Full Overview

Problem: "No hablo Ingles..."

A deaf child is born to parents who do not speak English. The school system's language of instruction is English. If the teacher can communicate, it is only in English and sign, not Spanish. "Quien hablo Espanol?"

Most Spanish speaking parents/individuals have no resources similar to English speaking parents/individuals, with deaf children, in order to learn sign language. Many Hispanic children have had little or no experience prior to entry into U.S. special education system. Therefore, the concept of parent involvement is simply unfamiliar (Blackwell & Fischgrund, 1984) Parents often hold the general view of being Deaf as deficient because Deaf communities in developing countries still lack influence. This may lead to low expectations (Gerner de Garcia, 1993). Parents often misunderstand the need to use early amplification because the use of such devices may have been uncommon in their home culture (Blackwell & Fischgrund, 1984). Ongoing misunderstandings occur due to the lack of Spanish-speaking professionals, lack of access to health care, and lack of parental awareness is common (Gerner de Garcia, 1993). Some parents receive no help or diagnosis until they immigrate to the U.S. Many have lived in isolated rural locations far from services (Gerner de Garcia, 1993). Many families resist health care resources completely because they find the services to be threatening and inaccessible (Fischgrund, Cohen, & Clarkson, 1987). Some Hispanic deaf suffer from inappropriate placement in schools for the Deaf because staff is not prepared to work with this population. Thus, many Hispanic deaf are inappropriately placed in special education classes as language delayed, learning disabled, or developmentally delayed children. This is often due to biased assessment practices, examiner bias, or inadequate training of evaluators. Children often labeled incorrectly as having "no language" because of evaluators' lack of Spanish-speaking skills. Assessment personnel who are trained in both deaf education and Spanish are from diverse ethnic backgrounds are very scarce-therefore students' underlying competence is not accurately reflected most of the time (MacNeil, 1990). In addition to the lack of professional staff, many of the programs are inaccessible to these families. Many have difficulty getting to schools or clinics because of work hours and transportation difficulties (Gerner de Garcia, 1993).

To address the importance of early amplification, as mentioned above, Signing Fiesta has developed a video in Spanish that discusses the importance of early amplification, various hearing aid devices, causes of deafness and introduces sign language vocabulary that one may see on a visit to the audiologist (Signing Fiesta, video #4, 1998).

The use of the Signing Fiesta videos will provide parents with a tool to communicate with their deaf child. This communication in turn will empower the deaf child with an opportunity to achieve maximum social and economic success in the future. These videos are intended to assist the Spanish speaking population gain self-confidence through successfully mastering the vocabulary and practice sentences from each video. They will take pride knowing they will be able to interact and communicate about daily topics. Most important, knowledge of sign language increases an individuals versatility in communicating with others, and in understanding the different cultures involved.

Spanish, English and American Sign Language all qualify as separate a language given they each have their own syntax. Signing Fiesta has produced 17 seperate videos that tie all three languages together. Society thus, benefits from an educated individual, being taught by their Spanish speaking family. These deaf individuals will now be able to be integrated into society and hold a job, function as active contributors to our social security systems, and stay off of welfare where so many non-educated individuals end up. Allowing all the citizens within a community to benefit from their education.

Also, the tapes are formatted in a way to encourage the Spanish speaking family to learn English at the same time they learn sign language vocabulary. Learning English while living in America will provide many Spanish speaking families with an opportunity to get better paying jobs, as they will essentially become fluent in English. This helps our society by putting more taxes back into the state government. It also allows the deaf individual to give back to the community by being a contributing member.

Review of the Literature:

Statistics concerning the poor educational performance is deaf Hispanic children are both alarming and tragic. However, as educators, we must recognize that these achievement levels are more likely a function of the lack of specialized programs and culturally-sensitive personnel than characteristics of the children themselves. It is our responsibility to develop an understanding of these student's cultural realities and to raise expectations concerning their performance in school.

Deaf students of Hispanic-American heritage are the most rapidly growing minority group among the deaf population. The challenge faced by Hispanic hearing impaired children is unique. They are faced with the task of learning two languages-- ASL and English-- and two cultures-- American and Deaf, while being exposed to the Spanish language and Hispanic culture at home. In addition to their sensory impairment, Hispanic deaf students have cultural and linguistic differences which exacerbate the already formidable task of acquiring language.

According to Moores (cited in Luetke-Stahlman & Weiner, 1982) Hispanics accounted for 9.4% of the total hearing-impaired population during the 1978-79 school year. In 1988-89, the Annual Survey Of Hearing Impaired children and Youth reported that 12.9% of the hearing impaired school population is Hispanic (Center of Assessment and Demographic Studies, 1988-89). In 1993, the Current Population Survey showed there were 22.8 million Hispanics in this country (U.S. Census Bureau, 1993) and Andrews and Jordan repot that the number of Hispanic deaf students has increased to 15% in 1997 (1997).

Given the rapidly occurring changes that exist within the population of Hispanic Deaf students, the development of effective programs has been slow and minimal. As early as 1975, reports were being published alerting professionals of the low academic achievement of Hispanic deaf students. In a national survey on reading and vocabulary skills in deaf children, the Office of Demographic Studies at Gallaudet College (cited in Christensen, 1985) reports that "the lowest mean scores were obtained by students of Spanish-American descent." Recently, Allen (cited in Andrews & Jordan, 1997) found similar results among Hispanic deaf students. Allen reports that the 50th percentile reading comprehension scores for Hispanic deaf students was eleven scaled points less than the 50th percentile for white deaf eight-year-olds. Also, Wolk and Shildroth (cited in Smith, 1997) state that their speech is more likely to be classified as less intelligible.

As stated earlier, one of the major reasons for underachievement in deaf students who are Hispanic is the lack of educational and social programs available to this minority group. Hearing impairment is generally identified later in children from non-English speaking homes (Blackwell & Fischgrund, 1984). These same authors state that the main variables are parent educational level, availability of medical services and rural/urban backgrounds, among others. Along with the late identification of Hispanic deaf students is the common lack of importance parents give to the use of hearing aids by their young children. The use of amplification devices may be important to the interventionist, but the parents may have never heard of such devices or are preoccupied with the basic necessities of life (Blackwell & Fischgrund, 1984). Blackwell and Fischgrund also state that intervention is the most important aspect of early language development (1984).

To meet the growing needs of this large minority group, educators have adopted models from the field of bilingual education. The most commonly used model is the transitional model, in which children with limited English proficiency are instructed in their primary language and are provided with ESL (English as a Second Language) instruction (Blackwell & Fischgrund, 1984). However, this is an even greater task when it relates to Hispanic deaf children because of the need to determine a first language upon which to build English skills. Luetke-Stahlman and Weiner (1982) state that neither heritage nor etiological classification should dictate the primary language. "Depending upon the degree of hearing loss and the assimilation of the family into the English-speaking society, Spanish may not function as the first language for Hispanic deaf children ... rather a combination of Spanish, English and sign may serve as the primary language" (Luetke-Stahhnan & Weiner, 1982, P. 789). Hispanic deaf students may have limited exposure to several languages such as Spanish, Spanish sign, English, and/or English sign language (e.g. ASL). Luetke-Stahlman and Weiner (1982) recommended that each child be given the opportunity to demonstrate which language is most appropriate. In testing for the primary language, Fischgrund (I 982) states that " grammar, that is morphology and syntax, and semantics and pragmatics combined provide useful measures" (p. 100). Prior to the passage of PL 94-142, which requires that achievement tests be performed in the child's native language, Hispanic deaf children were tested in English, the results of such invalid tests indicated no language. "Since exposure to language is the first step in language development, hearing impaired children entering educational programs, no matter how severe their hearing loss, have already begun the process of Language acquisition" (Fischgrund, 1982, p.95). Dean (1984) states that "language does not exist by itself, it functions as a link between the child's expressive and receptive self and environment" (p.66).

Once the primary language has been identified, problems in using the language to learn a second language and in the case of the deaf child, a third language, begin to surface. Some of these problems in language acquisition include confusing auditory stimuli at home and at school (Kopp,1981), confusing lip-reading skills used for English with Spanish used at home (Secada, 1984), parents unable to understand the child's English sign language system (Secada, 1984) and the child's lack of awareness that three languages exist and when each is being used or should be used (Blackwen & Fischgrund, 1984). The cognitive load these children must have in order to become trilingual requires the rapid cognitive processing of diverse code systems (Kopp, 1981). Problems concerning the communication between the Spanish-speaking hearing parent and their deaf child are also prevalent. For instance, not all non-English-speaking parents will be able to acquire Total Communication skills, English and ASL. The child is being taught ASL or another English sign system and English at school but at home the parents may only know Spanish. This scenario can be extremely confusing for a small child. Many professional suggest using sign language as a bridge between Spanish and English (Christensen, 1985). It may be extremely difficult for non-English-speaking parents to acquire English quickly enough to catch up to what the child is being taught in school. However, researchers suggest that it is much easier to acquire ASL because it is not syntax-bound or arbitrary like English (Christensen, 1985). Christensen states that ASL tends to be globally iconic and speakers of two different languages can communicate through ASL effectively.

Teaching three languages simultaneously to deaf children is also problematic. "One of the most critical considerations in combining two spoken languages and one visual-gestural language is semantics" (Christensen, 1985, p. 247). For example, in both Spanish and English one spoken word may have several meanings. The student must understand the meaning of what is being said rather than what is heard. An example of this would be idioms in English, Spanish or both which do not translate word for word in ASL such as "It's raining cats and dogs." Another consideration is that the use of fingerspelling is limited because the child must be fluent in the language from which the word originates (Christensen, 1985). Some words in one language do not exist in another, so in order to understand the word that is being spoken, the individual must first experience the object or activity to which it refers.

In sum, deaf Hispanic children are expected to become trilingual and tri-cultural. If this is to occur successfully, several aspects must be considered. These include providing early intervention, identifying the primary instructional language, conducting fair and appropriate assessment, recruiting ethnically diverse professionals, modifying curriculum and instruction to include all three languages and cultures, and continuing to document research and findings (Smith, 1997).


Blackwell, P.M. & Fischgrund, J.E. (1984). Issues in the development of culturally responsive programs for deaf students from Non-English-Speaking Homes. In The Hispanic Deaf, Delgado, G.L. (Ed.). Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet College Press.

Christensen, K.G. (1985). Conceptual sign language as a bridge between English and Spanish. American Annals of the Deaf, 130(3). 244-249. Dean, C.C. (1984). The Hearing-Impaired Child: Sociolingusitic Considerations. In The Hispanic Deaf, Delgado, G.L. (Ed.). Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet Press. Fischgrund, J., Cohen, O. & Clarkson, R. (1987). Hearing impaired children in black and Hispanic families. Volta Review, 89 (5), 59-67.

Gerner de Garcia, B. (1993). Addressing the needs of Hispanic deaf children. In Christensen, K.M., & Delgado, G.L. (Eds.), Multicultural issues in deafness. New York: Longman Publishing.

Kopp, H.G. (1984). Bilingual Problems of the Hispanic Deaf. In The Hispanic Deaf, Delgado, G.L. (Ed.). Washington, D.C: Gallaudet College Press.

Luetke-Stahlman, B. & Weiner, F.F. (1982). Assessing Language and/or System Preferences of Spanish-Deaf Preschoolers. American Annalso of the Deaf, 127(6) 789-96. According to Padden and Humphries.

Salvador, Connie. (1998). Signing Fiesta, video #4, A Visit to the Audiologist.