Do you remember how you learned to read?
Reading is something we learn in childhood and is an important aspect of our lives. While many people enjoy reading a good book, for others reading remains a struggle. The Literacy and Development Research Lab (‘Ladder Lab’) is a joint initiative between academics in the Division of Language and Communication Sciences at City, University of London and the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL) at University College London (UCL).
The aim of the lab is to better understand how literacy and language skills are acquired, including the underlying cognitive (memory and thinking) processes involved in literacy development. Earlier this month, the Ladder Lab team delivered an evening of talks and activities which highlighted the challenges deaf and hearing children face when learning how to read fluently. The event was held as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science 2019 and was hosted at Finsbury Library, close to City’s Northampton Square Campus.
Open to all, the event was well attended by speech and language professionals and parents. British Sign Language (BSL) and English interpreters were present to ensure full inclusion for all those attending. Dr Kate Rowley, Research Associate at DCAL, delivered the first talk of the evening, discussing the importance of phonetics (‘sounding out’ or ‘signing out’ words) to children when they learn to read which can be particularly challenging for deaf children. She stressed that the key predictors of learning to read successfully are the acquisition of a large, varied vocabulary and reading experience.
ATR: Nobody is addressing the elephant in the room, the use of sign language in the early years. Everyone and their deaf cat know that once the deaf acquire sign language they are deterred from reading and as they get older empowered to reject it by their activist peers. BSL should not be used as per its grammar as this instils conflict day one in learning. If the sign has to be used it should mirror the written and spoken word. Why build the deaf children up to fail? It hasn't succeeded in preventing mass disinterest in deaf clubs, or deaf charities.
There will never be a viable BSL educational system set up, and they will never get 100% support using it, not because of a denial of right but simply because the support system doesn't exist or is being trained, no pro support empowerment that way means it cannot happen. BSL is a huge disadvantage to them as adults, the world does not revolve around sign language. Had deaf been able to separate the social from the actual application of sign they might have more options, but they can't, it all starts day one and sign use.
Blaming hearing because they don't sign is pointless. Unless deaf aspiration is to work for themselves or be permanent martyrs to the cause. The reality is well over 86% of all output is in text already. Even on own sign-based/cultural output. There is a definite link between daily BSL usage and poor literacy. The aim does not seem to be about educating the deaf to exist outside their own area.
Illiteracy is the worst disability, not deafness or hearing loss. Without literacy, you cannot advance.