Hearing Impairment and Reading Performance: Are They Connected?

Hearing impairment can adversely affect a person’s reading performance for various reasons. First of all, without being exposed to the same quantity of words as a hearing person, a hearing-impaired person will lack some of the linguistic experience that hearing people use while reading. In addition, because learning to read often consists of sounding out words, hearing-impaired people who do not relate sounds as strongly to words may struggle to follow this process. Instead, they may compensate by using visual techniques to remember the spelling and meaning of various written words, and to read these words more visually than phonemically. By doing this, many hearing-impaired people learn to read fluently.

How Do the Hearing Impaired Read?

Does the reading of the hearing impaired differ from the reading of people who can hear? This topic has been the subject of much research and debate. Some evidence seems to show that the hearing-impaired, especially those with more severe hearing impairments, read differently than the hearing. For example, hearing subjects slowed down their reading speed in order to perform a different task, such as remembering a telephone number.

Hearing-impaired subjects did not slow down their reading speed at all, indicating that they use a different “pathway” to read text. In addition, many hearing-impaired people mix up words not because they sound the same, but because their signs in American Sign Language (ASL) are similar.

ASL Knowledge and Reading Proficiency

The best way to predict the reading skill of a hearing-impaired student is by evaluating the student’s signing ability. The stronger the signing ability, the stronger the reading ability. Therefore, students who learn how to sign have a stronger probability of becoming fluent readers. This may be true because of the visual manner that many hearing-impaired students use to read. They connect the words to their ASL signs, rather than to their sounds.

In these ways, hearing impairment and reading performance are strongly intertwined, although insufficient research exists to explain clearly all aspects of their relationship.


“How Do the Deaf Read?” by Lyuba Azbel