Disability Studies Quarterly
Fall 2005, Volume 25, No. 4
Copyright 2005 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Brueggemann, Brenda Jo, (Ed.). Literacy and Deaf People: Cultural and Contextual Perspectives. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2004. 212 pages; $59.95, Hardback, ISBN 1-56368-271-0

Reviewed by Lillie S. Ransom, Gallaudet University

The editor and contributors to this volume seem to share several basic assumptions about literacy and Deaf people. These assumptions are that first, Deaf people have been overwhelmingly perceived as lacking in literacy because English literacy is the standard; second, that Deaf people can and should be active participants in developing educational policy and programs for Deaf children; and third, that all efforts to develop literacy in English reading and writing should be based on creating a link between American Sign Language (ASL) literacy and English literacy/competence. The book contains quantitative and qualitative studies as well as thought pieces. Thus, there is something here for almost any reader. This book will be an excellent resource for anyone working with and/or living with deaf people as colleagues, parents, teachers, partners, supervisors, teammates and/or employees.

Literacy and Deaf People is organized into two parts: "'Modernizing' Deaf Selves: Deaf Education: Histories and Habits" and "Multicultural and Bilingual Perspectives." The three assumptions mentioned above are echoed in a variety of ways throughout the volume. For instance, Humphries and Ramsey's pieces in the first section of the book inform the reader that understanding and utilizing Deaf culture and Deaf history are the logical starting points for teaching Deaf children.

Humphries' finding that Deaf teachers fingerspell twice as much as hearing teachers, and use strategies to connect signed, printed, written, and finger spelled texts more than hearing teachers was intriguing and a bit counterintuitive. The results of this study and more studies like it need to be made widely available to Deaf Education/Teacher Training programs.

Burch's article "Double Jeopardy: Women, Deafness and Deaf Education" informs readers how the promotion of oralism and the concurrent national trend that feminized the teaching profession simultaneously, though differentially, disenfranchised Deaf women and men and thereby deprived Deaf children of role models and advocates who could assist in their development of ASL and English literacy. Burch's article, while interesting, seems a bit out of place in this volume. The connection to the important themes mentioned at the beginning of this review is less obvious than with most of the other contributions.

The second part of the book begins with Engen and Engen's study of deaf children in Norway. In my view, Engen and Engen's greatest contribution to the volume is their claim that "variability in the language used at home and at school is apparently an inherent problem, as is code mixing" (p. 96).

Akamatsu and Cole's article does not merely rehash the problems deaf immigrant children experience but outlines, for the reader, a number of strategies that teachers and educators can use to improve the likelihood of literacy and educational success for these children.

Wilcox goes one step further than the other contributors to this volume, and boldly suggests the possibility of developing written ASL. Those readers interested in literacy and Deaf people would be wise to keep their eyes open for more discussion on this intriguing twist on the subject of literacy.

In closing, the reader might have been better served if Brueggemann, Tompkins, Wilcox, and Woods' articles were placed in a separate section featuring first hand accounts and samples of Deaf literacy and voice. With the current organization, a reader who scans the table of contents to decide which articles/essays to read could easily miss the samples and stories in these articles. Placing these articles in their own section, with an appropriate descriptive title, would allow the reader to easily find and examine evidence of the earlier claims in the text that Deaf people can achieve written language literacy. Brueggemann, Tompkins, Wilcox, and Woods' pieces eloquently demonstrate that it is possible for deaf people to become fluent with written language.