Multimedia Stories for Deaf Children

Article excerpt

It's hard to boat the feel of a book between the hands-feeling Its soft cover, turning crisp pages, and smelling the ink. The low cost of books and their easy portability-carrying them to the couch, back yard, bathtub, pool, and the beach-entice us. But the whir and wonder of technology has captivated ni many teachers. Multimedia stories on the Web, for instance, can lead children with language and reading disabilities to read print augmented with graphics, animation, and movies.

Using Multimedia Technology

Multimedia technology allows authors to develop stories in two or more languages. Each language, then, can be accessed by the click of a button on each page. Multimedia applications are especially useful for deaf children because video dictionaries of sign language can be built right into the stories. This article describes our U.S. Department of Education-funded project and shows how teachers can use the Web to research their stories-and put these stories on the Web.

Phase 1: We set up a multimedia laboratory with state-of-the-art hardware and software.

Phase 2: Our staff (graduate students in deaf education and computer science) developed scripts and multimedia stories centering on the Mexican-American culture. These student-authors used library sources, as well as the Web, for information (see Figures 1 and 2 for Web sources). Native users of American Sign Language provided sign language translations and native-Spanish-speaking students provided the Spanish translations. Our computer science students set up a Web server to distribute our stories. Phase 3: We provided summer workshops for teachers, teaching them to use the Web and to develop their own multimedia stories for their students. We placed teacher-authored stories on the Web.

Phase 4: We set up a research plan to follow the progress of Mexican-American deaf children over 1 year to see how they learned language using this new technology.

Designing Projects for MexicanAmerican Deaf Children

We developed materials and activities for Mexican-American deaf children because they are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. school-age population of deaf children, particularly in Texas, where we work. In fact, there are more than 7,000 deaf children from Spanishspeaking homes in the United States, and this number is growing (Schildroth & Hotto, 1996). These children have difficulty learning English; and on standardized tests that measure reading, language and mathematics, many score 2-3 years below their Anglo peers who are deaf (Allen, 1994; Gerner de Garcia, 1993).

School has been difficult for Hispanic deaf students because of cultural and linguistic differences. Cultural influences can be Spanish, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican Republican, Cuban, Latin or South American origin, or mixed. These students' language learning may be fragmented. For example, children may use some spoken and written English, American Sign Language (ASL), gestures, and home signs. They may also speak and lipread the Spanish language. In addition, they may use some spoken English and sign language, or a mixture of these. And even further, if families recently emigrated from Mexico or South America, these deaf children may use an indigenous sign language. Such a mixture of codes and languages can make learning academic subjects in English difficult for deaf Mexican-American students.

Mexican-American deaf youth must also navigate through three different cultures-Hispanic, American, and deaf cultures. Even though they might eat ethnic foods and celebrate the religious and historical holidays of their families, these cultural events have little meaning because few family members can explain these events to them in sign language.

Consequently, many deaf Mexican-American children have grown up not fully understanding their home culture. To meet their language and cultural needs, we designed a project to develop stories centered on Mexican-American cultural themes written at different reading levels-elementary, junior high, and high school. …