The Role of Early ASL Learning and Linguistic Competence of Deaf Individuals

By Jean F. Andrews

Map of the USA in ASL

Map of the USA in ASL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

American Sign Language (ASL) is seldom learned early by parents of deaf children when the diagnoses of hearing loss occurs. As a result, few deaf children have strong ASL role models in the home. This has important educational implications. But it also has criticaL repercussions when the deaf child grows into a deaf adult and gets caught in the criminal justice system.
In almost all (with the exception of one), cases where I interviewed deaf suspects or inmates, I have found that they had learned ASL after the age of five. Some even learned it later in junior high or high school. Most all had English reading levels of 4th grade or below.
ASL plays a critical role in a deaf individual’s overall linguistic competence in both ASL and in English. When they learn ASL late, this often delays their ability to learn English. Research has shown strong links between later ASL proficiency and English Literacy.

Lack of ASL proficiency also affects their abilities to effectively work with a sign language interpreter in a police, legal or correctional setting.
Part of the problem is that we have few strong ASL/English bilingual Early Childhood Programs so deaf children are delayed in access to ASL. Another part of the problem is that hearing parents are too busy to learn ASL. They work long hours in jobs where they cannot fit in a sign language class. As a result, their deaf child becomes their sign language teacher and this further delays the deaf child’s acquisition of concepts and language structures because they do not have strong ASL linguistic role models.
One solution to helping parents learn ASL is through online ASL classes. With today’s technology, the video quality is quite good and recent research by Dr. Curt Radford, Professor of Deaf Education at Utah State University has shown that online ASL learning is possible. His recent dissertation completed at Lamar University found that university students in the ASL online class did just as well as ASL students in face to face class.

One creative outcome of Dr. Radford’s research is that he has recently developed an online ASL program for parents. It is reasonably priced and available 24/7 for today’s working parent.
It may seem like a long stretch to connect early ASL acquisition and signing abilities of deaf adults in the criminal justice system who have difficulty understanding sign language interpreters. But the relationship is there. When audiologists, physicians, and educators deny the deaf children and his parents with information on the benefits of ASL as a language, they are not seeing the big picture. Deaf children need English and ASL as early as possible to achieve linguistic competence in both languages. And Dr. Radford’s parent ASL online course as well as other available online resources that achieve this same goal are good places to start.

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.


Overcrowded Prisons – a Photo Essay from Mail Online

By BitcoDavid

The British Daily Mail reports that jails and prisons across America are literally ready to burst, with more than two million Americans behind bars. California, the worst for overcrowding and ever-expanding inmate populations, houses 140,000 inmates. Her 33 facilities, designed to hold a maximum of 80,000, are stretched to beyond the limit.

Currently, U.S. prisons are working at about 40% over capacity – across the board – and that figure is expected to shoot to 50% by the end of the decade.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that 30 thousand prisoners need to be released, due to what they referred to as an unconstitutional situation.

Even though California and other states have actually increased available bed space, a stream of new inmates over the past 5 years has flooded the system. And this overcrowding is resulting in an increase in violence and antisocial behavior both amongst inmates and corrections officials.

Often areas like gymnasiums and even dining halls are being converted to emergency living quarters. In some cases inmates are being forced to share bunks, or to sleep in busy common areas, with constant traffic. Single unit cells are now expected to house 2 and even 3 inmates.

Per capita, The U.S. leads the world in number of incarcerated Human beings. Russia is #2 and South Africa takes the show position – #3. Of this vast subculture – nearly 2.3 million people – over half are Black, and 750,000 are housed in private – for profit – prison facilities.

And yet, almost ironically, as these rates are climbing higher and higher – the rate of violent crimes on American streets is rapidly decreasing. Are we going incarceration crazy?

The original Daily Mail article contains an excellent video, that I was just unable to embed – although I did try numerous times. The video is uncaptioned but since it contains no dialog, you won’t miss anything. I would strongly advise that you click on the link below to see this astounding video.

To see this excellent article in its original format with full size graphics go here:

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and an Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

Guestblog: Marsha Graham on the Gallaudet Controversy

By Marsha Graham

This is not a civil liberties issue. This is an employment law issue.

McCaskell’s sin is one of rank stupidity. She is a non-tenured individual working for Gallaudet as the Chief Diversity Officer – not a secretary, not a janitor, not even a diversity underling. She speaks for Gallaudet in matters of diversity.

Gallaudet University

Gallaudet University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At Gallaudet the students are Deaf and discriminated against for their deafness. There are Gay Deaf students there, and the head of the Diversity Program has just made a statement against the LBGT community through signing this petition. She was an idiot if she thinks that won’t come back to bite her in the butt.

Further, the students of Gallaudet do not want her back. Remember, I belong to a Deaf and HoH attorney’s association, and many of them went to Gallaudet and know the parties and the students. Why on Earth would any student who suffers daily discrimination based on hearing loss, want a diversity officer who does not believe in diversity? Or even seems to oppose diversity?

My take: She did not want her job at Gallaudet enough to keep her mouth shut and her fingers off discriminatory petitions. I worked for the state  – and my Dad for the feds, and we kept our heads down and our mouths shut because we liked our paychecks. When you represent your organization in the world, you don’t put it on the front page through your behavior. Anyone who is a diversity officer, who opposes diversity should do the same or find a new job. Surely one of the anti-gay organizations will hire her as a mascot now.

Edward Miner Gallaudet at his desk, presumably...

Edward Miner Gallaudet at his desk, presumably in College Hall, as President of Gallaudet College (later Gallaudet University). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ms. McCaskell is in an employee-at-will jurisdiction where and individual can be let go for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason – just not an illegal reason. She has embarrassed her employer and alienated the students. No one will trust her. She has fouled her own nest, so to speak.

By the way, I find many Deaf folks (not all, but many) rather conservative by nature. Most blind folks are similarly conservative by nature. So branding this a liberal assault is both wrong and back in the rank stupidity category, in my opinion. It is a response to an individual who made it impossible for her to represent her employer and the students of Gallaudet.

You want your job? You’re highly visible? Keep your head down and keep out of trouble. If you get yourself in highly visible trouble, you fall on your sword and protect the employer.

The President's House (also known as the Edwar...

The President’s House (also known as the Edward Miner Gallaudet Residence or House One) located on the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. The 20-room Victorian Gothic mansion was designed by Vaux, Withers, & Co. in 1867. The original owner of the home was Edward Miner Gallaudet, founder and first president of the school. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a contributing property to the Gallaudet College Historic District, a National Historic Landmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marsha Graham is the driving force behind several blogs, among them AnotherBoomerBlog. She is a good friend to and we would be lost without her support. When she’s not blogging, she’s a committed activist and attorney.

I breathe, drive, take photographs, and write – not necessarily in that order.

On the other hand… A Reblog From People of the Eye

By BitcoDavid

In Nobody should be thanking the FRC Prez People of the Eye state that Angela McCaskell’s sin, if you will, wasn’t in exercising her Civil Liberties, but rather in her “REASONING for doing so since it jeopardizes recently gained LGBTQ marriage rights and because other civil rights are not put up for question / popular vote.

If women’s suffrage had been up for direct vote, we wouldn’t have gotten the 19th Amendment.  If the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was put on the ballot in southern states, we wouldn,t have gotten it passed.  If the ADA was put on the ballot, it is unlikely it would have passed.  We elect our elected officials to represent we, the people, of the United States and also to uphold the constitution so….

But since different groups are trying to undermine marriage equality various courts have had to examine if these ballots or lawsuits are right, just and good – so far they have been ruling in FAVOR of marriage equality for all.  Most recent example:

They point out that Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council is not generally considered an open minded and kind individual, and that McCaskell thanked him by name in her news conference. Further, as Marsha Graham has also pointed out, G.U. is fully within their rights – just as McCaskell was within hers – to terminate her employment. Maryland is an employee at will state.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civ...

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I enjoyed their take on this story, and therefore reblogged it for you. However, my issue is with Liberals behaving badly. I was shocked, when in a discussion with a rabid Conservative with whom I am close, I was told that Liberals are intolerant. “What?” Exclaimed I, “why we are the very picture of tolerance. We support all people in their struggle for equality.

“Yes,” says my friend, “unless they disagree with you. Then you have the tar and feathers at the ready.”

When I see something like what happened to McCaskill, it is hard for me to disagree with my misguided friend.

Same thing here. I actually find the post by People of the Eye, more to my liking than McCaskell’s exclusionary and regressive politics. But as a great man once said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it.”

Here’s the link to their coverage:

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and an Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

A Deaf Policeman Heard the Noise…

By BitcoDavid

Oaxaca Mexico now has a contingent of [d]eaf police officers, to monitor the non-audio equipped surveillance cameras that watch goings on in parking lots, markets and on streets. The belief being that these natural lipreaders will be able to observe conversations and other indications of criminal activity.

Known as Angels of Silence the city of Oaxaca has hired them based on their heightened vision and ability to read lips.

The 230 surveillance cameras in Oaxaca’s historic center and surrounding area provide feeds for the Police’s Command and Communication Control Center (C4). A team of 20 deaf police officers monitors the cameras in search of suspicious activities. (Courtesy of the Public Safety Secretariat of Oaxaca)

The 230 surveillance cameras in Oaxaca’s historic center and surrounding area provide feeds for the Police’s Command and Communication Control Center (C4). A team of 20 deaf police officers monitors the cameras in search of suspicious activities. (Courtesy of the Public Safety Secretariat of Oaxaca)

Well, I’m certainly glad that these people are getting work, but I think the city’s in for a rude awakening when they discover that Deaf do not have heightened visual acuity, nor are they born lipreaders. And even if they were, lipreading isn’t magic. Even the best lipreader isn’t going to be able to discern a conversation from a surveillance camera – on a darkened street during the wee hours. It’s not like most criminals plan their nefarious activities at high noon.

Marsha Graham from AnotherBoomerBlog is an exceptional lipreader. And yet, when I talk with her, I need to be looking straight at her, and I can’t be doing all the things Hearies do, like smoke cigars, chew gum, drink coffee, eat, pick our noses… etc. I doubt the Oaxaca criminal population will be looking – clean shaven and empty mouthed – directly at these cameras.

Our contributor, Dr. Jean F. Andrews had this to say.

The lipreading ability is exaggerated. And to give press to this hurts the deaf community in the criminal justice system. I just came off a case where police and detectives assumed the deaf woman was lipreading as they read her Miranda rights, and did not provide her with an interpreter. So, it promulgates the myth that deaf are expert lipreaders. The prosecutor in the case even swayed the judge on this issue.

If you’d like to read more on this, go to

English: Seen from the main facada of the ex-C...

Seen from the main facada of the ex-Convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, in Oaxaca city, Oaxaca, Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

Angela McCaskill Speaks Out

By BitcoDavid

This video was taken from the Baltimore Sun, and captioned by me for this site. I normally don’t do that. Typically, if a captioned version is unavailable, I will forgo posting it at all – much as I may like to. Unfortunately, I feel that this story is important enough so as to necessitate posting this video. I will cite the source and link back to it, and hopefully there will be no hard feelings.

It is essential for me to state that I do not agree with this

woman’s politics, at least as they pertain to this particular issue. I have long been a supporter of equality in marriage rights. Further, we have definite differences in opinion as to religion.

However, I honestly believe that Ms. McCaskill is being unfairly targeted by Gallaudet and by the Liberal and Gay communities. If we want equal treatment and a level of tolerance, we need to be able to afford those same rights and privileges to those with whom we disagree. I sincerely hope that Gallaudet University rethinks their stance and reinstates Angela McCaskill.

Here’s the citation link to the original video: thanks them in advance for their understanding regarding our use of their intellectual property.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.


Lipreading: What It Is, What It Isn’t

By Jean F. Andrews

I read a children’s story about a deaf boy who purportedly was able to lipread a warning through a heavy snow and wind storm from the back of a ferry boat as he and his classmates were traveling to school on the mainland. The deaf boy was able to lipread the man at the dock who was saying, “Go back! Go back!” Of course, they did and he was declared a hero. There is also a story about a Texas hero, Deaf Smith who helped to win the Texas Independence War in a series of battles against the Mexicans in 1836. As the story goes, Deaf Smith was a spy for the Texans and amazingly lipread the Mexican soldiers’ battle plans while perched in a tree overlooking the Mexican’s camp. Deaf Smith’s heroic deeds lead to the capture of Santa Ana, the Mexican general. And recently, there was an article about Mexico hiring deaf policemen who, according to the hyperbole in the article, were hired as they were using their lipreading skills to catch drug dealers.

Image Courtesy of Shanna Groves, the LipreadingMom.

Such tales, though entertaining, are misleading. They create a public perception of the general public toward lipreading. They cause the public to think that lipreading or speech reading is an effective mode of communication for deaf persons and that it is almost as effecting as hearing.
The deaf boy on the boat used visual clues such as the man’s body language to tell the boat captain to turn back the boat. And of course there were the weather clues! As for Deaf Smith, he was an experienced spy who understood the movements of the Mexican army. According to the historian, Dr. Steve Baldwin who has studied and written extensively about Deaf Smith from oil paintings, letters and archival literature, the hero Deaf Smith was postlingually deaf, married a woman from Mexico so he spoke fluent Spanish, and often disguised himself as a drunk and went undetected into the Mexican’s camps to study their movements. While there are folk legends that he lipread the enemy, his expertise as spy overrode the so-called lipreading skills. Now as for the deaf Mexican police, I would assume that they were using more than lipreading but they understood the behaviors, movements and culture of the drug dealers. Thus, it is not lipreading abilities per se, but the surrounding body language and other areas of expertise the deaf persons’ bring to the communication event.
What is lipreading?

Erastus "Deaf" Smith was a scout for...

Erastus “Deaf” Smith was a scout for the Texas Army in the Texas Revolution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lipreading is the ability to understand conversational speech visually and without sound as it appears on the lips in order to comprehend a message and carry on a conversation.
Why is it difficult?
Lipreading is difficult because 42 sounds (phonemes) that make up English are either invisible or look like other sounds on the lips. The vowels are the most difficult to lipread because they are formed in the mouth out of view. The other one-third of the 42 sounds must to grasped quickly as they soon disappear from the lips.
What are obstacles to lipreading?
For one, sounds appearing on the lips are ambiguous. In addition, people may move their heads while talking, they may have a beard or moustache, be chewing gum, have protruding teeth, or may be eating. The lighting may be poor in the room. Further the deaf person may be tired. Deaf students in our program tell us many times, that late in the afternoons or during evening classes, their eyes are very tired of looking at signing as well as trying to lipread.
Who are the successful lipreaders?
The deaf boy in the boat, Deaf Smith, and the deaf Mexican policemen would not win awards for their lipreading! Indeed, research has shown that it is not deaf people who have studied and relied on lipreading for 12 to 16 years who are the good lipreaders, but that it is hearing college sophomores who are the best lipreaders. Why is this so? It is because lipreading depends a lot on guesswork and filling in the gaps or missing words to make sense of the sentences. College hearing sophomores have a command of the English language so they can easily lipread. For deaf people who do not have a command of English, lipreading is most difficult.
Lipreading is not related to intelligence. Persons will vary on their aptitude to lipread. Lipreading is more useful for those who have residual hearing or are hard of hearing. It is not useful for persons with profound and severe hearing losses, particularly those whose losses are congenital. If a person can add lipreading to amplification then lipreading abilities will increase.
In sum, lipreading is an inadequate form of communication for deaf persons and for many hard of hearing persons. It can be of some use if the words are familiar and are used in a routine context such as, “coffee?” “cream and sugar?” However, when the communication exchange becomes more complex as when a deaf suspect is given the Miranda Warning, then lipreading is inadequate.

And of course it’s even harder to read lips with your face pushed into a car hood.

Why do judges and prosecuting attorneys have difficulty with this concept? One reason is that when they view a videotape of a deaf person being interviewed by a detective or policeman, they hear the police and detective’s spoken language, see the questions in written form, look at the deaf suspects attempts and writing, and they assume that the deaf person with lipreading and written communication is understanding the interaction of being informed of their Constitutional Rights through Miranda. To further complicate the situation, when the deaf suspects nod and say yes, this further misleads the hearing officers and judges into thinking the deaf person is comprehending.
Such is not the case. Lipreading is not effective as a mode of communication by itself or even with writing, especially in cases involving Miranda and deaf persons.
Simms, D. (2009). NTID Speechreading: CID Everyday Sentences Test. RIT: Rochester, NY.
Vernon, M. & Andrews, J. (1990). The Psychology of Deafness: Understanding Deaf and Hard of Hearing People. New York: Longman. (pp. 100-103).

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

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