Deaf children and digital literacy

Teaching your child how to flick through the pages of a traditional paper book and to understand the story is one thing, teaching them how to find, read and understand information on the internet is another…

What is digital literacy? It is the ability to find, to organise, to understand and to evaluate information on computers and digital technology devices.

Digital Literacy is an important skill to have in the 21st century. And it is clear that many deaf children need to be trained in digital literacy.

There are a myriad of websites, games and videos out there on the internet for your deaf child to read and enjoy. But there are fewer digital books that focus on reading specifically for deaf children with features such as sign language translations and hyper-linked dictionaries of English words translated into sign language.

My own experience with digital books while growing up was limited- I grew up in an era of print books. However in the depths of my childhood, I recall attempts to translate books by watching VHS videos of native signers translate a story. The story text was presented in captions with some illustrations of the stories in the background. It could be said that watching the captions gave the deaf reader a boost in their literacy skills. But their language had to be good enough to follow all captions. This is something that is quite different to what the structured experience of reading at age appropriate levels gives you. You had to know enough vocabulary. You had to be able to keep up with the captions. That was something my deaf friends struggled with.

Studies show that Deaf students need to be trained in digital literacy. One by Andrews (2012)  that interpreting text at the same time as watching an signed video is different to reading a book and linking the words with still images. In this study, the signing deaf students’ initial preference was to read a book with pictures compared to reading it with a signed translation. Note that this was them saying they preferred READING with pictures, Sure, watching a video is fun. But watching a signed video isn’t proper reading so could not be called reading. Reading is understanding the English word, perhaps with the support of the sign or picture.

Deaf children can become used to reading digital books or websites with hyper-linked text and enjoy it. Other studies (like Kennedy, 2004) have shown that once students become used to to reading with video, motivation levels increased.

In a nutshell, it takes skill to flick through the pages of a digital book and use it’s features or watch a website video with captions.

You can teach your child how to navigate a digital book and use it’s dictionary without racing through the book.

You can pause a video with captions and have a discussion about a new word and the story. 

The digital can make reading fun, but teaching your child how to read is still the same as it ever was.



Andrews, J. (2012) Digital Books and Signing Deaf Readers, Available from (last accessed 03 September 2013)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s