’s almost ten years. The youth evinced an intellectual capacity which caused delight and surprise to the good pastor, who was astonished at the facility and accuracy, with which ideas were received and communicated. Mrs. C, the lady referred to, sympathising with those mothers whose circumstances precluded their incurring the expense of 1500 £, (which was the sum paid by herself,) pleaded the cause of those afflicted and destitute outcasts of society, until Mr. T. entered into her feelings of commiseration, and decided with her on the necessity and practicability of having a charitable Institution for the deaf and dumb children of the poor. (Memoirs p.37-8).[31]

Braidwood's nephew Joseph Watson offered himself as tutor, and eventually became headmaster;[33] he wrote On the Education of the Deaf and Dumb (1809). The institute's name and location changed more than once, and for most of the nineteenth century it occupied a purpose-built boarding school on the Old Kent Road, Southwark in Inner London;[34] it became The Royal School for Deaf Children Margate, which closed in 2015.[33]

In the mid-1960s the Inner London Education Authority set up two primary schools for deaf children, Frank Barnes School in North London and Grove House School in South London. They also opened Oak Lodge Secondary School in Wandsworth, South London, which was a boarding school.[35]

United StatesEdit

Deaf education in the United States began during the early 1800s, when the Cobbs School (an oral school) was established by William Bolling and John Braidwood and the Connecticut Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (a manual school) was established by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc. When the Cobbs School closed in 1816, the manual method (which used American Sign Language) became common in deaf schools for most of the rest of the century. During the late 1800s schools began using the oral method, which only allowed the use of speech (in contrast to the manual method previously in place). The oral method was used for many years, until sign-language instruction gradually returned to deaf education.


Two general methods of deaf education are manualism and oralism. Manualism is instruction using sign language, and oralism uses spoken language. Although controversy has existed since the early eighteenth century about which method is more effective, many deaf-educational facilities attempt to integrate both approaches. The National Association of the Deaf advocates a bilingual approach, to best support deaf students in their education.[36]

National approachesEdit

United StatesEdit

Some deaf students receive an individualized education program (IEP) outlining how the school will meet the student's individual needs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students with special needs be provided with Free Appropriate Public Education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to the student's needs. Government-run schools provide deaf education in varying degrees, from the least-restrictive setting (full inclusion) to the most restrictive (segregation in a deaf school).[37] Education offered by the school must be appropriate to the student's individual needs; however, schools are not required to maximize the student's potential or provide the best possible services. Like most developed countries, American schools are required to provide medical services (such as speech therapy) if the student needs those services. As technology improves, more solutions become available in classrooms. Things such as FM systems have been put into many schools. An FM system has two parts: the first is a microphone that the teacher wears around their neck while teaching. There are two ways the system is set up for the child. First, the FM radio waves can be directly set up with the child's hearing aid or cochlear implant, so the sound is amplified only to the particular child. The second is called a sound field. The sound field uses special speakers put strategically throughout the classroom. This increases sound to a whole classroom instead of just one student.[38]


Deaf children in Nepal have the right to free, qualified education in line with provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). However, education in a school for the deaf is limited to 13 dedicated schools for the deaf and a slightly higher number of deaf resource classes in regular schools. All schools and classes are bilingual, with Nepali Sign Language and written Nepali the media of instruction.

Teacher trainingEdit

Deaf education majors and degree programs offer training and certification in the education of students with a variety of hearing abilities, addressing students' individual differences and needs. Deaf education also includes the study of special education, Deaf studies, education, sign language and Deaf culture (not all programs include the latter two).


United StatesEdit

United KingdomEdit

New ZealandEdit

The NetherlandsEdit

Deaf education associationsEdit

United States
United Kingdom
  • British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD)

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ Brody, Jane E. (8 October 2018). "Unlocking the World of Sound for Deaf Children". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
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  9. ^ "About LEAD-K". LEAD-K: Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
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  11. ^ Goodman, Libby (1990). Time and learning in the special education classroom. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press. p. 122. ISBN 0-7914-0371-8. OCLC 20635959.
  12. ^ Anderson, Karen (August 2012). "Accommodations for Students with Hearing Loss". Supporting Success for Children with Hearing Loss.
  13. ^ a b c Baker, Sharon; Baker, Keith (August 1997). "Educating Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Bilingual-Bicultural Education. ERIC Digest #E553". Education Resources Information Center. ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
  14. ^ a b Marschark, Marc; Lang, Harry G; Albertini, John A. (2002). Educating Deaf Students. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 145.
  15. ^ Brentari, Diane (1998). A prosodic model of sign language phonology. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
  16. ^ Aronoff, Mark; Meir, Irit; Sandler, Wendy (2005). "The paradox of sign language morphology". Language. 21 (2): 301–344.
  17. ^ Wilbur, Ronnie (1987). American Sign Language: linguistic and applied dimensions. Little, Brown and Co.
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  23. ^ Swisher, Virginia; Thompson, Marie (1985). "Mothers learning simultaneous communication: The dimensions of the task". American Annals of the Deaf. 130 (3): 212–217.
  24. ^ Marschark, Marc; Lang, Harry G; Albertini, John A. (2002). Educating Deaf Students. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 143.
  25. ^ Nowell, Richard; Innes, Joseph (August 1997). "Educating Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Inclusion. ERIC Digest #E557". Education Resources Information Center. ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  26. ^ "School Placement Considerations for Students Who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing". Hands and Voices. 2005. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
  27. ^ Wollock, J (1996). John Bulwer and his Italian sources. In Mirko Tavoni (Ed.), Italia ed Europa nella linguisticadel Rinascimento, Atti del convegno internazionale, 20–24 March 1991, Ferrara, p.419
  28. ^ Dekesel, K. (1992) John Bulwer: The founding father of BSL research, Signpost, Winter 1992 & Spring 1993 P11-14 & p36- 46
  29. ^ "The national institute for the Deaf". Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
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  31. ^ a b "Rev John Townsend (1757-1826), Founder of the London Asylum | UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries". Retrieved 5 May 2018.
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  34. ^ "London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb | UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries". Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  35. ^ "AIM25 collection description". Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  36. ^ National Association of the Deaf, Dual Language Development and Use in the Educational Environment Position Statement Archived 2013-02-04 at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ Karen Zittleman; Sadker, David Miller (2006). Teachers, Schools and Society: A Brief Introduction to Education with Bind-in Online Learning Center Card with free Student Reader CD-ROM. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages. pp. 48, 49, 108, G–12. ISBN 0-07-323007-3.
  38. ^ Center, Gallaudet University and Clerc. "Assistive Technologies for Individuals Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing". Retrieved 2018-04-29.
  39. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-05-06. Retrieved 2013-05-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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  47. ^ "Welcome to CEASD - CEASD".

Further readingEdit

  • Edwards. R.A.R. Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2012. online review
  • Gannon, Jack R. Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America (2012)
  • Greenwald, Brian H., and John Vickrey Van Cleve. A Fair Chance in the Race of Life: The Role of Gallaudet University in Deaf History (2008)

External linksEdit