Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Parental Hearing Status and Signing among Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Parental Hearing Status and Signing among Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

Article excerpt

MITCHELL AND KARCHMER (2004a, 2004b) raise the question of whether there are meaningful distinctions among hearing, hard of hearing, and deaf parents of deaf and hard of hearing schoolchildren in the United States. Since it was established that identification of parents as deaf or hard of hearing substantially influences our understanding of the demography of deafness, we investigate the reason that knowing that a parent may be hearing, hard of hearing, or deaf is of consequence.

This follow-up study identifies the relationship between pairings of parental hearing status and the regularity of signing with the deaf or hard of hearing student at home and in the classroom. Additionally, given that the incidence of intergenerational deafness has a major genetic component (Marazita et al. 1993), we also examine parental hearing status in relation to the child's degree of hearing loss. That is, we investigate how strongly parental hearing status is associated with the regularity with which deaf and hard of hearing children are in a signing environment as well as with the child's degree of hearing loss (also see Jordan and Karchmer 1986; Mitchell and Karchmer 2004b).


The data analyzed for this study are from the 2001-2002 Annual Survey of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and Youth (hereafter, Annual Survey; Gallaudet Research Institute 2002). In keeping with our earlier work (Mitchell and Karchmer 2004a), the sample studied is limited to school-age children and youth six to nineteen years of age (as of December 31, 2001) about whom current data are available (i.e., newly reported, updated, or verified for the 2001-2002 school year).

Measure of Parental Hearing Status

Information about biological parental hearing is reported as "hearing," "hard of hearing," "deaf," or "data not available" for both the father and the mother (if known to the school or program agent filling out the survey; see figure 1, item 8E). For the purpose of this study, both the absence of any responses to the parental hearing-status questions and those recorded as "data not available" are coded identically because they both represent unknown hearing status. (Here, this collective designation is labeled as "unknown.") In order to reduce the number of categories for analysis and to take advantage of the previous study (Mitchell and Karchmer 2004a), parental hearing-status pairings are not identified by gender. That is, the deaf or hard of hearing student is identified as having parents in one of ten configurations (e.g., hearing [both], hearing and hard of hearing, hearing and deaf, hearing and unknown, etc.).

As discussed previously (Mitchell and Karchmer 2004a, 2004b), the identification of parental hearing status has ambiguities associated with it. The data about parents were obtained through school personnel, who have no necessary or compelling reason to have specific knowledge of the parents' degree of hearing loss, so we do not know how each student's mother or father was identified as being hearing, hard of hearing, or deaf. Federal law mandates that special-education program placement include parent participation in the development of the Individualized Education Program (IEP), so we may speculate that at least one parent has directly interacted with and is personally known by school personnel (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997; see 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(B)(i), 2001). Nonetheless, even when the school does report that the parent is deaf or hard of hearing, we still do not know the basis used in deciding between these two possible identifications. Thus, this investigation starts with the knowledge that reports of parental hearing status result from some unknown admixture of functional and identity-oriented responses provided as a consequence of information obtained through either direct interaction or relevant school records (see Mitchell and Karchmer 2004b).

Measures of Signing

In addition to the parental hearing-status variable, two sign-communication variables and one audiological variable are derived from information reported to the Annual Survey for each student. …

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