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American Annals of the Deaf, Volume 154, Number 5, Winter 2010,


pp. 486-492 (Article)

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DOI: 10.1353/aad.0.0120

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http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/aad/summary/v154/154.5.hauser.html

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17665-AAD154.5 3/15/10 12:26 PM Page 486

DEAF EPISTEMOLOGY: DEAFHOOD AND DEAFNESS

D
E A F E P I S T E M O L O GY constitutes the nature and extent of the knowl-
edge that deaf individuals acquire growing up in a society that relies
primarily on audition to navigate life. Deafness creates beings who are
more visually oriented compared to their auditorily oriented peers.
How hearing individuals interact with deaf individuals shapes how deaf
individuals acquire knowledge and how they learn. Aspects of the Deaf
episteme, not caused by deafness but by Deafhood, have a positive im-
pact on how deaf individuals learn, resist audism, stay healthy, and nav-
igate the world. Research on psychology, health, and education are
reviewed to illustrate how visually oriented beings think and view the
world differently from the majority. The article provides support to the
theory of multiple epistemologies, and has implications for families,
teachers, and researchers.

PETER C. HAUSER, AMANDA How deaf1 people view themselves dif- duced by Ladd (2003), who described it
OHEARN, MICHAEL MCKEE, fers from how hearing people perceive as something different from what is
ANNE STEIDER, AND them. In Platos dialogue Theaetetus known as Deaf culture. He suggested
DENISE THEW (trans. 2007), Socrates argued that that Deafhood is not a static medical
knowledge is a justified true belief. condition like deafness . . . instead, it
HAUSER IS LABORATORY DIRECTOR, DEAF STUDIES Contemporary social epistemologists represents a processthe struggle by
LABORATORY, AND AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, believe that how an individual justifies each Deaf child, Deaf family, and Deaf
DEPARTMENT OF RESEARCH AND TEACHER a belief as true depends on that indi- adult to explain to themselves and each
EDUCATION, NATIONAL TECHNICAL INSTITUTE FOR viduals situation, surroundings, prior other their own existence in the world
THE DEAF, ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY knowledge, and sociocultural influ- (p. 3). Deafhood and deafness have
(RIT), ROCHESTER, NY, AND NEUROCOGNITIVE ences. Feminist epistemologists add strong yet separate influences on the
RESEARCH DIRECTOR, NSF SCIENCE OF LEARNING
that the individuals body or biology deaf individual in and of themselves, as
CENTER ON VISUAL LANGUAGE AND VISUAL
LEARNING, GALLAUDET UNIVERSITY, WASHINGTON, needs to be taken into consideration we discuss below.
DC. OHEARN IS AN ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AND when the nature of knowledge is dis- From the biological viewpoint, deaf-
CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST, DEAF WELLNESS CENTER, cussed. Societies give individuals the ness alone can enhance certain aspects
DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHIATRY, UNIVERSITY OF knowledge of how to live in their bod- of an individuals visual attention (see
ROCHESTER, ROCHESTER, NY, AND AN AFFILIATED ies, how to show capacities unique to Bavelier, Dye, & Hauser, 2006, for a re-
RESEARCHER, NATIONAL CENTER FOR DEAF HEALTH ones sex, and how to experience their view). Specifically, deafness causes an
RESEARCH, DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY AND bodies. Similarly, the way a society in- individual to allocate more attention to
PREVENTIVE MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER
teracts with deaf infants, children, and the visual periphery and be more sen-
MEDICAL CENTER (URMC). MCKEE IS A FELLOW,
DEPARTMENT OF PREVENTIVE CARDIOLOGY, adults has an impact on what these sitive to motion on the periphery. This
URMC, AND A PHYSICIAN, FAMILY MEDICINE CLINIC, deaf individuals learn and know, and effect might be due to deaf individuals
LIFETIME HEALTH, ROCHESTER, NY. STEIDER IS consequently on their attitudes, inter- intrinsic need, for survivals sake, to
A STAFF COUNSELOR, UNIVERSITY COUNSELING ests, and values. rely on the visual modality more than
CENTER, RIT, AND A CLINICAL ASSISTANT The biological experience of a sen- hearing individuals do. There are other
PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHIATRY, URMC.
sory deprivation and the sociocultural influences that are not effects of deaf-
THEW IS A DOCTORAL STUDENT, COUNSELING
experiences of others reactions and in- ness but effects of competency in a vi-
PSYCHOLOGY PROGRAM, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH
DAKOTA, GRAND FORKS, AND A PSYCHOLOGY
teractions illustrate the different effects sual language that enhance some
INTERN, DEAF WELLNESS CENTER, DEPARTMENT of deafness and Deafhood, respectively. cognitive functions (Bellugi et al.,
OF PSYCHIATRY, UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER The concept of Deafhood was intro- 1990; Emmorey & Kosslyn, 1996). The

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simple notion of not being able to hear as Deaf of Deaf in the present article) classroom. The hearing teacher often
does not completely define the deaf achieve their (first) language develop- began signing before all the children
individual nor explain Deafhood. ment milestones at the same rate and were paying attention. In contrast, the
Deafness begets unique additional ex- time as hearing individuals (Newport deaf teacher aide used visual and tac-
periences for deaf individuals that go & Meier, 1985). tile signals to ensure that all children
beyond auditory sensory input. By Over 95% of all deaf individuals are were visually attending before she
virtue of their biology, deaf individuals born into a family and a community started to sign. Similarly, Mather (1989)
live their lives in a visual reality, which that have no experience with how investigated the eye gaze patterns of a
leads to the acquisition of a knowl- deaf people learn and live, (such indi- hearing teacher and a deaf teacher and
edge base that is different from that of viduals are henceforth referred to as found that only the deaf teacher man-
hearing individuals. Deaf of Hearing in the present arti- aged to use eye gaze to direct the chil-
cle). Parents typically socialize with drens attention to the person who was
Life in a Visual Reality their children intuitively in ways that speaking. The hearing teacher used in-
Some people place greater value on reflect how they assume their own appropriate eye gaze techniques that
the sense of audition, while others parents socialized with them. Few confused the students as to where to
place more value on the sense of vision hearing parents of deaf children can look.
(Bahan, 2008). Many deaf parents cele- communicate effectively with their Communication has always been
brate and experience feelings of joy deaf child, and this seems to have an an area discussed in depth when it
when they find out that their newborn impact on language acquisition and comes to deaf pedagogy (Hauser &
is deaf. This is not because of their social-cognitive development (Corina Marschark, 2008). In addition to natu-
childs hearing loss, but rather their bi- & Singleton, in press; Hauser, Lukom- ral signed languages, there are also
ological propensity to be more visually ski, & Hillman, 2008). many different visual communication
oriented. Deaf individuals have been Studies have found that knowing systems made available to deaf chil-
known to seek partners based on their how to use nonverbal cues to direct dren including speechreading, cued
chances of having a deaf child or have deaf students attention is a factor that English, Signed English, and visual
sought sperm donors who would in- has an impact on the students learn- phonics. Many teachers of deaf chil-
crease their chances of having a deaf ing and is a skill taught by deaf parents dren may not have ample time to de-
child. This practice has had an impact to deaf children (Smith & Ramsey, velop their fluency and skill in a
on legislation in England, where some 2004). Deaf of Deaf children begin natural sign language or a visual com-
have expressed the view that deliber- their schooling knowing where and munication system during their grad-
ately attempting to create a deaf child when to look for visual information in uate training. When deaf children are
is unethical and should be illegal their environment. Crume and Single- taught by individuals who are not
(Bryan, Burke, & Emery, 2008). Some ton (2008) observed Deaf of Hearing proficient visual communicators, it is
deaf parents become depressed when children requiring more linguistic and no surprise that these children do
they find out their child is hearing. The physical prompts to attend to their not learn at the same rate as hearing
grieving process is similar to what hear- teacher and classmates compared to children (Bienvenu, 2008c). Deaf chil-
ing parents experience when they find Deaf of Deaf children. Deaf of Hearing dren do not have difficulty learning, as
out their child is deaf (Hauser, Wills, & childrens eye gaze behavior when it is often assumed; rather, they are
Isquith, 2005; King, Hauser, & Isquith, they are in fourth grade lags behind being raised and taught by adults who
2006). the eye gaze behavior of Deaf of Deaf are ill prepared to communicate with
The knowledge that deaf individu- preschool children (Ramsey & Pad- them effectively.
als obtain about themselves and how den, 1998). Glickman (2003) pointed out that
they should live their lives appears to Hearing teachers seem to have dif- the use of an interpreter provides an
vary depending on whether they are ficulty taking over the parents task of illusion of inclusion for deaf clients
raised by deaf or hearing parents. Be- preparing Deaf of Hearing children receiving mental health services.
ing around deaf adults appears to ex- for school or taking advantage of the There is an illusion of inclusion in deaf
ert a positive influence on the school skills that deaf parents pass on to their education as well, where the educa-
readiness and learning of deaf chil- deaf children. For example, Erting tors and parents believe that deaf chil-
dren. Deaf children born to deaf par- (1988) observed a hearing teacher dren are achieving full access to
ents who sign (henceforth referred to and a deaf teacher aide in a preschool language. Many research studies show

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DEAFHOOD AND DEAFNESS

otherwise. For example, both deaf table syndromethey have experi- learning about possible dangers may
children and deaf adults typically un- enced years at the dinner table watch- be one cause of the higher rate of in-
derstand less than 50% of what an in- ing close hearing family members and jury presentation visits, because deaf
dividual says through speechreading friends converse with each other, but children might not be aware of risks
alone (Commission on Education of are unable to decipher what is being and dangers.
the Deaf, 1988). If a hearing adult uses said. Some deaf individuals also expe- In a further illustration of the rela-
sign in addition to speech (Simultane- rience this at school if they attend a tionship between improvised commu-
ous Communication), deaf individuals mainstream program in which there nication access and health, the lack of
again typically still understand less are few if any other deaf individuals. incidental learning at home can also
than 50% of what is said (Tevenal & This is especially common during re- have a negative impact on deaf individ-
Villanueva, 2008). The situation is not cess and lunchtime. When hearing in- uals knowledge of family history and
much better when educational inter- dividuals talk to each other without health literacy. Health literacy is the
preters are used, as research has making their conversation accessible degree to which individuals have the
shown that they interpret less than to deaf individuals (whereas a hearing capacity to obtain, process, and under-
50% of what is said in the classroom bystander would be able to follow the stand basic health information and ser-
(Schick, 2008). conversation easily), deaf individuals vices needed to make appropriate
Today, individuals who are born re- are deprived of incidental learning op- health decisions. To get an idea of how
liant on vision for learning have the op- portunities. An enormous amount of this process occurs, imagine a typical
portunity to acquire a natural signed incidental learning is lost to deaf indi- Thanksgiving gathering with several
language. Yet medical and speech-lan- viduals, while hearing children and family members conversing about fam-
guage professionals often tell parents adults have full access to this informa- ily events that may have happened
not to teach their deaf child a signed tion. Deaf children who do not have over the past few months. An uncle
language because it would impede the full access to everyday communica- may mention that he needs to be care-
childs language development and in- tion often do not see how adults ex- ful with his food choices since he was
dependencea claim that is not based press their thoughts and feelings, how told by his doctor that his cholesterol
on empirical research (Marschark, they negotiate disagreements, and was too high. A grandmother may re-
2007). Almost all deaf education sys- how they cope with stressors. spond that he needs to be careful since
tems in the United States, if not all, This lack of access and reduction in her deceased husband followed a poor
place a greater value on the acquisition incidental learning opportunities may diet and eventually succumbed to a
of English than on the acquisition of have a negative impact on deaf indi- heart attack at age 51. While such a
American Sign Language (ASL). Fur- viduals physical health (Mann, Zhou, conversation may be short, it will be
thermore, most schools for the deaf do McKee, & McDermott, 2007), mental rich in details that likely will be missed
not offer formal sign language classes health (Hindley, Hill, McGuigan, & by a deaf family member. The deaf indi-
as a part of the curriculum. Bienvenu Kitson, 1994), and academic achieve- vidual is therefore less likely to benefit
(2008b) referred to the cultural valua- ment (Traxler, 2000). For example, the from aggressive screening procedures
tion of one language over another as rates of presentation for injury in or interventions since he or she cannot
linguisticism. This neglect of sign lan- emergency room visits by deaf chil- provide a full family health history to
guage competency contrasts with the dren have been found to be more his or her physician.
experience of hearing students, who than twice those of hearing children, In one survey, 40.4% of deaf individ-
undergo rigorous training and evalua- even after adjustments for age, race, uals were unable to identify a single
tion of their language skills in English. sex, and the number of hospital or symptom of heart attack (Margellos-
The valuation of auditorily based learn- emergency department visits for treat- Anast, Estarziau, & Kaufman, 2006),
ing and languages over visual learning ment of noninjury-related conditions something that 90% of hearing adults
and languages apparently hinders deaf (Mann et al.). Parents typically verbally in another survey were able to do (Ge-
students ability to learn. preinstruct or immediately warn chil- off et al., 1998). Similarly, 62.6% of deaf
dren of dangers as they grow up, and adults were not able to identify one
Incidental Learning and children learn about risks and dangers symptom of a stroke, while 70% of
Access to Knowledge by being directly instructed or by pas- hearing adults in another survey could
Many Deaf of Hearing children and sively listening to the conversations list a symptom (Reeves, Hogan, & Raf-
adults are familiar with the dinner of others. The absence of incidental ferty, 2002). Communication barriers

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in the family not only have an impact Steider (2001) found that secure at- esteem among deaf children and ado-
on cardiovascular knowledge but on tachments positively predicted greater lescents: (a) parents who have a posi-
other areas of health as well. For exam- curiosity and health-enhancing behav- tive attitude toward deafness; (b) the
ple, Swartz (1993) found that 23% of iors in an adult sample of deaf individ- availability of clear and accessible com-
hearing individuals in a study sample uals. Deaf adults have been reported to munication within the home; and (c)
learned about sex primarily from their be securely attached to other deaf identification with others within the
mother, compared to only 2.9% of adults and insecurely attached to other Deaf community on the part of the
deaf individuals. Another study found hearing adults (McKinnon, 1999). Be- deaf child or adolescent and posses-
that deaf college students engage in cause of communication difficulties, sion of a rich sense of language and
more high-risk sexual behaviors and deaf children and their hearing parents heritage as a member of a vital cultural
generally are not as well informed are more likely to have insecure rela- group.
about health and sexuality as their tionships or attachments (Lederberg, The impact of Deaf cultural pride is
hearing peers ( Joseph, Sawyer, & 1993). There also appears to be a not surprising given that hearing mi-
Desmond, 1996). higher rate of abuse among deaf chil- nority individuals who identify with
Access to health knowledge is not dren (see Dobosh, 2002 for a review), their minority group have higher self-
the only predictor of health-related and deaf adults have been found to esteem than those who do not. Deaf
behaviors. Relationships (attachment) have more difficulty leaving abusive re- children seem to be taught at home
are generally accepted and viewed as lationships than their hearing counter- and at school that their aim should be
an essential component of healthy parts (Merkin & Smith, 1995). to become more like hearing people
emotional development in children Living and growing up in a life in and to repress or inhibit any charac-
and emotional maintenance in adults. which one experiences the dinner teristic that comes naturally to deaf
Attachment style involves the willing- table syndrome at home and in school individuals. Deaf individuals who
ness of the individual to explore his or also influences deaf individuals men- learn this false knowledge can still be
her environment. Likewise, curiosity tal health. Foster (1989) pointed out liberated with the realization that they
can be thought of as the interest of an that many deaf adolescents experi- are OK. This is the realization of who
individual in seeking out new infor- ence the frustration and pain of isola- they really are. It takes some unlearn-
mation from his or her environment. tion at home, in school, and in the ing of false knowledge and reconnect-
People with secure attachment styles neighborhood. A study conducted in ing the dots.
are likely to incorporate more interest the United Kingdom found the preva-
in the environment, as the individual lence of anxiety disorders to be as Audism and Cultural Capital
feels secure in exploring, knowing high as 50.3% among deaf children Audism remains a relatively new topic,
there is a safe base to which he or she and adolescents, with greater preva- even though it was first mentioned in
can return. Those with insecure at- lence among children in main- the literature more than 30 years ago in
tachment styles are likely to be less streamed educational settings than an attempt to understand why visually
interested in seeking out new infor- those at schools for the deaf (Hindley oriented learners struggle to read Eng-
mation, as the inherent risk-taking in- et al., 1994). lish (Humphries, 1977; Humphries,
volved in curiosity would be increased Many deaf individuals struggle to ac- Martin, & Coye, 1978). Humphries and
due to the lack of a feeling of safety. quire a positive identity or self-concept colleagues (1978) wrote:
Thus, the cognitive resources are not (Maxwell-McCaw, 2001). Consequently,
available to be curious about the envi- many of them will not have an oppor- We believe that there are misunder-
ronment and to seek out new infor- tunity to develop the extensive self- standings between the deaf and
mation. Secure attachment styles are theory that is necessary for a healthy hearing cultures that have blocked
related to an increase in health-en- identity until they are exposed to deaf the kind of attitude and motivation
hancing behaviors, and, conversely, role models. Holcomb (1997) stated necessary for any learning, especially
insecure attachment styles are linked that if one is to achieve a well-founded language learning, to happen. . . . We
with participation in fewer health-en- self-theory, a common language is re- feel there is difference in the value
hancing behaviors. Attachment style quired for effective and meaningful in- that each culture places on English
also has been shown to predict anxi- teractions. A meta-analysis (Bat-Chava, and ASL as a communication system
ety and depression (Feeney & Ryan, 1993) found three factors to be asso- and as a survival tool. We feel that
1994). ciated with better and healthier self- deaf peoples attitudes about them-

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selves, their self-images, are often so ternalize this dominating ideology of different. A parallel experience is as-
poor that they have contributed to others (Humphries, 2008). sumed to occur among gay, lesbian,
what we see as a failure syndrome African American mothers help bisexual, or transgender children who
around the deaf persons learning of their hearing (Pinderhuges, 1995) and are raised by heterosexual parents
English. . . . We feel that the problem deaf (Borum, 2007) children develop and taught by heterosexual teachers
is related to the interaction between resiliency, resistance, or tolerance in (Bienvenu, 2008a). With relevance to
these cultures, not to some innate in- the face of racism. It is not clear how Deaf epistemology, the individuals
ability in the deaf person to learn much deaf children learn about resist- episteme, or personal paradigm of
English, not to the deafness per se. ing or coping with audism from their life, is shaped by the effects of his or
(p. 12) hearing parents. Resilience is the abil- her life and body.
ity to thrive under adversity and is a
Audism begins with a specific theory strong predictor of recovery from dif- Conclusion
of humanness. For example, bodies ficult situations. Thew (2007) found Society is made up primarily of hear-
that hear normally are the prototypi- that deaf employees working in hear- ing individuals who define how deaf
cal human bodies. In audism, the ing environments who attended a people are to live, express or inhibit
body is a starting point for social clas- school for the deaf have stronger re- their capabilities, and experience their
sification. The perception that there is silience abilities than students who at- bodies. If deaf individuals want to ex-
a difference based on the body (i.e., tended mainstream programs with or perience life as deaf individuals or vi-
the perceived imperfection of deaf without support services. Deaf indi- sually oriented beings, this means they
bodies) is a concept common to aud- viduals appear to provide younger must diverge from the hearing ideol-
ism, racism, and sexism (Humphries, deaf individuals resistant capital to ogy. In this line of thought, audism is
2008). This perception leads to the as- help them cope with audism and nav- the imposition of hearing ideology on
sumption that deaf bodies are un- igate an auditorily oriented world. deaf individuals. Deaf epistemology
wanted, inferior, and subject to repair. The need for resistant and naviga- cannot be comprehended without the
To the extent that deaf people do not tional capital is not limited to deaf recognition of the pervasiveness of au-
hear and do not speak, they are seen signers but is also relevant to oral indi- dism and the impact it has on deaf in-
as less intelligent, less capable, and viduals, hard of hearing individuals, dividuals. Deaf epistemology should
less human (Bauman, 2004). Embed- and individuals who use cochlear im- be the lens through which auditory
ded within cultural practices and plants, as they all are subject to stereo- learners seek to expand their under-
coded into social and cultural institu- typing and audism. standing of visual learners, in order, ul-
tions, audism often appears in the Additionally, deaf individuals do timately, to enhance learning and
form of treatments, therapies, and in- not have as much access to the knowl- strive to create environments that
terventions connected to a psychol- edge or cultural capital of the hearing value visual beings as much as audi-
ogy of deficit (Lane, 1992). Economic community, just as people of color do tory beingsenvironments that, in
effects (workplace discrimination, class not have as much access to White cul- other words, embrace Deafhood and
struggle, undereducation, and under- tural capital (see Yosso, 2005, on cul- deafness as much as they embrace
utilization) are a legacy of audism in tural capital). Deaf individuals born to hearinghood and hearingness.
Great Britain as well as the United hearing parents often do not have ac- We recognize that most hearing
States (Turner, 2007). Yet perhaps the cess to their parents capital as much parents only begin learning about
most salient impact of audism today is as their hearing peers have access to deafness and Deafhood after they
that identities have been brought into their parents capital. Even with ac- have learned that their child is deaf.
question among deaf people. The cess, the capital that a deaf child Anytime there is a sense of unfamil-
struggle of deaf people to maintain a might receive from parents would iarity about their child, parents may
sense of identity in the face of others teach that child how to live in the respond with fear or uncertainty.
definition of them has created uncer- world as a hearing individual or a less Hearing parents with a new deaf child
tainty among deaf people about their than individual, not as a visually ori- are seeking reassurance and guidance
own linguistic, cultural, and social ented individual. Regardless of how from the educational and medical
identities. Thus, a final defining char- hearing individuals try to mold deaf communities. If the focus on deafness
acteristic of audism is that people are individuals into hearing deaf individu- is negative, the parents will have a
turned against themselves as they in- als, deaf individuals remain intuitively sense of guilt that their child is abnor-

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mal or even view their child as a fail- individuals as important players (e.g., deaf peers and other individuals flu-
ure, which allows audism to begin. advisers or role models) in the mold- ent in a visual language.
Deafness should then be viewed in ing of deaf children, hearing parents
regard to the entire scope of the indi- and teachers can learn some of the in- References
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Borum, V. (2007). African American mothers
about how best to raise their deaf Tom Humphries for sharing his de- with deaf children: A womanist conceptual
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The Human Fertilization and Embryology
ber is valued, and there is no one style Note
Bill: Genetic selection and the Deaf com-
that fits all, the wall of audism can be 1. Deaf is defined more broadly than munity. Paper presented at the Deaf Aca-
slowly torn down. usual here, but with some limits. In demics Conference, Dublin, Ireland.
Through research in education, general, we are referring to individu- Commission on Education of the Deaf. (1988).
Toward equality: A report to the President
health, and science, a joint effort als who have been deaf or hard of and Congress of the United States. Washing-
toward a natural visual-learning envi- hearing all or most of their lives and ton, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
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remove their biases of hearing ideol- sion might not be relevant to those Teacher practices for promoting visual en-
ogy, realize that there are multiple gagement of deaf children in bilingual
who have not been deaf or hard of
school settings. Paper presented at a confer-
epistemologies, and study how deaf in- hearing all of their lives or those with ence of the Association of College Educa-
dividuals truly develop and navigate mild hearing loss. Also, much of what tors of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing,
the world as well as the indigenous is discussed here is specifically rele- Monterey, CA.
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knowledge passed on to deaf children vant to visually oriented communities Symptom Inventory with deaf individuals
by deaf adults. By incorporating deaf that have strong social networks of who have experienced sexual abuse and

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