This is an article about numbers. It does not purport to be anything else. I will delineate numbers that varying researchers spent quite a bit of time gathering, and then I will discuss them briefly and draw connections to the potential political consequences of having the numbers listed define our reality. It is my personal opinion that the energy of our community is wasted on dithering about identity politics, such as whether or not an individual is little “d” or big “D”.
The focal point of the deaf community’s discourse should be the numbers listed below and their devastating impact on all of our futures. Our education is poor; our prospects are poor, and the path ahead is even bleaker. Blue-collar opportunities given to our predecessors are no longer available to us. Fortune is a lovely combination of the right amount of language acquisition, with the right amount of support, and the wherewithal to choose a field accommodating to the deaf. At best, we toil in obscurity while hearing people use our work to advance in fields rightfully ours. At worst, we scrap with the government bureaucracy of our colonizers for meager checks and benefits.
The numbers that brick our paths are not new. I’ve seen them bandied about in intense discussions. The numbers hang there, unchained and improperly defined; they are wasted opportunities to seize the crux of the deaf community’s failure to educate itself and unbind our prophesied failures. My hopes are that having some numbers listed with points to sources will provide a foundation for future discourses, on this site and elsewhere.
I have organized how I present the numbers in the following ways:
The numbers hang there, unchained and improperly defined; they are wasted opportunities to seize the crux of the deaf community’s failure to educate itself and unbind our prophesied failures.
- Numbers about English Language Acquisition
- Numbers about Educational Policy, Educational Research and the Teachers of the Deaf
- Numbers about Reading
- Numbers about Employment
Numbers about English Language Acquisition
- Deaf children acquire English vocabulary at 60% of the rate that hearing children do
- By age 12, the English vocabulary levels of Deaf children lag 4 to 5 years behind their hearing peers
- Implanted deaf children score lower on English vocabulary assessments such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test than their hearing peers
- English Vocabulary acquisition among users of constructed sign systems (e.g. SEE, SEE II, MCE) is less than half of their hearing peers
This section could have easily been called Numbers about English Vocabulary Acquisition. But, English vocabulary acquisition is an enormous aspect of language acquisition. High English vocabulary abilities correlate strongly with increased reading ability. A lack of English vocabulary can hinder deaf high school graduates in college and beyond. Oral proponents would do well to note that even implants do not contribute to superior English vocabulary development, and neither does use of simultaneous communication systems.
Numbers about Educational Policy, Educational Research, and the Teachers of the Deaf
- More than 10% of all teachers of the deaf lack the proper certificates and credentials for their positions
- An assessment of two volumes (over 50 articles) of the American Annals of the Deaf, the nation’s oldest journal of deaf education research and policy found the following:
- No article covered math and science research for the deaf population
- Almost as many articles covered speech and language use (6) as reading and writing and literacy needs (8)
- Only 2 articles covered technology use and work skills among deaf children
- In 2006, the ratio between deaf education graduates and deaf students was 1 for every 56
- Sign language comprehension among hearing teachers of the deaf, when measured in “Understands Signs as well as English” ranges from 15% to 35%
- Only 45% of teachers of the deaf are considered to “sign well”
Think about the jobs your deaf friends have, if they are lucky enough to be employed. Off the top of my head, most people I know are employed in VRS Outreach, Group Homes, Deaf-related Social Services, and as Teaching Assistants. The majority of deaf educators are white, hearing women with inferior visual language abilities. Educational policy for the deaf is dictated by hearing administrators and hearing researchers, many with shaky grasps of visual language and limited knowledge of the challenges faced by those they purport to support and nurture.
The focus of educational research remains speech, language, reading and writing, whereas the skills required by our workforce: math, science, and technology, are often ignored or left on the wayside. Meanwhile, the number of teachers available for a growing population of deaf students remains critically low.
Numbers about Reading
- The average deaf person graduates high school with a 4th grade reading-comprehension level
- 20% of deaf high school graduates possess a reading level at or below the second grade
- Reading levels among the deaf school population are 5 years behind their hearing peers
For all our emphasis on reading and writing research, and language acquisition among deaf children, the numbers still sicken. 20% of our community reads at or below the second grade level. Our average reading comprehension remains at the fourth grade. How can we be expected to work and function in society when we are barely literate; when the peers we depend on to rally against audism and work with us to develop appropriate policy lack the ability to read a newspaper cover to cover?
How can we be expected to work and function in society when we are barely literate; when the peers we depend on to rally against audism and work with us to develop appropriate policy lack the ability to read a newspaper cover to cover?
Numbers about employment
- 60% of deaf high school graduates are considered ill prepared for college
- Approximately 50,000 deaf people collect some form of social security disability benefits
- 90% of deaf people are under or unemployed
- 60% of deaf adults are unemployed
The end result of all our failures to ensure a proper language environment for deaf children and manage educational policy for deaf education is thusly—only 40% of our community is working. Those who are lucky enough to have jobs are underemployed, or paid insufficient wages. A vast number are on welfare. We have no purchasing power. We cannot donate to political powers. Our associations barely scrape by and have to beg for money. Our ability to protest businesses that fail to serve our needs are limited.
How many of our community activists collect welfare? How many are content to produce videos and artwork and columns and never progress past goading others into action? Hearing researchers in deaf education and deaf policies often bemoan the fact that there aren’t enough deaf people in their field. When so many schools and programs for the deaf lack qualified teachers, an extremely small number of deaf people are entering the field. I would argue that as a community, we have more value than teaching hearing people our language, and selling VRS products to our community. We are better than cannibalizing our intellectuals for not being deaf enough, or for not following a particular form of deaf epistemological philosophy. We should be shoring our best, those who were lucky enough to graduate high school and college, into deaf education and deaf-related research fields. Perhaps it’s too late to do much for our generation, but if we heed the numbers, future generations of deaf children can be spared our failures.
Those are numbers worth counting on.
Note: Information was taken from various of sources. For a list of sources, please email Jonathan Henner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT JONATHAN HENNER
Jonathan Henner is a graduate of Illinois State and Walden Universities. He is currently an Ed.D candidate at Boston University.