BY TRACY STINE

More than 90% of Deaf and hard of hearing children are born to hearing parents who don’t know American Sign Language (ASL). And most of those hearing parents (up to 88%) will never learn it, despite the fact that there is much evidence that learning ASL will lead to better outcomes for their child. What can be done to help hearing parents start – and stick with – learning ASL? One person who can make a critical difference is an Deaf role model.

What do Deaf role models do?

A role model can ease parents’ fears and show them that Deaf and hard of hearing people can and do lead successful lives. Depending on the services offered in your area, a Deaf role model can:

  • Conduct home visits
  • Teach sign language
  • Help locate educational resources
  • Inform families of upcoming Deaf community events
  • Share information about hearing and communication technology
  • Give access to support networks
  • Share positive Deaf life experiences
  • Address social concerns
  • Teach advocacy skills

What difference can a Deaf role model make?

Studies* and surveys* show that when Deaf role models work with families:

  • Both parents and children improve their sign language skills.
  • Children are more likely to achieve age-appropriate language milestones.
  • Parents report feeling less stress, are more involved in their child’s schooling, and are more likely to embrace Deaf culture and participate in Deaf community events, which gives their child access to additional Deaf peers and adult role models.

Where can I find a Deaf role model?

While every state offers early intervention, there are currently only 22 programs in the U.S. that connect families with Deaf role models or mentors. That’s why the American Society for Deaf Children launched a new program to connect 500 ASDC member families with Deaf role models.

If you are a parent who is learning ASL to communicate with your deaf or hard of hearing child – and you are an ASDC member – you can get five FREE sessions with a Deaf role model through a program called SignOn.

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*These children and families were taught either ASL exclusively (81.8%), a variety of signed languages from ASL to Signed English (9.1%), or combination of ASL and English (9.1%). The curriculum used ranged from SKI-HI (81.3%), Shared Reading Program offered by Gallaudet University (12.5%), and Guide By Your Side offered by Hands & Voices (6.25%).