Study shows pagers can help deaf students improve literacy skills

Pagers can help improve hearing-impaired students’ social skills and independence while improving their literacy skills, says Connie Mayer, professor in York’s Deaf Education Program in the Faculty of Education.

The program is a joint venture of York University, the Toronto District School Board, the Rotary Club of Toronto (Eglinton) and Bell Canada, which donated 250 of its pagers for students and their parents. Now in its second year, the pilot study involves students at Danforth Collegiate & Technical Institute (DCTI) and Davisville/Metropolitan School of the Deaf Public School. York researchers have been monitoring the program to determine if using the pagers improves social skills development and increases literacy among these students.

Students who are profoundly deaf learn American Sign Language (ASL) but little English. ASL or manual deaf students tend to have below-average literacy skills and cannot benefit from closed captioning. This lack of English means they are cut off from much that hearing people take for granted: news, radio, television and school announcements on public address systems. Studies have shown that, on average, deaf students graduate with Grade 4 literacy skills, primarily because the English language is based on phonetics.

Because parents don’t always know enough sign language to include children in decisions that affect them, they often make decisions for their children, with the result that the students often fail to develop the life skills to make their own decisions. This can delay their social development by four to eight years.

Mayer hopes that the research will encourage the Ontario government to include pagers on its list of funded hearing devices. She believes that pagers will eventually help deaf students to reach their maximum potential.

She said the next phase of the research will focus on how students using pagers improve their literacy skills.