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Language Deprivation and the Itinerant Teacher: Bridging the Way Between Student Needs and the Broader Educational System

advocacy asl common mistakes deaf and hard of hearing children inclusive interpreter itinerant teacher itinerant teaching language deprivation Feb 07, 2024
Language Deprivation and the Itinerant Teacher: Bridging the Way Between Student Needs and the Broader Educational System


The Online Itinerant recently hosted Dr. Kimberly Orfori-Sanzo, founder of Language First, for a training on Language Instruction Techniques for Students With Language Deprivation.  In this blog post, we will dive into the importance of language for students who either suffer from, or are at risk of developing, language deprivation. We will also explore ways to break down resistance to using sign language with such students, allowing them the opportunity to access and develop language skills needed to support their success in school and beyond.


In a world that thrives on communication, the ability to express oneself and connect with others is paramount. Language serves as the bridge that spans cultural, social, and educational landscapes. However, for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, this bridge can be filled with challenges, often leading to what Dr. Orfori-Sanzo aptly identifies as "language deprivation."  According to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD),  70% of students who are deaf or hard of hearing suffer from language deprivation.   (NAD has developed several documents to address this–  two open letters: one for families and for professionals who work with Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and Hard of Hearing children as well as a position statement that makes policy recommendations to end language deprivation.   LEARN MORE HERE)


Itinerant Teachers of the Deaf are often tasked with supporting students with language deprivation in an environment that does not embrace the use of sign language for a variety of reasons. Because of this, they feel that their “hands are tied” in being able to support their students effectively.  


Understanding Language Deprivation:

Language deprivation occurs when individuals, especially during their formative years, lack exposure to a comprehensive and accessible language. For deaf and hard of hearing students, this deprivation can stem from a variety of factors, including limited access to sign language, insufficient support systems, and misconceptions about their communication needs.


The Ripple Effect:

Language deprivation is not merely a challenge; it's a cascade of barriers that affect various aspects of a student's life. From hindering cognitive development and academic achievement to limiting social interactions, the consequences of language deprivation are far-reaching. Dr. Orfori-Sanzo emphasizes that addressing this issue is not only about providing access to language but also about recognizing and valuing the unique ways in which deaf and hard of hearing individuals communicate.


Empowering Through Sign Language:

A key component of breaking the cycle of language deprivation is ensuring that deaf and hard of hearing students have access to a rich and expressive language. Sign language plays a crucial role in fostering communication and comprehension for students who don’t have consistent and strong auditory access. 

The Role of Itinerant Teachers:

Itinerant Teachers of the Deaf serve as a bridge between the deaf or hard of hearing student and the broader educational system. Itinerant Teachers of the Deaf often have to educate administrators and family members, who don’t have access to the larger Deaf community or research on language deprivation, on the critical need for language access for these children.  Oftentimes the perspective is one of promoting listening and spoken language to a student, allowing them to access the “hearing world” more successfully and intentionally excluding the use of sign language,  which may be detrimental to language development if they do not, because of their hearing loss, have full access to the hearing world, causing them to suffer from language deprivation.

Convincing families and administrators about the vital importance of using sign language for these students can be a sensitive yet essential task. Itinerant teachers can feel pressured to follow family and administrators’ preferences even if it is not in the best interest of the child. Generally, the family and administrator are acting in what they believe is the best interest of the child, however this is a misconception if it actually prevents a child from developing a strong language foundation as a result of their hearing loss. Conversations geared toward dispelling the misconception of the “value of providing an oral only education” can be sensitive. Below are some key strategies that an Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf can use to communicate the significance of sign language for their students who either have, or are at risk of suffering from language deprivation:


Educate About Language Deprivation

  • Start by explaining the concept of language deprivation and its potential impact on a student's overall development.
  • Share research findings and case studies that highlight the correlation between language exposure and academic success in deaf and hard of hearing individuals.  CLICK HERE FOR A LIST OF RESEARCH ARTICLES FROM LANGUAGE FIRST
  • Highlight Linguistic and Cognitive Benefits of including sign language instruction for students. Clarify that exposure to sign language enhances linguistic and cognitive development, similar to how spoken language does for hearing individuals.


Address Misconceptions

  • Identify and address common misconceptions about sign language, such as the belief that it hinders speech development or limits academic achievement.
  • Share success stories of individuals who have thrived academically and professionally through the use of sign language.


Advocate for Bilingual Education

  • Promote the idea of bilingual education, where deaf and hard of hearing students can learn both sign language and written/spoken language simultaneously.
  •  Explain that being bilingual enhances cognitive flexibility and opens up more avenues for academic and career success.


Utilize Testimonials and Case Studies and Demonstrate Success Stories

  • Gather testimonials from deaf or hard of hearing individuals, parents, and educators who have experienced the positive impact of sign language on academic and personal development.
  • Share case studies that demonstrate how embracing sign language has contributed to the success of students.
  •  Seek support from organizations and advocates within the deaf and hard of hearing community, such as Hands & Voices, Language First, and The Online Itinerant
  • Introduce families deaf or hard of hearing individuals who successfully navigate the world and use sign language.


Encourage Open Dialogue

  • Foster an open and respectful dialogue with families and administration.
  • Address concerns and questions patiently, providing evidence-based information to alleviate apprehensions.




Dr. Kimberly Orfori-Sanzo's advocacy for addressing language deprivation among deaf and hard of hearing students is a call to action for educators, policymakers, and society at large. As an Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf, it's essential to approach the conversation with empathy, understanding, and a commitment to the well-being of every student.

By combining these strategies and presenting a well-rounded argument, you can help families and administrators understand the vital role that sign language plays in the holistic development of deaf and hard of hearing students who are at risk of experiencing the global impact of language deprivation. 


To access the training Language Instruction Techniques for Students with Language Deprivation and more, visit  To see more of Dr. Orfori-Sanzo’s work, go to




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